My research conversations with GCSE and A level art students from Upton Hall School FCJ quickly revealed some in depth knowledge and engagement with the galleries and public art in the centre of Liverpool. On further enquiry it was clear that this relates to an annual summer homework which invites the students to visit a specific exhibition and then choose a number of other venues and galleries to visit and to document this in their sketchbooks.For those students who have taken art through to A level, this means they will have undertaken this activity four or five times by the end of their courses.
I looked through the documentation the students had created after their visits which varied in design and content considerably. Each journey the students had taken reflected their personal responses and affinities with particular spaces or exhibitions. Many of them used a mapping design aesthetic, adapting the materials from the galleries such as logos and directions and plotting them on the page. This gave a strong indication that the students felt a degree of ownership or connection to the key cultural institutions in their city, despite living a long bus journey outside the city centre.
I asked the students if they ever felt that the galleries were ‘not for them,’ a comment students from other schools have made in the course of the project. They strongly rejected this idea, stating that Liverpool was ‘not posh’. One student also suggested that the staff at the school had high expectations of them and this included things like visiting galleries independently as well as through school visits and projects. Others talked of the summer homework as something they did with friends, describing it as an enjoyable and memorable experience. The students talked about the art they had engaged with and how it had influenced their own work, citing different artists as well as shared experiences.
Ann Spears, Head of Art at Upton Hall School FCJ, described the rationale:
We consider familiarisation and a sense of ownership with galleries and museums to be pivotal to the success of the GCSE and A Level courses and that the pupils’ cultural development is an absolute entitlement for our pupils. Their experience outside the classroom energises learning. Our aim is to support the development of eloquent and confident students, whatever their backgrounds, who can embrace contemporary art and innovative ideas to inform their own practice. Students regularly undertake workshops with artists in residence both at the galleries and at school and benefit enormously from the interaction.
Funding can be an issue but initiatives such as the Arts Council and Curious Mind’s SLiCE Fellowship has enabled me to work collaboratively as the Lead School with Cultural Partnership organisations in Liverpool and by adopting a Systems Leadership approach has enabled 3 other schools to benefit from the enriching experience with a series of 4 workshops based on the current exhibit Open 2:Pieces of you at the Open Eye Gallery.
The key aim of this year’s research project is to measure the impact on literacy of a Pupil Premium cohort by tracking pupil progress over the academic year after their involvement in the project.