Art teacher and Creative Lead Gemma Comber explains how they promote pupil choice, independence and leadership through art, craft and design at Drapers Mills Primary …

Date Created: 23rd Sep 2020

Share this:

Drapers Mills Primary Young Art Leaders (YALS) Initiative

At Drapers Mills Primary school, Margate, we pride ourselves in providing a rich arts education, with a focus on pupil choice, independence and leadership. In recent years, we have introduced the idea of Young Art Leaders (fondly referred to as YALS). So what exactly is a YAL and how do they help to promote pupil choice, independence and leadership in primary art? Any child can become a Young Art Leader, and it will be up to your setting to determine how you go about selecting your YALS. For us, we chose a diverse group of children, including those who express a strong interest in the arts, pupils who enjoy taking risks/critical/creative thinkers and those who we felt would benefit socially and emotionally; which included some of our most vulnerable children. Our aim is to support our YAL’ s to become active equirers as opposed to passive learners. Each year, we aim to have between 15-30 Young Art Leaders from across KS2, who stay in this role for the duration of the year. When each year finishes, they graduate to become ‘Art Leaders’! The YAL’s main role is to represent the school at various art events, play an active role in art projects and workshops and be willing to lead and inspire other pupils through artistic tasks, projects and lessons.

We are currently in our fourth year of YAL’s (although we are unsure of how this year will pan out due to covid). During our first year, our YALs were simply a group of our most gifted and talented children from years 5 and 6. I worked with the children every Friday afternoon, as part of our ‘University Friday’ curriculum enrichment. We would visit various places of interest within our local community including ClaySpace Studios, The Turner Contemporary and DBA Edition printmakers. Each session, we would set off on foot or in the school minibus to our destination, armed with an assortment of pens, paper, glue and anything else that took our fancy!

All of our trips were free and were organised by simply getting in touch with local organisations that were of interest to us – never be afraid to ask!

Community Projects

During our second year, our YALs were involved in many more community based projects, including making work for the Power Of Women Festival. We spent time exploring issues such as gender and equality and created mono prints based around our ideas. Two of our designs were chosen to be printed onto bags and t-shirts by DBA Edition printmakers, and sold at the Turner Contemporary during the POW! Festival.

More recently, we’ve worked with artist Sam Ayre to design an alternative map of Margate to be used by visitors to the Margate Now! Festival. We explored places that were important to the children – such as The Joke Shop, Dreamland and Turner Contemporary; and then some more obscure places including ‘a nice bench to sit and read on’, ‘the smell of Margate’, ‘bouncy seaweed’, ‘The Works’ (apparently the number one place to buy art supplies) and ‘my cousin works here, nice fish’! We walked, we talked and we laughed as we were led all about the town; children first, adults trailing after! The final version of our map was printed onto tracing paper so that it could be overlaid over an original town map. A large scale version of our map was also displayed in key places around the town.

Art Competitions

One of our most favourite competitions, that we have entered for the past four years, is the prestigious Portfolio Competition. Portfolio is Turner Contemporary and Canterbury Christ Church University’s annual art competition for pupils, students, teachers and community groups across Kent and Medway. We are delighted to say that from the hundreds (often thousands of entries) Drapers Mills pupils have always been shortlisted and awarded various prizes for their artwork. The whole school gets the chance to enter and often our most unusual entries are selected and successful! In terms of promoting choice and independence, this competition really encourages that. The children are given a theme to explore and a range of contemporary and historical artists to choose from and research. We have a continuous provision of art materials available to them and they are free to work at their own pace. Some children choose to work with paint, others collage, some choose clay or boxes, while others prefer more unexpected mediums such as felt, found objects or even whisked eggs!

Competitions are a fantastic way of giving children a purpose for their work (especially if there’s a prize involved) and really motivates them into action. Our sketchbooks and prep work are testimony to the hard work, time and effort our children dedicate to the various competitions we enter throughout the year. We don’t cap the number of sketchbook pages they can use and allow them to set them out in a way they are most comfortable with – as all artists do. And of course, there’s no marking scheme! All of the sketchbooks in the photos below are from the same unit of work ‘Places and Spaces’; but just look at how varied the layout and content is!


