excerpt from TES 2001
Individual pupils are targeted with imaginative programmes. Jamil, eight, was disruptive and never able to settle to anything except when he was drawing or painting. Ever watchful for potential, staff concluded that he possessed exceptional visual awareness, so they created an individual programme for him that included visual challenges within the normal curriculum. In a recent dance lesson, he was asked to make a quick sketch of how pupils should be positioned in a dance they had composed. Jamil also spends a good deal of time with Dave Hulston, an artist and musician who works at Medlock two days a week as an arts development officer, advising staff, creating schemes of work and working with individual pupils.
An exhibition space has been set up in a reception area where large, powerfully expressive paintings on themes such as the "horrors of war" and "identity" - all linked to curriculum topics - are displayed. The paintings, worked on over weeks, are often linked to poetry and writing. It is here that children such as Jamil come to work with Mr Hulston, and where he gives them some freedom to take the initiative. For example, Jamil became interested in a pile of stones Mr Hulston had brought into school, and made stepping stones with them. This turned into a discussion about journeys and a painting by Jamil on life as a journey - a darkly layered self-portrait super-imposed with stones, shells and keys, and text with statements such as "I wish to fly"; "Sometimes we hurt on the outside, inside we have our happy memories".
Staff considered the key to engaging Jamil in learning was allowing him plenty of space for self-discovery and expression, working things out at a deep-seated level. An emphasis on developing children emotionally, says Mr Herrington, is central to the school's mission. Mr Hulston started working at Medlock on a voluntary basis when he lived on the local Ardwick estate and his two daughters attended the school. He was then taken on half-time as a support worker for a special needs child. When this task came to an end, he was retained to develop the visual arts. Developing a role for Mr Hulston and managing to keep him on by contracting out his services to other schools is typical of Medlock's "outside-the-box" thinking in meeting its pupils needs. Mr Hulston now works half of his week for Manchester Arts Education Festival, helping to devise programmes for 47 other schools, and creating partnerships between schools and the nearby Whitworth Gallery.