Say hello secondary and goodbye primary

27th June 2008 at 01:00
Moving from primary to 'big school' is never easy, so P7 pupils in some West Lothian schools were asked to express their feelings through art. Some drew self-portraits and others created masks. Raymond Ross went along to Linlithgow Academy to view their work
Moving from primary to 'big school' is never easy, so P7 pupils in some West Lothian schools were asked to express their feelings through art. Some drew self-portraits and others created masks. Raymond Ross went along to Linlithgow Academy to view their work

What is art? That is a question that has exercised minds since the time of Plato. But few today would quibble with the idea of art as expression - an expression of inner feelings which not might not otherwise find an outlet.

This idea certainly came to the fore when P7 pupils in West Lothian were asked to paint just how they felt about leaving primary this month and moving on to secondary school at Linlithgow Academy.

The resulting exhibition, mounted in the academy's main hall for the benefit of all the pupils, staff and parents involved in the transition process, was vibrant, colourful and thought-provoking in its expression of the pupils' hopes, fears, nervousness and excitement about the new school; and of their sadness and regret about leaving primary.

"One of the main advantages of asking the P7 pupils to express themselves through art, rather than through talking or perhaps even writing, is that their real feelings are more likely to come out," says Paula Gander, Linlithgow Academy art and design teacher who initiated and led the project as part of her West Lothian leadership programme.

When, for example, she visited Springfield Primary at the start of the project, the pupils' verbal responses to what they felt about coming to the academy were largely positive. "But the nervousness came out in the paintings," says Hazel Parker, their class teacher. "It showed the difference between what they were really feeling and what initially they felt they were expected to say."

"Having listened to what the pupils felt they were expected to say, Miss Gander then introduced worksheets on feelings and discussed how the pupils' more personal responses might best be expressed visually - two sides to the same face, for example, representing the positive and negative emotions - so encouraging the pupils to explore their true feelings."

The pupils were very excited about the project. They were pleased that there was no selection process and that everyone's paintings would be exhibited; and they were very interested in what pupils from other schools felt.

June 12 was exhibition day. Each of the six cluster primaries was timetabled to visit the academy at a specific time during the day, so that each had time and space to appreciate the work on show.

The pupils completed "Eye Spy" sheets on objects, shapes and patterns found in the paintings. They then had to choose their favourite painting and write about it in some detail, including colours, techniques and why it was their favourite.

Each school was accompanied by four S1 buddies, all matched to their old primaries, and the tour was completed with a visit to the art department. In the evening, over 400 parents and family members also visited the exhibition, with music and refreshments on offer as well as the chance to have their child's painting framed and delivered to their primary school for a small fee.

"This proved to be a winning idea - we ended up having to open a second desk for orders because the queue was so long," says Miss Gander. "Parents were impressed by the quality of the work and appreciated the opportunity to visit the school and meet staff in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. The pupils were equally impressed and loved the fact that the exhibition was all about them and a celebration of their work."

For Linlithgow Acdemy itself, the "Moving On" projectexhibition marked a significant and permanent addition to its transition process which began with "transition road shows" visiting each cluster primary in January. The day before the exhibition, the academy held a team-building event run by the organisation World Challenge, which uses outdoor education to promote teamwork, leadership, problem solving and communication. The P7 pupils worked together in their new registration class groups, aided by their S6 buddies who acted as World Challenge "staff".

Both the Moving On and World Challenge projects led towards the actual induction day the following week. The process was then capped by a sports morning the next day, run for the new intake of pupils by the PE department.

"The Moving On project and exhibition has added greatly to our transition process," says Linda Forrest, Linlithgow Academy's depute head. "We were looking to improve the process and this idea was like manna to us. It is meaningful and real and gives the pupils a true sense of pride in what they have achieved, as well as an opportunity to address the issues involved in moving on to secondary.

"It's very much about the primaries and the secondary working together. It's not secondary-led and is pupil-centred. It gives the pupils a sense of belonging to their new school already, and they take pride in seeing their work presented so professionally in the main hall of the 'big' school they're coming to."