We had been considering registering for the Artsmark award for quite a while, but had never quite gotten around to it. Fortunately, a Faversham based company called Animate Arts held a meeting, revealing details of a very ambitious art project which they wanted to undertake with schools from East Kent. The only catch was that, in order to participate, we had to begin our Artsmark journey. And what an amazing journey it has been so far! Our YALs have organised their own exhibition, beyond the school walls, out in the real world! ‘The Space Museum’ was part of Animate Arts Big Build project; led by the YALs and created by the whole school. This gave our YALs the opportunity to plan work, teach and model lessons to other children and curate their very own exhibition. We are very proud to say that all of our YALs were awarded their Arts Award Discover for this.

Three of our Young Art Leaders attended Animate Arts Manifesto Day at the Turner Contemporary. This special event brought together the activists, campaigners, do-ers and supporters of education and creativity under one roof. Over the course of the day, we built a manifesto to campaign for more art in schools. Our YALS presented to the room and are now ready to champion the arts and encourage more art in every school! The courage, power, leadership and sense of responsibility they felt on this day, will stay with them for the rest of their lives; it was a truly amazing experience for them.

As part of our Artsmark journey, we now also have ambitious plans to set up Young Leaders in other areas of the arts such as dance, animation, performance and music. This year, we’ve been incredibly lucky to work alongside so many amazing organisations including the Turner Contemporary, 1927 Performance Company, Flock Dance and What’s Coming Out of the Box. Each of these organisations have helped us to realise that our vision is both achievable and necessary, as all of the children have absolutely loved working in these different areas of the arts. So we are now well on the way to having not only Young Art Leaders, but also Young Animation Leaders, Young Dance Leaders and Young Choir Leaders!

Despite the challenges of lockdown and home learning, Drapers Mills have continued to prioritise the arts and provide our pupils with exciting art projects over the past few months. We have partnered with both Animate Arts and 1927 to send our YALs an amazing Animate Arts Art Builders book, packed full of art projects they can do at home and a handwritten letter, designed and posted by 1927… how lucky are our children! On top of this, all of our children in school and at home have been busy participating in Animate Art’s Big Build challenges, which will be exhibited in a 360 degree Virtual Reality gallery!

Context of our school

Drapers Mills Primary Academy is a large coastal primary in Thanet. Its last Section 5 Ofsted Inspection in March 2018 judged it as “Good” with “Outstanding” Leadership and Management. The school had been in Special Measures, back in June 2014. Nearly half of our children (approximately 250) live in Cliftonville West ward, one of the most socially and economically deprived wards in the country and a thirty minute walk from school. A further 100+ children live in Margate Central. These wards are rated 1st and 4th in the most deprived wards in the county and Cliftonville West is the fourth most deprived nationally (2015 Index of Multiple Deprivation). As a result, Drapers Mills Primary Academy is rated number 1 on the deprivation index for the county because of the catchment it serves. Data for 2017/18, compiled by Loughborough University on behalf of coalition End Child Poverty, says 46% of children living in the above mentioned wards live below the poverty line (after housing costs). Mobility at the school reflects the transient nature of our cohort. Mobility data from 2019 showed that 41% of the school roll was affected by movement in and out of school, with 189 children either leaving the school or coming to the school within the academic year. The majority of the children who left us last year (79%), left the area, mainly due to employment opportunities and/or the offer of improved housing. 67% of new arrivals (70 children) were from outside of the Margate area. Many of our EAL families return to their country of origin a period of time before returning. We have a high percentage of EAL children in our school (45%), most from a Czech/Slovak Roma background (30%). We also have an ever increasing percentage of children entitled to FSM – currently 51%. Many of our children need to access additional support to engage effectively with the curriculum, whether that be language, pastoral or SEN.

Follow our journey on our dedicated Art, Culture and Creativity Twitter page: @ArtDrapers

Words: Gemma Comber, Drapers Mills Primary School

Awarded by Arts Council England, Artsmark supports schools and education settings to embed arts, culture and creativity in their curriculum. To find out more about Artsmark and start bringing learning to life through arts and culture, click here.


Artsmark For teachers Primary School South East Bridge

Sign up to our newsletter

Receive the latest News & Events straight to your inbox

Recieve the lastest News & Events straight to your inbox

Opt into another list