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Excluded children take centre stage

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Published on 29 April 2022

(Centre, L-R) Professor Lynne McKenna, Sarah Martin-Denham and David Bell are pictured with some of the children and young people whose work features in the #SeeMe exhibition at National Glass Centre.
(Centre, L-R) Professor Lynne McKenna, Sarah Martin-Denham and David Bell are pictured with some of the children and young people whose work features in the #SeeMe exhibition at National Glass Centre.

A new exhibition opens at National Glass Centre this week giving a voice to a marginalised section of society, children who have been excluded from school.

“Children and young people excluded from school often have negative representation in the media,” says Sarah Martin-Denham, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Sunderland.

“The #SeeMe pilot project involves 110 children and young people aged 5 to 16 years previously excluded from schools in north east England. The purpose of the project is to recognise and champion the abilities of these children and young people.”  

The #SeeMe exhibition is at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, ground floor of National Glass Centre until 2 May.

The work is being shown alongside the work of internationally-renowned photographer, installation, multimedia and performance artist Vinca Petersen. In her exhibition, ‘Make Social Honey – A Collective Search for Joy’, Vinca Petersen explores what brings people joy. The #SeeMe exhibition has asked excluded children the same question, and in response the children and young people have produced videos, fine art and photography. 

The exhibition came about as part of the work of Sarah Martin-Denham, whose research focuses on childhood adversities, SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) and school exclusion. Sarah has been working with over 100 children and young people from eight north east alternative provision schools who have been suspended or permanently excluded from school.

“Phase 1 of the project involved 10 young people from Sunderland coming to the University of Sunderland to work with performing arts company Cap a Pie,” says Sarah.

“This next phase has seen over 100 children creating artworks to express what brings them joy.”

Sarah enlisted four local artists to inspire the young people – Frank Styles, Hannah Gawne, Jo Howell and Angela Sandwith – and now after many months of hard work the children and young people’s artwork is on show at National Glass Centre.

Sarah added: “The schools have told me how much enjoyment the children got from working with new materials inspired by the artists. It made a difference to how they see themselves in the world.”

Sarah Martin-Denham’s research is funded by the UKRI Policy Support Fund and her Interdisciplinary Research Network: Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Sir David Bell, the University of Sunderland’s Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, commented, “I commend my colleague, Sarah Martin-Denham, for the outstanding work she has done to stimulate such great work from children and young people whose achievements are often overlooked and underestimated. I am grateful too for the co-operation and support we have received from local artists whose work has been an inspiration to the students concerned.”

Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society at the University, added: “Sarah’s research into school exclusions has attracted national attention. The impact of which is already informing developing policy and practice. 

“The work undertaken with local artists to enable excluded children to be represented in the #SeeMe exhibition, is incredibly moving and is a great vehicle for the children to make sure their experiences are recognized.”

The project is the next step in developing research and children’s engagement on the impact of school exclusions. The work focuses on aspirations, progress and wellbeing and is led and published by Sarah Martin-Denham (sure.sunderland.ac.uk). The project is a collaboration with Carol MacKay, Amanda Ritson and Michael Daglish in the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries at the University of Sunderland. 

You can follow the project on Twitter @seemenortheast.