Gallions Primary School teaches the entire curriculum through the arts, with fantastic results. Co-heads Paul Jackson and Emma McCarthy explain how it’s done

Gallions Primary School opened in September 1999 on the Winsor Park Estate in the London Borough of Newham. Nearly all the children who came to the school did so because they had failed at their previous schools. They were disillusioned with the concept of education. We had to reverse their expectation.

The school decided to tackle this by teaching the curriculum creatively through the arts. We believe that the arts are vital to our spiritual and intellectual development. An arts-based curriculum has been in place for all classes since September 2003.

This has meant rewriting all the schemes of work so that more than 60% of the curriculum can be taught in a cross-curricular way through the arts. This gives the children more time for their work so that they can complete it to a high standard. Teachers have less preparation and planning to do, which leads to a reduction in stress. It also gives both teachers and pupils more time to investigate, think, discuss and record work. Many staff have expertise in the arts, and all the staff are committed to developing their skills in all arts areas. This expertise is used to teach lessons that are exciting, meaningful and challenging for all pupils.

Building confidence
Performing instils confidence in children. Children who perform regularly develop a sense of audience, the knowledge that there is a real reason for learning in school, and increased ability to cooperate. It is hugely pleasurable to perform to the best of one’s ability and to be praised for doing so.

So we put on major productions of music, dance or drama each year. Children in key stages 1 and 2 perform to the public at least six times a year.

The arts-based curriculum comes to life through the regular contact our pupils have with professionals working in the field of art, dance, drama, media and music. Since 2000, more than 120 artists and organisations have worked with Gallions. The length of time an artist spends with us depends partly on the nature of the project and partly on the amount of money we have to fund them. Some artists work in the school for a day, but most come for several. Some artists return each year for substantial residencies. Paul Ayres, our composer, has been resident for several years!

Creative Partnerships
In April 2002, Gallions was invited to become one of only 25 East London Creative Partnership Schools. This enables us to commission programmes and projects working with professional creative organisations and to extend our experiences.

A particular highlight of our Creative Partnership work was the opportunity for the whole school to work with a professional librettist, composer, designer and director/producer on the production of an opera, The Stolen Moon.

Music at Gallions is for everyone. We use the Kodaly approach to teach music, and the Colourstrings method, based on Kodaly principles, for our string training programme. The two approaches build on each other. Children develop an inherent musical sense and understanding through singing, which is further developed through instrumental learning.

All classes sing daily. Each class has Kodaly musicianship lessons every week. All children, from Years 2 to 6, learn an instrument in small groups, supported by supervised practice sessions at school. Our full music programme includes music assemblies, concerts, music clubs, composition projects and performances. Many staff also learn a string instrument at school, in the same way as the children. This has provided an interesting opportunity for teachers to be challenged alongside the children and, in some cases, they discover that the children are making considerably faster progress than they are.

Philosophy for Children
All our children also take part in weekly Philosophy for Children (P4C) sessions (see issue 43). These are designed to help them develop into effective, critical and creative thinkers, and to take a great deal of responsibility for their own learning in a creative and collaborative environment. P4C is key in how our children learn to transfer knowledge from one area of the curriculum to another, and to be able to sort out disputes without resorting to physical violence.

All Gallions teaching staff, and the majority of the support staff, are trained to Level 1 in P4C, with many of the teachers also trained to Level 2. This has enabled us to create an atmosphere where positive behaviour and consideration for others are consistent throughout the school.

Visitors describe the atmosphere of the school as serene and purposeful. We have very few behaviour problems. Children are happy, positive, confident, considerate and progressing well. When we were inspected, in June 2006, Ofsted judged us to be an outstanding school.