What do you do with your old national curriculum files?

30th June 1995 at 01:00
Some people dream of making a funeral pyre of them, ceremoniously burning them to oblivion in the playground. Others, more prosaically, simply chuck them in bins. Most live with the big, useless things falling off bookshelves or piled up to the ceiling.

What do you do with your old national curriculum files, as obsolete as the proverbial dodo and just as ungainly? Have you never thought of papering four ordinary walls to create an intensely readable room? Or creating a conversation-stopping suit of clothes? Or mixing, in your liquidizer, a revolutionary new cocktail?

London school children involved in a project called "Recycling the National Curriculum" have done all these things and more. In a collaboration between the Camerawork Photography Gallery and the Middlesex University School of Education, teachers and children from all key stages have recycled and transformed the old national curriculum into all manner of things. And in the process of having a crackingly creative time, they have made some interesting points about bureaucracy and waste.

Earlier this year, in an answer to a parliamentary question, junior education minister Robin Squire quoted Pounds 744 million as his department's costing for revamping the curriculum. Against this devastating backdrop Victoria de Rijke, a senior lecturer at Middlesex, joined forces with Geoff Cox, education co-ordinator at Camerawork, and artist Sophie Weeks to design a multi-phase programme on turning some of the waste into art.

The first phase involved two Islington schools, Montem Primary and George Orwell Secondary, and a Tower Hamlets primary, Globe, which is near to Camerawork in the Roman Road.

"Is it something to do with policemen?" one child piped up when Sophie Weeks showed some seven-year-olds at Montem the orders for key stage 1 and 2 art. They proceeded to dress up in white coats - "like scientists" - and experimented with making paper out of the disposable rubbish that the old national curriculum has become.

It was the Year 6 pupils at Globe who suggested wallpapering one down-at-heel classroom with pages of the documents. It started as a play activity then became more focused, with children creating collages. Elsewhere, papier mache casts of arms, hands and feet emerged from bins of gluey mixtures.

At George Orwell secondary, art students decided to liquidise their favourite - or least favourite - subjects and make them into pink "drinks"; like vintage wine, bottles were labelled "English 1993" or "French 1994". Inspired to make something beautiful, one student created their very own national curriculum installation - white paper streamers suspended from a window, blowing whichever way the wind took them.

The second strand of the project is significantly less fun and a harder slog. It involves collecting the documents for straightforward recycling and has proved easier said than done. With LMS, local authorities don't have the same networks they used to and teachers' centres - possible collection points for the rubbish - are a disappearing breed.

Reticence to get involved was a problem too. Some LEA officers said the project should contact the chief education officer directly. "They obviously saw this as political," says Sophie.

The next stage takes place next week - the mass collection of old documents from those LEAs which have agreed to co-operate. The team will spend a week trawling London and the south-east in a collecting van. Back at Camerawork, "there will be piles and piles of documents that we'll photograph getting bigger and bigger day by day", explains Geoff.

At the end of the week, the paper will be transported to a recycling mill, the final stage of the operation. "We hope to have thousands of documents to recycle. And then we'll use the recycled paper to produce a document for schools," says Victoria de Rijke. The subject will be recycling and what to do with waste paper.

* Photographs from the project and samples of recycled paper are being displayed this weekend at a conference at Middlesex University on "Implementing the new national curriculum".

* To find out more about the project and opening times for the display, ring Geoff Cox at Camerawork on 0181-980 6256

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