They're "valued and good" - the 46,500 primary children who took part in Take One Picture

Janet Downs's picture
What do you get if you introduce 46,500 primary children to just one painting? The answer is as varied as the children’s imaginations.

Take One Picture is the annual programme by the National Gallery in London which links a chosen picture, teachers, children, their families, investigation and creation.

In 2011/12, the focus was “Still Life with a Drinking-Horn” by Willem Kalf (c 1653). The painting “ignited children’s curiosity”, said the National Gallery, with the children following their own lines of enquiry in different directions before producing work of exceptional quality. As Jillian Barker, of the National Gallery, said:

“We have been amazed by the infinite capacity of Old Master paintings to inspire children through Take One Picture.”

In summer 2013, the Gallery exhibited work from 25 of the schools that had taken part. The exhibition included a comic strip adventure from Ashdell Preparatory School Sheffield, large pastel drawings from Castlebar, a Special Needs School in London, animations from Clapham Manor Primary School and Grafton Primary School and a study of texture at Gretton Primary School, Northamptonshire. Pupils at Kingsleigh Primary School Dorset recreated the painting for someone who couldn’t see it, St James’s Catholic Primary school children were inspired to create a dance and pupils at the British Embassy School Ankara asked themselves how Salvador Dali would have reacted to the picture.

Take One Picture has been running since 2001 when work from just five schools was exhibited. Grafton Primary School, an exhibitor in 2013, featured in the first-ever Take One Picture exhibition. The school’s excellent art work led to Grafton Primary School being awarded Artsmark status by Arts Council England.

The picture chosen for 2012/13 was “Bathers at Asnieres” by Seurat (1884). The National Gallery will display work from selected schools at the Gallery in the summer. This year’s choice for Take One Picture is “St Michael Triumphant over the Devil”, by Spanish artist Bartolome Bermejo (1468).

The Take One Picture project shows how art can be used as a springboard to develop cross-curricular learning. It’s an example of an excellent initiative which involves thousands of children and yet receives little publicity. Take One Picture is spreading nationally: other art galleries and museums are becoming involved. More children will be inspired to produce excellent work by being introduced to great art.

So which is better education: initiatives like these which inspire children or target-driven, teaching-to-the-Sats-GCSEs-PISA-tests? A comment by one teacher involved in Take One Picture could answer that question:


“It gave children a chance to shine. They could think ‘I’m valued and good’ and they knew that they were looked at differently.”


“I’m valued and good”

A selection of work chosen for Take One Picture exhibitions can be seen here.

The recent BBC School Report, an annual initiative for secondary school pupils, featured on LSN at the end of March 2014.
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 10/04/2014 - 16:29

"So which is better education: initiatives like these which inspire children or target-driven, teaching-to-the-Sats-GCSEs-PISA-tests?"

PISA tests are fundamentally different to SATs and C grade targeted GCSEs. Teaching to maximise performance at SATs and C grade GCSEs can be bad teaching that do the pupils no favours. That is not true of PISA. If it were possible to 'teach to the PISA tests', which have no syllabuses, that could only be good teaching, because PISA tests deep learning (L5-9) in my post.

There is lots of evidence that targeting GCSE grade C distorts potential attainment at grades E,D and B. This may even a reason for the disappointing performance of English pupils in PISA.

All teaching methods are not qualitatively the same. All tests are not qualitatively the same either.

I happen to think that the sort of educational activity rightly celebrated here by Janet aids deep learning in ways that the exam gaming that is incentivised by the marketisation that characterises the English system does not.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/04/2014 - 08:26

Roger - point taken re "teaching to PISA tests". The Welsh government's guide to using PISA in the context of learning says:

"Exposing learners to more PISA-style assessment is not about ‘practising’ or ‘teaching to the test’ it is about checking if learners understand how to access information and apply skills and knowledge. It is about creating and using an environment where they feel safe to take risks, collaborate with others to solve problems and receive formative feedback to help them improve. It is fundamentally about improving our young people’s life skills."

