Powys, the happiest county, inspires its teenage artists

3rd October 2008 at 01:00

The breathtaking countryside and colourful literary festivals of Powys have been captured on canvas by many a landscape artist.

But it seems the rolling hills and al fresco art exhibitions have also inspired the brush strokes of the county's pupil population.

For the past three years Powys's teenagers have achieved the highest results in Wales in art. Among 14-year-olds, 85 per cent achieved the expected level under teacher assessment this year - almost 10 per cent higher than the Wales average - and 20 per cent more than Caerphilly, which scored lowest.

"Powys was voted the happiest place in the country recently," said Sian Fielding, a school improvement officer who specialises in creative arts for Powys. "Because of the rural isolation, there are a lot of activities and community work going on. There are also quite a few festivals in the area, such as the Hay, which helps young people appreciate the arts."

Mrs Fielding also believes community spirit plays a part. "Because Powys schools are smaller than those in the cities, the heads of department can cover more than one area," she said.

Art teachers TES Cymru spoke to say they have risen to the challenges of the new curriculum, introduced this year, using technology to widen the subject's appeal. There is much more cross-curricular study of art.

Graham Haslock, head of art at Llandrindod High School, said introducing new technology had helped increase the subject's appeal to boys, who traditionally have been less enthusiastic about it than girls.

"We have developed a strong IT component," he said. "In Year 7 pupils do animation. We also complete a project creating tessellating patterns using computer software, and in Year 9 we do Photoshop work and an architecture project using three-dimensional modelling."

The school also has its own gallery showcasing the work of well-known local artists such as Mary Lloyd Jones.

Older pupils regularly visit galleries in Cardiff and Liverpool.

Ceri Austin, art subject leader at Crickhowell High School, is developing links with local centres such as Brecon Museum, but said the relative remoteness of the region can make trips to larger galleries difficult. Instead, pupils go into the school grounds to draw and paint, as well as visiting local villages.

Ms Austin also believes a lot of the good work is due to the motivation of individual schools.

"Lack of resources is a concern, but if you don't have them you use your imagination," she said. "We go to recycling centres to buy card and paper."

THEY'RE THE TOPS

Art and design students in Wales achieved some of the best GCSE results in the UK this year, but an error left some thinking they were among the top 10 performers.

Y Pant Comprehensive in Rhondda Cynon Taf was told by the exam board Edexcel it had six of the top 10. Four at Howells School in Cardiff were also told they had gained top positions, along with seven from Bishop of Llandaff Church in Wales High, Cardiff.

A spokeswoman for the board said it hoped the error would not detract from the students' success.

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