Cultural Learning Alliance

The best learning is embodied learning: a profound insight woven into a
memorable story

Michael Boyd
Artistic Director, Royal Shakespeare Company

Practice

A Cultural Campus on London's South Bank

In summer term 2009, BFI, Southbank Centre and Lambeth City Learning Centre tried out an experiment in learning: a partnership to explore a particular way of working with schools in Lambeth – the 'South Bank Cultural Campus'.

The collaboration between these organisations was designed to offer Lambeth schools an unforgettable experience: a residency on the South Bank, with its unique site and buildings. The whole South Bank would become an enormous learning space, where teachers and creative practitioners would be able to work together in a programme devised to make the most of the opportunities presented both by the natural and architectural features of the site, and by the many diverse cultural and educational possibilities on offer there.

The experiment began with two Lambeth primary schools that worked with very different models: one school visited the South Bank for three days a week over four weeks; the other school was in residence daily for a whole week.

The Cultural Campus residencies were ‘an overwhelmingly positive experience’ for both schools. For children there was the excitement of being in a stimulating environment and being among the general public and in the ‘real world’. They greatly enjoyed having the ‘freedom of the South Bank’, getting to know the site and the buildings and basing their learning on the rich resources available.

"I am at home and I can’t wait for tomorrow to see what’s in store for us. I am also very excited and also feeling like I can’t wait because it is like the trip has been our new school for the week and I enjoyed the experience!" Year 5 pupil, from a diary of the residency.

For teachers, one of the major benefits was the level of engagement of the children throughout these learning experiences: "I was surprised by how engaged some of the children were who I really struggle to engage." And children with special needs were among those who seemed to have benefited particularly from the experience: "They were focused, confident, completely different. The visual focus was very helpful to them."

Video diaries recorded in detail children’s excited responses to the residencies, while evaluation conversations with artists and South Bank staff elicited some interesting feedback. One child, when asked how learning on the Cultural Campus was different from learning at school, replied with just one word – "Time". Pupils appreciated "the freedom of being able to go round the Thames and make some films. Working outside especially". One boy summed it all up: "I would have liked to come for two years – I would have liked to sleep here."

Both schools spent substantial time following up the work, which had left them with lots of ideas. They used techniques that they had learnt and revisited some of the themes that they had discussed at the Cultural Campus.

Here is one snapshot of the learning activities that pupils experienced.

The Firefox, the Monkey and the One Eyed Alien

One of the achievements that the Y3 pupils were most proud of was their animated film ‘The Firefox, the Monkey and the One Eyed Alien'. This surrealist little film was a remarkably original short work which told the story of how the firefox and the monkey went for a ride on the London Eye and were spun off into Half-World, together with much of the South Bank. In Half World they split in half and were only restored to wholeness when zapped by the One Eyed Alien. It was an original narrative that worked beautifully within a short space, and children were fully involved in its creation – from making the original storyboard to drawing and cutting out the puppets, creating the stop-frame animation, and composing a musical sound track, including music from the Gamelan, specifically for the film.

Afterwards the film was shown to the members of the South Bank Board, and children talked about why these important people had come to see their work:

"They came to see how well we’d done – we done a different thing that no one had ever done." (‘What was that?’) "The Firefox, the Monkey and the One Eyed Alien." Pupil

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Cultural Campus, BFI. Photo: Olivia Hemingway
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