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The primary school putting arts centre-stage in teaching

PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 April 2019 | UPDATED: 07:02 13 April 2019

The world premiere of children's opera A King's Ransom at Open in Norwich, starring pupils from St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth and Sprowston Junior, Avenue Junior and St Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary in Norwich. Picture: Peter Marsh / ashmorevisuals

The world premiere of children's opera A King's Ransom at Open in Norwich, starring pupils from St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth and Sprowston Junior, Avenue Junior and St Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary in Norwich. Picture: Peter Marsh / ashmorevisuals

© 2018 peter marsh at ashmorevisuals

A school putting music and creative arts at the heart of its curriculum is reaping the benefits for its pupils and staff.

Mel Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth, speaks at the Celebration of A King's Ransom Gala Concert, organised by Into Opera as part of the Young Norfolk Arts Festival in 2018. Picture: Peter Marsh / ashmorevisualsMel Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth, speaks at the Celebration of A King's Ransom Gala Concert, organised by Into Opera as part of the Young Norfolk Arts Festival in 2018. Picture: Peter Marsh / ashmorevisuals

St George’s Primary School in Great Yarmouth has been running arts-based professional development (CPD) sessions for staff to help them bring more creativity into the classroom.

The school in St Peter’s Road was one of the Norfolk schools selected by Norfolk-based charity Into Opera to take part in children’s opera A King’s Ransom, written by famed composer Patrick Hawes, which premiered at Open in Norwich last year. It is also taking part in Mr Hawes’ next project, an opera based on children’s book Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat.

St George’s headteacher Mel Fearns was struck by the positive changes that performing in A King’s Ransom made to children at the school.

“The impact on children’s confidence, you can’t measure it but it is noticeable,” she said.

A workshop with students from St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth and St Mary and St Peter Catholic Primary in Gorleston for Gobbolino the Witch's Cat with Into Opera. Clarinettist Rachel Coe plays for pupils. Picture: Peter Marsh / ashmorevisualsA workshop with students from St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth and St Mary and St Peter Catholic Primary in Gorleston for Gobbolino the Witch's Cat with Into Opera. Clarinettist Rachel Coe plays for pupils. Picture: Peter Marsh / ashmorevisuals

“The backgrounds of our children are very disadvantaged so we want to give them arts and culture opportunities that they would not otherwise get.

“We asked Genevieve [Raghu, Into Opera artistic director] to inspire the staff to be creative in their approaches to teaching and learning and bring more creativity to the classroom.

“She helped us to look at things in a different way.

“The staff are very inspired and excited by it. Teaching can become a bit staid; to make it really move forward you have got to be risk-takers and be out of your comfort zone.”

Genevieve Raghu, artistic director and founder of Into Opera, leads a workshop with pupils at St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth for A King's Ransom. The children's opera premiered at Open in Norwich in 2018. Picture: Into OperaGenevieve Raghu, artistic director and founder of Into Opera, leads a workshop with pupils at St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth for A King's Ransom. The children's opera premiered at Open in Norwich in 2018. Picture: Into Opera

The CPD sessions were delivered through the cultural education partnership, an Arts Council funded initiative which aims to provide young people with more artistic and cultural learning opportunities both in and out of school. Great Yarmouth was one of three towns chosen to pilot the scheme in 2012.

It has been supported by Enjoy Great Yarmouth, which is running a programme to match up schools with local arts organisations to bring more creative opportunities into the classroom.

Colin Stott, chairman of Enjoy Great Yarmouth, said: “It is not just about one-off projects, it is about that relationship-building between arts organisations and schools and changing the way you operate on a day-to-day basis to be more interesting for the teachers as well as the children.”

‘We are not a one-workshop wonder’

Genevieve Raghu, artistic director at Into Opera, hopes St George’s Primary will be the first of many schools to take up its arts-based professional development sessions.

Into Opera is currently acting as a cultural partner for the school in a two-year project to help make music and arts a greater focal point in its teaching strategy.

“A big barrier to bringing the arts into teaching is teacher confidence and that is at the heart of the CPD: how can you think about your teaching more creatively?” Ms Raghu said.

“We are part of the fabric of the school and that is what makes the difference. We are not a one-workshop wonder, that is not where we are going to see success.

“Schools are under such pressure. There is so much focus on quantitative results and not enough given to qualitative results.

“Music is being increasingly sidelined and I think that is really worrying, but in Norfolk there is a desire to make sure it does not go that way.”

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