Case Studies

Falmouth Art Gallery

Key Stage 3 (ages 11 – 14)

A collection of automata encourages year 7 boys to explore the theme of a dystopian future and write their own science fiction book.

  • Pupils involved valued seeing their work in print and were all provided with their own copies
  • Falmouth Art Gallery intend to trial the publication with other schools, as a case study for a future literacy partnership project

Falmouth Art Gallery has an outstanding collection of over 2,000 artworks ranging from Pre-Raphaelite and British Impressionist paintings to contemporary prints, photography and a children’s illustration archive. The collection includes the largest contemporary collection of automata in a public museum and they regularly commission new ones. This collection provided the inspiration for a series of writing and art workshops exploring the theme of a dystopian future specifically aimed at improving boys’ literacy. This theme – along with character development – was also part of the students’ coursework at the time and the project was designed to support the school in delivering this.

Sessions were held in the gallery space so that the boys could explore different examples of automata. The cleverness of the mechanisms could be observed first hand, and were used to help the boys design their own creations through the use of cams and pulleys. The resulting sculptures recycled from old materials quickly took on imagined characteristics and functions as the students worked in groups, making and discussing their ideas as the shapes began to form.

The works of Patrick Woodroffe was hung in the gallery at the time and these provided an additional stimulus as his paintings contain elements of the fantastical, such as the blending of the biological and mechanical.

The boys developed their own science fiction tales based around their own creations and discussions with their class which were later published in a book – Road to Automata.

View Road to Automata   (PDF)

The MaxLiteracy project helped convince Cornwall Council to devolve the running of Falmouth Library to Falmouth Art Gallery who are now planning further literacy interventions with their collection.

Falmouth Art Gallery
Gallery leads
Charlotte Davis (Learning Officer) and Henrietta Boex (Director)
Creative practitioners
Mac Dunlop (writer) Tony Johns (automata maker)
Penryn College
School leads
Beth Sullivan and Linda Herring
Year 9 (age 13-14)
Number of participants
  • art
  • automata
  • boys' writing
  • dystopia
  • literature

Want to explore a creative approach to literacy?

  • Choose an artwork or collection carefully to engage target groups of pupils
  • Include opportunities for pupils to make as well as write in a literacy project
  • Introduce different ‘voices’ into your project: the Falmouth Award included a writer, a curator, an automata maker

Explore more ideas in the resources

Explore other case studies

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Key Stage 3 (ages 11 – 14)

A major exhibition is the stimulus for bookmaking, guided writing, printing and random poetry, and an alternative audio guide for the venue is voiced by year 7 students.

  • exhibition
  • mixed ability
  • visual impairment

York Art Gallery

Key Stage 3 (ages 11 – 14)

An evocative statue of a bleeding young boy is the starting point for year 9 students to explore storytelling, poetry and playwriting through drama and wordplay.

  • creative literacy
  • empathy
  • five senses
  • role play

Manchester Art Gallery

Key Stages 3 & 4 (ages 11 – 16)

A historic painting acts as the visual stimulus to help secondary pupils develop confidence in meeting the challenges of the new English GCSE.

  • art literacy
  • GCSE
  • National curriculum

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