Angus primary schools have the opportunity to learn from established artists signing up on a new register. Esther Read reports.
Take a group of artists, add a schoolful of children, mix well and you have a novel way of to improve standards in education. That, at least, is the theory behind the "Angus Artists in Education Initiative".
Over the next 18 months, each primary school in Angus will have the opportunity to work on collaborative projects with professional artists on short-term residences.Funding for the project has come principally from the Scottish Arts Council's Lottery Fund - about pound;43,000.
Schools were asked to contribute 10 per cent themselves. This worked out at pound;70 topound;120 on average, with smaller schools contributing less.
"What we've done is to compile a register of 20 professional artists able to work with children in schools - everything from composers and dancers to someone who produces leaded stained glass," explains Andrew Ross, Angus's education development officer for expressive arts. "The choice of art form and type of project is left entirely to the discretion of the individual schools, with smaller schools together in cluster groups. Projects range in length from five to seven days."
Because artists were on a register, the council was able to get them for about pound;600 a week.
The first project to be completed was at Ferryden Primary, Montrose, where photographer, cartoonist and illustrator Rikki O'Neil worked with all 188 of the school's pupils. The headteacher, Kath King, is enthusiastic about the outcome: "Before the project began, Rikki came along for a planned activity with the staff. He showed us the sort of work he does and the area of photography and cartoons was chosen as a focus for the project.
"Some of the older children went out into the community to take their own photographs. These were then processed and the images photocopied in both colour and black and white. The photocopies were transferred to watercolour board and the children were encouraged to transform them into paintings, using a variety of media. In some cases they also added cartoons to the original."
While this work was being completed by Primaries 4 to 7, the younger ones were shown how to draw cartoons from basic shapes. These have been incorporated into one drawing which will be coloured.
"I think what the children enjoyed most was the opportunity to see how a professional artist works," she says. "But the project has also been a great opportunity for staff development and given us lots of ideas for future work. One unexpected spin-off has been the opportunity to set up a kind of 'mini-enterprise group' with the children deciding how to cost and market their own work."
Meanwhile at Andover Primary, Brechin, actor and playwright Mark Pencak was pursuing an equally ambitious agenda with the school's 300 or so pupils. He introduced himself by performing the one-man show he had recently taken to the Edinburgh Festival for them. This gave him the opportunity to demonstrate to the children how to incorporate mime, music and puppetry into a whole performance. And they did just that for their final whole-school performance, with the theme of "My Favourite Thing".
Staff were sceptical at first that this could be achieved so quickly. The headteacher, Pamela Farningham, says: "Mark had only a short time to spend with each class. But the general enthusiasm was such that everyone quickly became involved, including the teachers and our visiting music, art and PE specialist.
"The youngest children made puppets which they used in their part of the performance. The middle school was responsible for the music and drama elements while the upper school concentrated on developing drama through movement. Each class acted out a different part of the story, which was scripted by a number of the senior pupils meeting at lunchtimes."
The result was a slick performance on the Friday afternoon in which every single child, from the nursery up, had a part to play.
Pamela Farningham and her staff are keen to try such a thing again, and indeed, this is one of the future hopes of the project.
As the Angus Initiative progresses, the evaluations and experiences of earlier projects will be available to inform future collaborations. It will then be up to individual schools to access the register and tap into the on-going resource, perhaps using devolved funding.