Headteacher at Allendale Primary School in Northumberland, Alison Hawkins, talks to our Creative Engagement Officer Kate Halsall, about the benefits of creative arts workshops from visiting artists and companies.
K: Hi Alison! Could you tell me about your teaching background and how you came to be in your current role, as Headteacher at Allendale Primary School?
A: I originally started teaching many years ago in Bolton. Initially in Year 6 in a multi cultural school with lots of families from different ethnic backgrounds. I then moved within Bolton to a catholic primary school, teaching Year 1 and Year 2, so a very different proposition to Y6. After getting married, I moved to Cumbria and started as Deputy Headteacher at Allendale First School where I became Headteacher in 2009. Again, moving from an urban to a rural school presented different challenges, such as access to amenities. In 2013, we became a Primary School, moved premises – if you think moving house is hard work, moving an entire school and expanding it was interesting! Our school has continued to grow and develop. It’s our 10 year anniversary in 2023-24 and our school looks very different now from when we first came here.
K: What are your personal interests in the Arts and do you attend events locally or further afield? (Any particular events that have stood out for you?)
A: I enjoy reading, going to theatre, comedy gigs and live music. I attend events at the Sands Centre in Carlisle but as my family live in Manchester, I also manage to go to the Palace theatre and Opera House there, to see the touring West end shows, the MEN arena or Bolton Wanderers to see live concerts such as Meatloaf, Tina Turner, Elton John and Pink. I always tell the children at school, I have a very eclectic taste!
One of the most vivid memories I have from Primary School is going on a school trip to the Free Trade Hall in Manchester to see the Halle Orchestra play Holst’s Planet Suite. I’d never seen a live orchestra before and it had such a profound impact, I’ve never forgotten the power of that school trip to inspire a new interest. Just before the pandemic lock downs in 2020, we took our UKS2 children to Sage Gateshead to see the Royal Northern Sinfonia perform live – there was that same sense of ‘awe and wonder’ as the majority of those children had never experienced live music in any form.
K: At Allendale are children currently interested in any particular arts projects in school (choir, or an art project for example, instrumental lessons?) and do you find there is lots of interest for youth club arts activities outside of school? I find this can be so different, in different rural areas, due to transport for example.
A: We find that the children have a deep enjoyment and connection to our arts projects. Accessing arts experiences in Hexham or Newcastle is not possible for all our families due to transport or cost of living issues so we always feel that it is vital these experiences are brought to the school through school activities. We hold an annual summer exhibition at the Forge Arts Centre in the village. We have a different theme each year and all children have their work displayed. As well as the local community, Allendale attracts a lot of tourists, and our exhibition is very well received. We have a visitors’ book in which visitors leave their comments which are so positive and appreciative.
We are very active in Eco initiatives and combine this with arts activities during theme days and weeks such as Clean Air Day. Our Y4,5 and 6 pupils are currently working on a partnership Heritage Lottery funded project in collaboration with the Queen’s Hall in Hexham, called beneath Our Feet which combines the industrial history and heritage of the area with an arts themed project.
I teach music as PPA cover across KS2. We have a different genre of music each half term which we explore. The children learn to sing songs in this genre and we use this to introduce instrument playing – djembe drumming initially, then steel pans. I’m finding that this year, our children seem to have developed a love of 1980s music, Queen and Bon Jovi being particularly popular!
We started a singing club for Y4,5,6 and before Christmas had one for Y2 and Y3. The children enjoy singing and will often ask to perform songs they have learnt at home. We have 2 art clubs for Y4,5 and 6 which are run at breaktimes and the school council are trying to raise funds to purchase a summer house for the playground and one of the things they would like in this is an area for children to do art and crafts at breaktimes. We also have a ‘quiet’ club for KS1 and Y3 which a member of staff runs one lunchtime. The children there enjoy some mindfulness colouring activities and a chance to ‘chill out’.
We surveyed our children to see what activities / clubs they were accessing out of school time. Some do go to the Forge Arts centre where there is an art club run by a retired art teacher in the village. I was surprised by how few children were learning an instrument. We used to have a tutor who came into school to offer violin and piano / keyboard lessons. However, post covid, the tutor is no longer able to come to school. We are part of the music service but this year, they have not been able to provide a tutor for us for whole class ensemble activities. I emailed parents and posted on Facebook that we were looking for someone to offer small group and individual instrument tuition and have secured a violin teacher and are hopeful of sourcing a piano teacher.
K: I’ve worked with you since 2020, when we had some fantastic contributions from your children, including for our World Environment Day/My Minute of Listening (link) during the challenging Covid lockdown. You’ve also had workshops with artists from Mambo Jambo, Slanjayvah Danza, Clydebuilt Puppet Theatre and Rob Gee. What do you feel the impact of regular Arts engagement can be for children and how do you balance this, with the many budget considerations for a small rural school?
A: We’re very fortunate in having a very active PTFA who use the money raised during their events to fund transport for trips and arts workshops in school as this wouldn’t be possible if funded solely from the budget; we have never asked for contributions from parents for any workshop or trip. Throughout the year we run a regular programme of arts activities for children of all ages and will invite the local pre school to join us if it is suitable, such as theatre company performances.
Having arts workshops is a priority for us. It enables children to shine and often reveals a whole new skill set that sometimes, even they didn’t know they had. It fosters creativity which is in danger of being squeezed out of a very overloaded curriculum with the emphasis on results rather than exploration and enjoyment – which often is what brings the results! The children build upon their skills and knowledge and the increase in confidence and self esteem is noticeable when a child produces a piece of creativity which amazes themselves and their peers. Regular arts activities, whether workshops run in school or trips to arts venues, enable the children to experience and explore all sorts of new ideas, new genres and art forms and is an important resource for showing them that the arts can be a career path in future years.