There are 329 pupils at Pakeman Primary School, with over half of them being classified as disadvantaged by the school, this presents a range of challenges for the school leadership [1].

46% of pupils are on pupil premium and around 20% of pupils have parents/carers on a low income or zero-hour contracts. The deprivation factor is 0.41 (double the national average).

The pupils at Pakeman speak 34 different languages and 89% of them have English as an additional language. 22% of students are SEND. Headteacher Emma Bonnin painted a picture of the home lives of the children at the school:

  • There is a lack of spoken English language
  • Many pupils are exposed to poverty, crime, mental health, and housing issues
  • Many pupils have issues with emotional regulation
  • Many pupils struggle with social interaction
  • Many pupils have low self-confidence and self-belief
  • Some pupils and their families do not see education as a priority

Emma discussed the stories of several pupils at the school (names have been changed):

Child 1

Amelia is in Year 2 and has just arrived from Afghanistan. She speaks no English at all. She loves to play and is a potential gifted and talented artist.

Child 2

Kemal lives in a studio flat with his mother who has severe mental health problems. He was born with alcohol dependency because of his mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy. He arrives late to school every day.

Child 3

Mohamed lives with his father and two older siblings. His siblings are in gangs and are trying to recruit Mohamed to join. Mohamed loves to read which helps him get away from the chaos at home.

Using the Arts

The school uses engagement with the arts to help children that need extra support. They have developed a timetable which allows children to feel included and understood, by utilsiing artistic tools of expression.

Parts of the day are planned around the arts so that children feel that they can express themselves and communicate with their teacher and fellow pupils.

The school day:

8:45 am: Children come into school and look at their visual timetable on the board, so they know what is going to happen that day. The timetable is made up of pictures so children with poor English language skills feel included.

9:00 am: Children pick up a visual lanyard which is used as a communication tool throughout the day. The lanyards have symbols that were drawn by the children themselves, to show the teacher that they need to go to the toilet, they need a drink or they’re feeling sad.

For example:

بیت الخلاء


The school recognised that art is a powerful tool for children who cannot communicate what they need or want through written or spoken English. When these children can’t ask for what they need, they become isolated. These innovative, visual modes of communication ensure that no child is left behind.

9:15am: Children then go into their first lesson. Many schools teach literacy at this time of day. For pupils that can’t speak English, this is very challenging. Pakeman school introduced books and stories that touch on topics that are relatable to students who have an unsettled home life. These books also are picture heavy for those children who are new to English.

Themes explored through books include:

  • Inclusivity and diversity
  • Bullying
  • Living alone
  • Loss
  • Comfort in dreaming
  • Gangs
  • Homelessness
  • War, bombings, and evacuees

This book explores themes around loss and bereavement.

Drama is also incorporated in the literacy classes. Children are encouraged to act out how it would feel to be lonely or homeless. Drama is accessible to children who can’t understand English and can’t communicate through English as they can express themselves through facial expressions and body language instead.

10:15am: After literacy, children take part in social and emotional groups. During these sessions, the school use Margot Sunderland books which explore themes that may be affecting children at home.

11:00 am: Now the children have their maths lesson. Maths at the school is cross-curricular and incorporates creative modes of thinking from design and science disciplines. Years 5 and 6 recently worked on a cross-curricular project to plan, design, measure, and produce their own lighthouses with working electricity units.

The school use model making in maths to develop creativity and problem-solving skills. Model making doesn’t always require pupils to communicate through English, it allows them to become fully absorbed in a task that requires them to use their brain in many ways.

Creative Play

During lunchtimes, the school wanted to ensure that all children feel included, safe and stimulated. OPAL is a not-for-profit company that supports schools to plan for and provide quality playtime.

Pakeman has been working with OPAL to develop a playtime culture that encourages creativity in the playground. Children are encouraged to engage in activities such as dressing up and den building.

Creative modes of play help children build their confidence and connect with other children without feeling scared. The school believes that playtime should be a safe space where children feel free to express themselves as they need to.

Locomotive, creative and fantasy play is facilitated to help all children at the school with their development. Freedom to play not only helps children encountering language barriers, but also benefits children with SEMH needs.

Locomotive play including football, monkey bars, skipping ropes and space hoppers:

  • Helps children with additional needs to build confidence in their own abilities
  • Encourages children to take risks
  • Assists in the development of social skills through team sports
  • Allows children to let off some steam

Creative play including science lab activities, mud kitchens and dressing up:

  • Allows children with additional needs to express their emotions in a comfortable environment
  • Encourages independence during self-directed activities
  • Offers an opportunity for a child to master a skill without the pressure of having to reach an end result

Fantasy play including dressing up and performing as imagined characters:

  • Encourages language development
  • Develops a child’s self-concept
  • Is fun, there are limitless possibilities to what they can achieve

Other Tools

After lunch, children participate in different activities depending on their needs. For children that have experienced deep trauma, Pakeman offers art therapy courses. These are one-to-one therapeutic interventions. The children create things over many weeks to build resilience skills.

For those that don’t need art therapy, music lessons are provided. Music has no barriers or limits; it doesn’t matter what language a child speaks – they can all participate and express themselves.

Learning an instrument gives children a channel to express themselves and to feel good about their abilities.

The school has emphasised how special music is to the school community. A lot of children don’t have male role models at home, so they look up to the male music teacher, finding comfort in the lessons. It shows the children that you can be an artist whether you’re a woman or a man.


Children at Pakeman School have been presented with a range of artistic opportunities which have provided them with outlets for self-expression.

On the 5th of July 2021, the school hosted Arts Day. The theme for the day was Hidden Messages. Each year group had a different focus and a different artist to explore.

Inspired by abstract work from Aboriginal Artist John Bulunbulun, Years 1 and 2 children explored the theme of Hidden Messages by etching, painting and using light. They explored colour and shape and how we can use them to communicate meaning.

The theme encouraged children to engage in abstract thinking, helping them to stretch their thinking and work outside of their usual boundaries.

At the last inspection in 2018 Ofsted reported:

“Innovative approaches provide enrichment activities to promote pupils’ academic achievement and well-being, removing any potential barriers to their learning.”

Overall, Pakeman School believes that all its curriculum aims can be met with support from the arts. The impact of the arts on disadvantaged children and children with English as a second language is huge.

[1] Bonnin, Emma. 2022. Pakeman Primary School

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Pakeman Primary School in London accommodates for SEND pupils and pupils with English as a second language. They have used the arts to implement a ‘creative curriculum’. This case study explores how this new curriculum has supported pupils with their additional needs.

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