Being an artist can be a really fulfilling career! Guest blog by Chris Knowles

DSCN0555Primary Futures helping Y6 children at Newby and Scalby Primary School to see career pathways from a different angle.
Over 27 years ago I undertook a research study into the benefits of partnerships between schools and industry as part of my honours degree. It will come as no surprise to the reader to find that, even back then, the benefits for young people were massive.
Having recently listened to a presentation about Primary Futures I went away to consider why I had lost sight of that piece of research and questioned why I hadn’t pursued the idea of partnerships with the world of work seriously in the last 19 years of headship. The answer was the same for this as it was for the question about why I no longer taught drama, my main subject – the National Curriculum killed both and I’m ashamed to say that I let it happen by becoming distracted by initiative overload. I lost sight of what children really benefitted from in the long term.
The NAHT led Primary Futures project made me think about how to address the deficit in our curriculum and the starting point for re-engaging with industry came as a response to a request from our Y6 teachers for advice about how to motivate the children at the start of an arts week.
In the past, we would have probably have asked local artists to come along and demonstrate their skills but Primary Futures helped us to contact three artists who were not only capable of doing that but were willing to talk about their careers in art and the impact of their school learning as well. This was no mean feat in a ‘geographically-challenged’ place such as Scarborough and needed some non-website based work to make it happen and find these volunteers.
We wanted the children to see that careers come in many different shapes and sizes and, in the case of one artist, could actually take very many different pathways in one working life.
The day of the launch arrived and, as a result of some very efficient ‘behind the scenes’ negotiations by Charlotte from the Primary Futures team based in London (her support is highly recommended), the three artists sat in my office discussing the format of the day to fill in the gaps that email communication couldn’t possible deal with ……. including noticing that one of the artists swore a lot and needed to be politely reminded about appropriate ways of working with children!!
They were all nervous, including the ex-headteacher who is now a watercolour artist, for different reasons and they needed reassurance that the children would be very responsive to their contributions and that their efforts would be rewarded. The time spent setting the scene’ was vital and reaped benefits later in the day. This is a key message for other schools planning to use Primary Futures.
The children had no idea that the week would have an art theme and, as a result, were clearly not expecting the three people who were answering their excellent questions with yes or no answers to be in the same line of work. They unpicked their ‘jobs’ with some very intuitive questions that made all of the adults in the room think, such as, ‘does your job entail working with children?’ and ‘would you recommend your job to us?’
The children realised that being an artist could mean many different things as a result of the descriptions of their work that the visitors’ provided once their cover had been blown. They were all artists but one worked with water colours painting landscapes; another was a graphic designer who demonstrated the use of comic strips; and the third drew fossils and personalised the images.
Because the day provided ample opportunity for children to talk as they produced work in the style of the artists, they identified the diverse nature of the career choice and extended their thinking about the world of work beyond their parents’ views and their own aspirations. One child had a moment of realisation as his work was celebrated by the ‘real’ artist that resulted in an outburst in front of the class; ‘so, you mean, I could earn a living doing something I love?’
Perhaps, I should apply that to my long-forgotten drama training!
The thanks sent to the artists by the children received responses that all included the fact that they had learned so much from their day working with the children and that they were inspired by the children’s engagement.
We will certainly use the Primary Futures website and database again but, given the limited number of volunteers on our doorstep, may need some human support from the team based in London although as volunteers numbers continue to grow this might not be so necessary. If this experience is anything to go by, it will be worth the effort! Primary Futures highly recommended!
Chris Knowles – Headteacher, Newby and Scalby Primary School

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By Steve Iredale

One comment on “Being an artist can be a really fulfilling career! Guest blog by Chris Knowles

  1. Chris thanks very much for your guest blog. It’s really important for all of us involved with Primary Futures to get feedback from those on the front line ……. warts and all. It all helps us to reflect on the work we are doing and to obviously learn from your experiences and of course those of the children.

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