Fine outlook for the arts;Arts in Scotland

8th May 1998 at 01:00
John Cairney reports on a Glasgow initiative which partners teachers with performers.

With examination passes well below the national average and truancy levels well above, Glasgow does not have problems to look for. Add to this the unsettling effect of a major school rationalisation programme, and the absence of an educational feel-good factor would be understandable. Yet, teachers all over the city are still prepared to get involved with schemes to promote the arts in schools.

Under the former Strathclyde region, an Arts Initiative scheme was established, which invited schools to bid for money to enable pupils and teachers to work with arts professionals. This is now administered by the city's Performing Arts and Venues department.

Seven officers are responsible for arts development, one of whom, Eona Craig, has responsibility for education. She enthuses about the response of teachers, and the potential for Glasgow pupils. "It is very encouraging to see that for all the frustrations and problems that teachers face, and the considerable workload they have, so many are still prepared to take on the added responsibility of voluntary arts-related projects."

Nearly 160 grants have been awarded to schools with secondaries being able to bid for up to pound;500 and primaries pound;200. Most schools tend to use the money to buy in a professional to work with pupils, though there have also been some joint ventures with secondary schools and associated primaries pooling resources.

All aspects of the arts have featured at one time or another - dance, drama, music, visual arts, storytelling, theatre visits and school shows.

Anne-Marie Stewart, a primary adviser with responsibility for expressive arts, is enthusiastic: "Schools cannot always afford to develop the areas of the curriculum that they would wish, so they welcome the opportunities made possible by the scheme."

Sir John Maxwell Primary in Pollokshields is typical of the way that many schools use the cash. As befits a school with a thriving Gaelic unit of 60 pupils, they have completed a project called The Desperate Journey, using singers and musicians to work with pupils on the story of the Highland Clearances.

This session they are using dance consultant Maggie Singleton to work with three classes on the theme of promoting positive behaviour. Senior teacher Joanne Byrne has overseen all of these ventures: "Every project has been a very worthwhile and enriching enhancement of the day-to-day curriculum," she says.

The class teachers are equally appreciative. Like many primary teachers they lack the specialisms which are afforded by the Arts Initiative scheme and feel that the experience can be just as rewarding for them as for their pupils.

On a different scale, Crookston Castle Secondary School was the centrepiece of a major Arts Initiative extravaganza last year. Along with its eight associated primaries, it made a joint bid for funding, resulting in a dance, drama and music collaboration.

Using weather as a theme, the primaries contributed to one of the three art forms, depending on their own expressive arts content. The schools which chose art, made percussion instruments which were used by those that chose music to produce taped performances. These were used by the schools doing dance.

The primaries then joined up with third-year pupils from Crookston Castle and the cast of 150 put on their Weather Report show in the local assembly hall.

The feel-good factor seems to run through everything the arts personnel are involved in. Schools taking advantage of the scheme regard it as a break from the routine, while pupils see a purpose to their efforts and a product at the end of their involvement.

The written comments of the Sir John Maxwell pupils after their last session include: "I enjoyed learning new movements, working in a group, having fun and working with you"; "I liked the dancing you taught us. I thought you were quite funny"; and "I like the travelling, body language and everything else, love from Fearghas".

The children might be relieved to know that in spite of budgetary difficulties, the city continues to display commitment to providing access to the arts for schools. Liz Cameron, of the council's arts and culture committee, says: "While we can never give guarantees on levels of funding, we intend to build on the strong links that the scheme has established with schools."

Fearghas will be pleased.

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