Summer art schools are nourishing the talents of hundreds of north London children, says Hilary Wilce
Thirteen-year-old Makarious Awad spent a week this summer making "a pot in the shape of me" at an art summer school run by the north London borough of Enfield. He knew it was going to be a great week, he says, because he'd heard reports from fellow students about Enfield's first art summer school, held the year before. "It was really different from school, as you had more freedom to use your own ideas." He visited his first art gallery - Tate Modern - and discovered he was better at working with clay than he thought he would be. "I would like to take GCSE art now. Before the summer school I thought art was just about drawing, but now I know different."
Yet even Makarious' drawing has come on, thanks to some unusual art exercises explored during the week, part of a "brain-based" approach to learning, designed to break down traditional barriers to progress, which underpinned the summer project.
The exercises included drawing with both hands, drawing upside down, and drawing the "negative space" around objects, instead of the objects themselves. They were taken from Drawing On The Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, a book designed to help people free the more creative half of their brains. Teachers also found them exciting to work with. "I now use some of these in my teaching," says art teacher Annette Agard-Vernon, who helped run the course that Makarious took at Edmonton County School. "The children love them. They are such a challenge."
In all, 12 out of the 17 Enfield secondary schools ran summer schools this year, 10 of them focusing on the Art Summer Challenge which brought together working artists with students from Years 6 to 9 (the other two offered physical activity and media programmes). During the five days, students in each school visited a gallery, developed their ideas, worked on a final project, and held an exhibition of their work.
"Last year we had seven schools involved. It was really successful and we built on this," says Julia Page, adviser for art and design in Enfield. "The standard of the work the students produced was incredibly high." Which just shows, she says, what you can do when you can give people the time and encouragement to develop their talents.
Each school had its own artist-in-residence - thanks to Julia Page's contacts - all of whom brought different approaches to the theme, "My Enfield, My Art". One school worked on mosaics; another on wooden sculptures. At Edmonton County School, Chris Bramble was the artist who got Makarious Awad and others making giant clay "people pots".
The summer schools aim to target disadvantaged students, and teachers are asked to encourage the pupils they feel most need it to come along. This year, 5 per cent of the almost 300 students who took part were "at risk of disaffection", according to Sharon Barbour, the borough's study support co-ordinator, and the schools attracted a mix of children from different social and racial backgrounds, although more girls enrolled than boys. However, those boys who did sign up were enthusiastic. "Two of our pupils were caught trying to break into their school at 7.30 in the morning to finish their work!" says Julia Page. "And they were the sort of kids who would normally have to be dragged in at 9.00."
The project is run in co-operation with the University of the First Age, a Birmingham-based charity set up by former Birmingham chief education officer Tim Brighouse, which aims to give disadvantaged young people from eight to 14 out-of-school support to increase their motivation. UFA summer schools use mental exercises and ice-breaking exercises to get to know each other, as well as approaches which cater for all kinds of learners. They also train older students to work as mentors with the participants.
In Enfield, the summer schools are so popular that attendance is almost 100 per cent, and the effects spill over into ordinary school life. "One teacher said her Year 8 class was much more settled and motivated this year," says Julia Page, while Annette Agard-Vernon welcomed the chance to get to know 30 students in a completely different way. "It's much more relaxed. You don't have to check their uniform and say, 'Take that baseball cap off'. The only thing I didn't like was all the paperwork."
Teachers and heads of department have felt the benefits of training in "brain-based" learning, while sixth-form peer tutors (who helped on the courses) have seized the chance to develop their leadership and listening skills. Much of the art is still on display in schools, attracting the attention of more pupils, and a handful of students travelled to speak about their work at this year's annual UFA national conference. Enfield, via the UFA, has been given a three-year funding package from the New Opportunities Fund for summer schools. Next year, its final year, it hopes to add music and dance to complement the visual arts, according to David Brown, manager for lifelong and community learning in the borough.
Meanwhile all the teachers and peer tutors have said they will come back, as have most of the students. "It's because the summer schools make everyone happy," says Charlotte Rudkins, a sixth-former at Bishop Stopford's School, who trained as a peer tutor for this year's programme. "Normally when you walk around school you see younger children in classrooms maybe doing their work, but they don't necessarily look happy - in the summer school everyone just looked so pleased with the work they were producing."
The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards (HarperCollins pound;14.99) University of the First Age Tel: 0121 202 2347www.ufa.org.uk