Steve McQueen Year 3: a glimpse into the lives of London’s children – and how to safeguard the process

Afeefa Wilson, London CLC’s teaching assistant and workshop facilitator, reports back on a busy three weeks involved with the Steve McQueen Year 3 exhibition at Tate Britain – plus notes from the launch!

Year 3 Photoshoot at Tyssen Community Primary School (9) © Tate.jpg
Behind the scenes with Tyssen Community Primary School © Tate

Last year Turner Prize-winning artist and Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen invited every year 3 class in all of London’s primary schools to have their photograph taken by a team of Tate photographers. (See Tate children’s website page about Steve McQueen here.) He’s turned these thousands of photographs into a massive artwork that will be exhibited at the TATE Britain for six months, alongside a shorter outdoor exhibition on full-size billboards and underground stations. The outdoor exhibition precedes the gallery exhibition and will be displayed across locations in all 33 London boroughs. 

I believe one of the purposes of this amazing art installation is to show the future potential of London as represented by year 3 pupils in their hundreds and thousands. London is one of the world’s most diverse cities and the portraits reflect this.

As you might imagine, taking and displaying thousands of images of children is not a simple undertaking and behind the art there has been a whole raft of activity around safeguarding and education.

Safeguarding and duty of care

London Connected Learning Centre’s involvement within the project has been quite specific for the Outdoor Exhibition.  We prepared assembly and workshop presentation resources for the team of duty of care workshop facilitators to use in schools. These workshops are different from the school gallery visits to Tate that will take place now that the exhibition is underway: we participated in a two-day training event in September for school SLT from the 53 schools which feature in the billboard exhibition and campaign. This brought together all partners involved, TATE, Artangel and A New Direction, together with NSPCC, who have overseen all safeguarding advice and considerations throughout the project.

My role as a London Connected Learning Centre facilitator is to present an assembly and workshops to the class (now in Year 4) about general knowledge of the exhibition and possible scenarios that might occur while their portrait is displayed in the indoor and outdoor exhibition. 

I worked on the project for the past three weeks in schools across London, giving in-depth information about the project and issues such as consent or permission, safeguarding and how to avoid possible risks within the time their work is exhibited. 

Year 3 Photoshoot at Tyssen Community Primary School (8) © Tate.jpg
Behind the scenes with Tyssen Community Primary School © Tate

Throughout that time, I have been impressed with the extensive amount of knowledge children already have and their understanding about staying safe online. 

Feedback from the children has been rewarding. Here’s a flavour of some of the things they’ve said:

“I will tell my mum not to post everything I do online to keep me and my family safe.” 

“Today has been so fun! I know I should go to a trusted adult if I find out the class photo has been posted on social media”, 

“Only show pictures to people who are close to you.” 

Sense of excitement

Throughout all of the schools I have visited there has been a great sense of excitement within the building, all the way from the reception staff to the year 4 class. The adults are as passionate as the children about the exhibition.

From the conversations I have encountered with the children, it is safe to say the project has been enlightening. The assembly and workshops have given the children a greater understanding of how the online world intertwines with the real world. They recognise that actions made online can leave a trail even if they have deleted a post and, in the worst case scenario, they realise a thoughtless accident online can affect your real life and that of people close to you.

One of the activities in the workshop is being a ‘picture detective’, children really enjoy spending time analysing a picture and not just taking it for what it is – this enables them to use ‘picture detective’ skills in the real world. 

The value of the project goes far beyond the artwork itself. It allows children to be seen, heard and listened to. The exhibition reinforces the message of doing what you love and allowing them to understand they have the potential to make a career out of it. 

From the launch!

Caitlin, Afeefa, Steve McQueen launch Tate
Caitlin and Afeefa admire some of the photographs at the Steve McQueen Year 3 exhibition launch evening at Tate Britain

Afeefa and her London CLC colleagues Caitlin McMillan and Peter Lillington attended the opening launch on Monday evening 12 November and were overwhelmed by the scale and power of the exhibition.

“The cumulative effect of more than 3,000 photographs beautifully arranged in the stunning surroundings of the Tate Duveen galleries was absolutely amazing and is hard to describe – see it for yourself if you get the chance. The fact that this means that more than 76,000 London children are therefore featured in this exhibition is incredible. We mustn’t forget the school staff too – all beaming away in the class portraits,” explained Peter.

“As an erstwhile primary class teacher myself, and parent, I got a really warm positive glow – which must be a shadow of the joy and pride many of the children and schools are feeling (as the children’s comments in the BBC report are testimony to) and it was lovely to hear that the sometimes hushed and rarified atmosphere of those galleries had been really abuzz with children’s happy voices yesterday morning. Hopefully they will continue to do so over the coming days as schools are able to visit.

“It’s a really positive take on London and its future. Look out for the billboards in the next week if you haven’t seen them yet (but please remember, don’t identify schools or children by name/location!)”

Caitlin added, “the sheer scale is just incredible. It is a little window into lives that are being led across London every day that we so often don’t get to see. Also, the joy and pride shining from the faces of (most) of the children is a complete delight.”

  • The Steve McQueen TATE Year 3 outdoor exhibition runs from 4 – 18 November 2019, followed by the indoor exhibition from 12 November 2019 up to 3 May 2020 at the TATE Britain, which will consist of more than 3,000 individual class portraits, with 62% London’s primary schools represented.

Led by NSPCC, advice, recommended procedures, and resources for parents have been distributed to schools:

Associated project resources:

A New Direction ‘Learning Lenses’ resource pack:  A New Direction 

IntoFilm –  https://www.intofilm.org/resources/1437

TATE – https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/steve-mcqueen-year-3

Online safety resources:

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