Education: Beauty in all subjects: The modern world has given children greater 'visual literacy'. Diana Hinds looks at new approaches to creativity in schools

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IN the reception class at the Greville County School, Ashtead, Surrey, Alex is painting a picture of a chick. He has seen a real chick that day, brought into school by a visitor, and standing at the easel he makes soft, upward brush strokes in greenish-yellow to depict its fluffiness. Then he adds a row of simple pink faces: these are the children crowding round.

In another corner, Gillian is making a chick out of clay, carving careful wings into its body with a plastic knife. On the wall is one of her paintings, a beautifully observed study of sunflowers based on Van Gogh, in which she has suggested the movement of the flowers as well as their delicate stamens. 'This is a child who, when she started in September, could hardly draw a man,' says her teacher, Diane Allcock.

The Greville School takes its art very seriously, and, in spite of the other demands of the national curriculum, appears to be making an excellent job of it. The children are taken out to sketch - to Ashtead's old almshouses and medieval church, for instance - and encouraged to look and record. Their drawings, on display in a corridor, of a vintage car that was brought into the school playground, reveal an impressive ability to concentrate on what is in front of them (the car depicted from odd angles), rather than to settle for the conventional view.

Children are offered a wide range of materials to help them achieve different effects: thin brushes as well as thick, watercolour paints as well as thick paint in jars, pastel-coloured crayons as well as bright-coloured ones. They can print with cotton reels, feathers or pieces of card; they can fire small clay models in the school kiln; they can draw on computers - 'good for hand control', as one teacher comments.

Most importantly perhaps, their work is carefully tied in with projects in different subjects - not just to illustrate the project, but to advance it. 'Art has to be tied in like this, because the national curriculum is so demanding and it would be difficult to fit it in otherwise,' says Christine Martin, the school's art co-ordinator.

Other teachers come to Mrs Martin for advice, asking if a basic idea will work or what media they should use.

(Photograph omitted)