Brilliant Learning

Mara Grkinic: from classroom to National Gallery exhibition

Alderbrook was one of 30 primary schools chosen this year to have their work displayed at the National Gallery. Mara Grkinic, teacher and Creative Arts Lead at the school describes their creative journey.

Now in its 26th year, the National Gallery stages an annual exhibition called Take One Picture, and invites primary schools nationwide to take part by focussing on one of its paintings and responding creatively to its themes and subject matter, historical context, or composition. The programme aims to put art at the centre of children’s learning across the curriculum, inspiring a lifelong connection with artists’ work, museums and galleries. 

Paolo Uccello The Battle of San Romano probably about 1438-40 Egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar, 182 x 320 cm Bought, 1857 NG583

For 2021, the National Gallery selected The Battle of San Romano (painted probably about 1438–40) by Paolo Uccello as the source of inspiration. The painting shows a key moment in the Florentine victory at San Romano in 1432, with the commander Niccolò da Tolentino leading a cavalry charge and wearing a magnificent red and gold hat. Uccello’s painting was chosen for the cross-curricular themes and subjects which can be explored: from conflict and battles, to pattern, perspective and Renaissance Italy.

A selection of work produced by schools, based on the painting, is then shown at the National Gallery and published on the website. In order to be considered for the display, schools submit examples of how a whole class or school has used the picture to inspire projects that are child-led and cross-curricular and through which children have learnt a new process and involved members of the local community.

Alderbrook was one of 30 primary schools chosen this year to have their work displayed at the National Gallery and Mara Grkinic, teacher and Creative Arts Lead at the school describes the creative journey of pupils in Year 5 (Summer 2020) through to Year 6 (Spring 2021) when the project ended. Beginning with an online workshop with a professional animator, collaboration with the City Learning Centre (CLC), to how they resolved some of the practical and technical challenges of remote learning during the periods of lockdown. 

For the last four years, the school has taken part in this national art project, looking at the chosen painting and deciding how to use the image imaginatively, both as a stimulus for artwork, and to make links across the curriculum. Obviously this past year, going into lockdown meant the school could not do the project as normal, because the children did not have access to the usual resources available at school. Throughout May, June and July 2020, each year group explored the painting, focussing on different art skills and what interested them about the painting. In September, each year group then had a focussed art skill to develop.

The project aim was to do something cross-curricular, so looking at different aspects of the curriculum, whether art and media, art with maths, or art with textiles etc. It should also include the local community and the children learning a new skill. Our new skill was to learn all about animation techniques and software. Most of the pupils were already aware of stop animation, so not a new thing. A massive factor in us choosing to do this option was because of lockdown. I gave the pupils a choice, explaining that we were going to do an art project and here is a list of things that you can do. On the list was animations; can you use objects at home to try and recreate the picture; the option of looking at shadows; maybe a textiles project with the armour and hat; another option was looking at colour in the picture and why the artist had decided to put pink on the floor. I drew up a big grid of all the options and then asked the children to choose. Most of the pupils messaged back straight away via Google Classroom saying that they wanted to do animations! It was far quicker and easier for them to do this online, the pupils were already familiar with using Google Classroom, as they had already been doing a lot of online learning throughout the lockdown. The alternative would have meant dropping off painting materials etc to all of their homes. 

The decision to use stop animation was also helped by the pupils having an online workshop with Scott Castles, who is a professional animator from Castles Create. Scott showed us how to sketch something using the software he uses, which is far more advanced, but as a class we decided that as we didn’t have that kind of software, we would need to make a stop motion. It was at this stage that Alex Purssey and David Owens from the CLC came onboard with the project, and suggested that we brainstorm ideas and source a suitable app such as iStopMotion.

The CLC setup a workshop with the pupils on how to use the app and whilst this software was new to the class, some of the pupils were already quite tech savvy having used various other apps, but most of them had not used iStopMotion before. 

The creative and technical input provided by the CLC gave us the confidence and expertise we needed to complete the images and video ourselves. The children were highly motivated using the new technology and we gained fantastic new skills to use in the future!

We had been chatting on Google Classroom during the first lockdown in March and April and had discussed how could we link the story of the painting to what we were passionate about at that time. The children said that they could do our modern day battle with COVID, as this is also an historical battle. 

As a year group of 41 pupils, it gave us a lot of scope to create a great deal of animation footage. We then decided to spilt the COVID story up so far, spilt the historical battle, and then working in pairs to decide how we could recreate both parts of each story. 

My class did the COVID version and the other class in the year group did the other version of the battle with the horses. We decided that if we split the story up, we could include everything that the children had experienced from their own viewpoint. One pupil talked about the massive stock-piling that went on in her family. Everyone remembering the build-up before the first lockdown, going to the Co-Op and Sainsburys in Balham and nothing on the shelves. The pupils had quickly realised they couldn’t go to the cinema, the theatre etc, so they decided to do a animation on that. Once we got all our ideas together on a timeline, we started making the backgrounds.

The children composed the background music using the Garage Band app and they spoke on the piece that links to COVID, creating quite an emotional feel to the whole piece.

I was really conscious that during lockdown many of the children would have extended time at home with nothing much to do, so we decided to also use that time creatively and really threw ourselves into creating a virtual reality gallery on a website called Artsteps VR. This online gallery showed examples of work and how all the year groups had looked at the painting in a different way. We sent a Powerpoint presentation to the National Gallery outlining why we should be one of the schools chosen. We then received the fantastic news that we were one of the schools shortlisted and that we had a place in the exhibition.

Alderbrook school is well-resourced with iPads, chrome books, laptops, interactive whiteboards and has the use of a state of the art Mac computer suite. The school is also fortunate to have the support and expertise of the City Learning Centre (CLC) who are based on site and available to support staff and pupils, ensuring they have the very best computing curriculum available to them. The CLC’s advice and support on this animation project was invaluable and we are looking forward to working with them again on future IT projects.

The CLC also helps schools establish their computing, media, coding and photography clubs that support hundreds of Wandsworth learners develop specific skills that excite and inspire them. These clubs have grown massively across all year groups with some schools running them at lunch time and after school with older students delivering them as Computing Ambassadors.

Digital literacy, creative arts and film-making projects are available to all schools who have purchased a CLC package. The innovative computing curriculum tutors continue to support schools in class and with special stand out projects like this one. The Digital OrchestraRaspberry Pi environmental challenge and Lego Robot Wars have all been recent projects the CLC has helped schools participate in and to engage pupils with computing and stretch their knowledge.


Alderbrook Primary School, London, 10–11 year-olds.

The pupils used animation to show links between ‘The Battle of San Romano’ 

and our modern-day battle with Coronavirus.

Further information about the programme, related CPD courses for teachers, and the annual ‘Take One Picture’ exhibition at the National Gallery can be found at