Local heroes

19th March 2004 at 00:00
Working with artists in the community can be a powerful experience for children, says Dinah Starkey

Last summer, the children of Medlock Primary School in Manchester turned into film producers to tell the story of their school. With the help of a professional film maker, they developed a storyboard about the layered experiences of children who had gone there before them, and took part in filming and editing, tackling the problems of composition and image construction as they went along.

Working alongside artists in this way is a powerful experience that can raise children's game dramatically. It demands creativity, self-criticism and risk-taking and pupils thrive on it because it is an opportunity to break out of the constraints of the daily routine and apply skills in a way that is meaningful and exciting. Working artists bring a different approach to the classroom and offer a new kind of role model for their eager apprentices.

The Medlock children were taking part in a government-funded scheme delivered through Arts Council England. Called Creative Partnerships, it aims to build links between creative and cultural organisations, businesses and individuals and schools. There are pilot schools in 16 areas with plans for expansion over the next couple of years. The range of projects is huge.

Storytellers and musicians, cartoonists and dancers are all involved, working with individual schools, clusters and pyramids across all ages.

But what is available for schools outside the scheme? How can the typical primary school contact local artists and how might such a project be funded? The dynamic world of the arts doesn't lend itself to pigeonholing, and provision varies widely, depending on geography, the discipline, and a host of other factors. The task is to find a way through the maze.

The first point of call is the Arts Council and it is worth taking a look at the Creative Partnerships website even if your school does not fall into one of the regions involved, because its Project Gallery includes some good case studies which could provide a starting point for planning a collaboration. Contact details for the regions are posted on the main website. Practice varies, but all offer support and can help you locate artists in your region. For example, the West Midlands runs a scheme called ALISS (Artist and Learning Information and Support Service), which offers information about artists and arts organisations working in learning settings. In Scotland, arts education co-ordinators give similar guidance.

The Arts Council also operates the Artsmark scheme. This is a national award that recognises schools making an outstanding commitment to the arts.

They are spread across all the regions, and can help put other schools in touch with local artists.

Other useful agencies to contact are the LEA advisory team and local arts organisations. Individual galleries, theatre companies, orchestras and the like may offer an outreach programme or the names of artists who are used to working in schools. These are all good sources for advice about funding.

Larger libraries have directories of grant making trusts and it is worth finding out if your school is eligible.

First contact with your chosen artist should include a preliminary discussion to find out what is on offer. Eurfron Parry, arts co-ordinator for the Bristol Arts and Music Service suggests asking for information packs, videos or pictures the school can look at and stresses the importance of asking artists to provide references or evidence of previous work in schools. Check if the artist holds a certificate of disclosure (police clearance for work in schools). Not all do and you will need to follow your school's child protection policy. As a matter of courtesy, a teacher should be "riding shotgun" when visitors are invited into the class.

Find out more about artists in schools in Wonder Years, a 24-page full-colour magazine for everyone in primary schools in The TES this week The Arts Council: (England) www.artscouncil.org.uk

(Scotland) www.sac.org.uk

Creative Partnerships: www.creative-partnerships.com

Artists in Schools Guidelines for teachers and artists working together in schools Bristol Arts and Music Service: eurfronparry@bristol-city.gov.uk

The Big Arts Week from June 21-25: every school is eligible to take part.

Artists are invited to volunteer between an hour and a week to share their creative talent with a local school: www.bigartsweek.com


Bristol Arts amp; Music Service has produced some useful guidelines for teachers and artists working in schools. They include these pointers for a successful project:

* Have clear plans about what skills and experiences you wish to explore.

Work out a schedule of groups to be involved, numbers of pupils, teachers and artists, amount of time given to each group, where the artists will work and display space.

* Do a risk assessment.

* Identify a teacher to co-ordinate the event and offer support to artists.

* Build plans for follow up work into the project.

And then, with the research and organisation done, relax and enjoy a wonderful experience. It's a rare chance to stand back and watch your pupils, so make the most of it, as the staff of Mundesley First School in Norfolk did when writer David Mason visited their Year 1 group as part of a Creative Partnerships project.

"I've never seen them so animated."

"The children were so involved."

"Ashley was labelled 'the genius'."


And that final statement, in exuberant capitals, sums it all up.

Whatever the age, whatever the ability, working with real live artists can lead pupils into a whole new world.

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