My concern was not the above - I agree with it. Rather it was the fear that schooling in England would be reduced to the three PISA subjects. Yes, they're vitally important but they're not all that education is. And the collaborative problem solving highlighted above is mocked by commentators such as Toby Young.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 11/04/2014 - 10:14

Janet - You are right and Toby Young is wrong.

The point about teaching for cognitive development is that the gains are transferable across subjects. When a child of any age (or an adult for that matter) is engaged with studying any phenomenon, school subject or not, at a deep level which fills and enriches consciousness in an interactive manner (metacognition), then the result is always positive. You can't have too much of it at any age, but the effect on the development of cognitive processes is especially strong in children. School subject boundaries are arbitrary really. Shayer and Adey in CASE called this 'bridging'. The curriculum at the Rev Richard Dawes' school in the mid - 19th century was especially inspiring in this regard.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Thu, 10/04/2014 - 16:58

Many moons ago my art teacher (clearly feeling beleaguered as the subject was just seen as 'drawing) made the case for art as a route to a deeper level of thinking. He would describe how a piece of work required huge amounts of concentration and perception which couldn't always be expressed in words.
When working in a reception class as a TA I recall a child with speech problems whose paintings showed a sophisticated understanding of her world. She could express in pictures what she could not say in language. At the end of KS1 the Foundation Phase ends and free access to painting (and much else) ends. This is a great pity. Art becomes a timetabled activity which is practised when the teacher has planned for it. I would love to see access to all manner of practical activities, not simply art, continue throughout schooling.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/04/2014 - 08:37

Michele - years ago, when teaching GCSE English/English Literature allowed more freedom that now, I planned a series of work (suggested by NATE, I think) which linked Keates's poem, "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" with two pre-Raphaelite paintings on the same theme. One of the tasks asked the pupils to reproduce a painting (as yet unseen) by Millais called "Isabella" after being given a list of items shown in the picture.

The pupils knew the story (forbidden love, ambitious and cruel brothers) so had to work out the likely relationship between the figures (eg close together, facial expressions etc). This involved drawing as well as a written explanation.

The lessons inspired two girls to use the pre-Raphaelites as a focus for their GCSE art work. This prompted the art teacher to pop in and see what I was doing which had sparked such interest.

Great stuff!

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 11/04/2014 - 10:50

Sometimes 'nuggets of gold', that grip individuals or groups of pupils, (or even just the teacher!), emerge in lessons in an unplanned way, like Mary Anning discovering fossils on Charmouth beach.

Teachers must never be afraid of abandoning the lesson plan and digressing. My maths teacher, a WW1 veteran told us stuff that I remember to this day, that would not suit Gove's version of history at all. He was also a keen bee-keeper and explained to us about the 'waggle dance' of bees that communicate sources of nectar. The class was fascinated. This was about the time that this was first discovered. I joined the school 'Bee Club'.

He also communicated to us brummies his love for the Lake District and how he remembered Ullswater freezing over one Easter and people skating. My guess is that that was 1947. I became a keen fell walker and climber when at university and we have lived on the edge of the Lake District since 1989.

NQTs often/usually struggle in their first job. In my Birmingham school where I attended after passing the 11-plus in 1958, I am sure that the advice given to NQTs was to be brutal. Corporal punishment was routinely and almost casually applied.

In my headship years when an NQT was struggling with a class I advised teaching them something loosely connected that you are passionate about and carefully plan how to communicate that passion. Children have a natural respect for integrity and authenticity.

You can't have too much of it in schools. Michele's Art teacher was right.

In the days of the awful KS3 initiative 'roll-out', with compulsory three-part lessons and lesson objectives being written on the blackboard, I remember one pupil interrupting me to say, "Mr Titcombe, I think you have forgotten to write the lesson objective on the board"

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 09:39

I could have posted my previous comment in support of Henry's reflections on his Finland trip.

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