The West Lothian leadership programme requires participants to undertake a whole-school leadership project."I felt this was an area in the school's development plan where I could make the most effective contribution," says Miss Gander. "I had been involved in pastoral care at my last school, so I had a good understanding of how to work with outside agencies, parents and the primary sector. I also wanted to do something that connected with my subject, allowing me to use my specialist skills."

For Miss Gander the project has been a "fantastic learning experience" which has built up her confidence and improved her time management as well as organisational, team-working and leadership skills. "It was also interesting, from a secondary teacher's point of view, to see how they worked in the primary sector and to work with the pupils in an environment they felt familiar with.

"For some pupils, it was the first time they had met a secondary teacher, so it was reassuring for them to see that I wasn't any different from their primary teachers. It was also a great way of further developing links and collaborative ways of working between primary and secondary."

The success of the exhibition was as marked to the outside observer as it was to staff, pupils and parents. The enthusiasm of the S1 buddies, for example, was apparent as they chaperoned their charges around the exhibition.

They didn't just want to help - they wanted to take part in doing the "Eye Spy" quiz and the worksheets. "By making the theme of the exhibition about moving on to secondary school, we were allowing the pupils to express themselves through visual communication," says Miss Gander.

"We were also giving them the opportunity to have fun and be creative at the same time as identifying their hopes and fears about secondary school. It also provided a unique opportunity for some pupils who otherwise might have struggled to express themselves due to poor literacy and oral skills."

For David Mackenzie, Linlithgow Academy's headteacher, the project is proof that the West Lothian leadership programme is providing unique opportunities for unpromoted staff. "The project shows you can be a leader without being promoted. There's no doubt the old hierarchical structure held people back. The WLL programme is designed to give everyone opportunities to demonstrate leadership.

"Here is a teacher who has grasped that opportunity and produced a fascinating exhibition through collaborative effort."


Megan Dawson:

"My painting is mixed emotions. I used cold colours to represent my worries and fears - mostly the school bus, because there are rumours about bad things happening. I'm not really worried about classes.

"I used warmer colours and flowers to represent happy things, like meeting new people and making lots of new friends.

"The only word in my painting is 'sport', because I'm very active in dancing, gymnastics, tennis and all sorts really.

"The painting lets you express how you actually were feeling and you could associate feelings with the painting.

"Yesterday was team-building day with my register class, so a painting now would be completely different - no scared colours.

"The exhibition is really well done and it's good to see all the classes from other schools who have different ideas."

Cameron Morrison:

"It's made everyone think a bit more about what they really feel. You're excited about coming to secondary but there are other feelings locked up inside there - a bit nervous and people are going to miss old pals and teachers.

"In the middle of my painting is a compass with four 'norths' to show I was a bit lost. But everything round the outsides of the painting shows what I mainly felt - excited and happy to be moving on. You do get bored with primary, outgrow it - even the playground games.

"Painting is better than writing an essay, because art is a more unexpected way to do it. You get more involved and you think about your real feelings. It's more fun and you relax and show more."

Brandon Weyzig:

"This was a good idea. It gives you a snip of what art will be like at the academy. The display is very well thought out.

"I have no fears or regrets and am excited about coming up, so I did a psychedelic painting. My painting is very colourful and confident, I think. I like art but would really like to be a professional footballer.

"I'm looking forward to different teachers and different classes. I'm a little bit sorry though to be leaving primary and am a bit nervous about getting the school bus across town. Doing art and feelings was exciting and interesting."

Catriona Rennison:

"It was a really good idea to have transition activities to get to know new classmates and not be nervous. Seeing round the school makes it less scary.

"Painting is a good way of expressing your feelings. I called my painting 'Divided Emotions' because I was in two minds. I was sad at leaving primary and was nervous as well as being excited and looking for new adventures.

"Art is one of my favourite subjects absolutely, though I want to be an author or a vet.

"I'll be quite happy coming in August to meet new friends and do different subjects. I'll quite enjoy it."

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