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Education News

Tables made of wood from skips

More than half the 119 pupils who took GCSE art at Trinity School in Leamington, Warwickshire, last summer were awarded "starred A"grades and a further quarter gained straight As. But the school's art rooms are so badly funded that they do not eve n haveenough chairs for the pupils to sit on, and some of the tables have had to be rigged up by a teacher with wood rescued from a skip.

A stool costs £7 and a chair even more, according to Kirstie Barton, head of art, and the school simply cannot afford it. All students have to buy their own folders if they want them, and those who can afford to buy paint and crayons and bring them in. Basic tools such as scissors are rare commodities, she says.

She points out a striking sculpture made from willow shoots. The A-level student who created the piece had to pay the £25 needed for materials, she says. She fears her pupils may not be able to continue to produce such excellent work in such poor conditions.

"The pupils never blame their tools, and they become quite resourceful about what they can use. We don't like asking kids to fund things for themselves because we believe education should be free," she says.

The art department at Trinity, a Roman Catholic school built in 1966, has a history to be proud of. The first headteacher, Peter Hastings, believed the arts were vital to children's development and went to great lengths to fund them.

Educational charities, the Gulbenkian Foundation and even the Government's Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) were all cajoled into giving money. This paid for a whole series of artists in residence, for a photography studio and for a machine that creates vinyl moulds, allowing pupils to make numbers of identical plaster casts.

Even in the late Eighties, after Mr Hastings retired, the school still managed to find extra money from various sources. But the recession seems to have stopped all that. A recent mailshot to about 30 companies asking for picture frames brought just one reply: a polite refusal. Attempts to find an empty shop or office in which to hold an exhibition have also drawn a blank.

The department now struggles to find the cost of replacement vinyl for its moulding machine and of repairs and film for the photography studio. There has been no paid artist in residence since 1992, and students have to club together to pay models for the weekly after-school life class.

Veronica Cutler, the acting head, accepts that the school's art department has resource problems but says this is because of government restrictions on local authority funding. Warwickshire County Council's spending has been repeatedly capped.

"The irony of local management of schools is that you spend so much time deciding what not to have instead of what to have. What teacher can you do without, and which area can you have bigger classes in?

"There were special ways of getting money in the past which are not available now,"she says.