Head teacher of Knowleswood Primary school Dean Tombling is spending his pupil premium (65% of children are eligible) to fund a whole school intervention where artists using a model of reflective practice, support children to realise their potential. The key ingredients of the approach are:
- QUALITY using high quality materials and expecting high quality outcomes (no sugar paper and poster paints here)
- TIME projects may evolve over a whole term or school year, and
- REFLECTION practitioners use a simple model of reflective practice at all levels of the work, noting observations, feelings and decisions in a series of ‘day books’ that are shared and public documents in the classroom creating a rich source of shared knowledge. These practices and values spill over from the art room into the rest of the school, influencing teaching practice and behaviour beyond the school gate.
I went to Knowleswood at the invitation of Mary Robson who established ‘Roots & Wings’ in Chickenley School over a decade earlier. With filmmaker Susi Arnott I had the pleasure of documenting their work at Chickenley school for an Open University film project that explored how their arts in education project had helped the school out of special measures, transforming pupil behaviour and contributing to excellent social and academic outcomes. Ten years ago Dean Tombling was one of the teachers at Chickenley, initially wary but ultimately convinced by the power of the Roots and Wings approach. His first decision when taking over headship of his own school was to invite Mary to work with him to repeat the magic.
The invitation that we received by email was entitled ‘We are curious people: a museum of Holme Wood’. It explained ‘ We have been on a journey since September, finding out about all kinds of things. We have been inspired by our walks around Holme Wood, and have made our own Wunderkammer, a chamber full of wonders. Come and take a guided tour. You will be amazed’. Susi and I were intrigued and made the trip to Bradford.
Image chosen by the children to advertise the exhibition
The one day pop-up exhibition showcased a whole year of intensive research and creative practice on the part of the children. It was staged in the school and included individual 22 exhibits. Visitors were given a personal guided tour by students who proudly explained their concepts and methodologies. Arts works included performances (a rendition of ‘Don’t fence me in’ accompanied by a sermon on the necessity of risk-taking and experimentation in childhood), installations, sculptures, photography, collage, painting. Highlights included a piece by Paige Ibbotson portraying the ‘Wig of Holme Wood’ under which visitors were invited to have their photograph taken. Inspired by collecting hair in her research process Paige had originally wanted to make the wigs using a hair from every head in neighbourhood – a concept that was revised in the face of resistance from others. I thoroughly enjoyed glimpses of the Homlewood Aliens, captured at the edges of faded and overexposed photographs, as well as a sculptural depiction of the drains of Holme Wood. Children’s collections of everyday detritus were represented as precious objects in ornate decorated boxes. A personal favourite involved a sign post made from photographs of street signage in which the everyday was made truly strange reflecting a child’s view of the world but also their ambition to create art from the environment. Photo-collections include studies of mud and fences. A cherry tree in full blossom was recreated and memorialised in tissue paper. Maps of the neighbourhood were annotated with memories, objects and fantasies. A sheet detailed a new language and system for counting.
Paige Ibbotson under her ‘Wig of Holme Wood’
A late visitor to the exhibition was the local authority school improvement officer, closely observing Dean’s investment in emotional and social development for the whole school. When will these gains in confidence, fluency and ambition reveal themselves in National Curriculum levels? It’s a race against time and data. I was reminded that real change takes its own time when talking with Incy Wood, who had grown up on the Chickenley estate. Incy began volunteering in the art room having noticed that something special was happening there when she collected her niece. Ten years on she has a degree in fine art and will soon embark on a MA in creative thinking. She also works part time with Roots and Wings in Knowleswood and is developing her own projects in schools elsewhere. Incy is an example of what Mary Robson calls ‘green manure’, showing how investing in people through a commitment to quality, time and reflection creates sustainable community change – enriching the soil and encouraging self-seeding. Fingers crossed that their labours will bear fruit in time to convince the Local Authority and OFTSED of the wisdom of Dean’s decision to spend his pupils premium on Roots and Wings.
Incy Wood tweets at @root2wing