IN CONVERSATION WITH… Emma-Jo Bairstow – Primary Art Teacher and Consultant

Author: Pam Carpenter
Category: news

In the first of two ‘In Conversation with…’ articles from our Art leads, we hear from Emma-Jo Bairstow. Here she shares her thoughts, observations and tips on her passion for art in the Primary School.

What drives you to keep going and advocate art education?

Seeing the impact that art has on children. Teaching art in class and witnessing how they can interpret and develop their own ideas and just watching them grow in confidence, especially the children that find they excel in art more than in other subjects. It’s wonderful to be part of them finding out that they flourish in the arts.

What are some of the key issues you think we are currently facing in art education?

Treating art like it is something that is linear and can be measured on a progression document. The increased pressure to assess art at such a young age. This needs approaching gently and with caution as it could be damaging to creative development.

In your experience, what are the challenges faced by teachers with art?

I have lots of conversations with teachers about their art lessons and something that comes up constantly is subject knowledge and confidence in modelling the skills. I think if you do not have a background in art it can seem quite overwhelming approaching e.g. a lesson in printmaking or acrylic painting.

I think worrying about getting it wrong and the pressure for outcomes can be stressful for teachers.

What would be your three Top Tips?

  1. Build your confidence: Explore the materials yourself first before teaching so you know what to expect and what may need breaking down and modelling more in your session.
  2. Be alongside as an artist: Enjoy the process and learn alongside the children when approaching something new.
  3. The importance of trial-and-error: My career as an art specialist and art teacher has been so much trial and error, learning from the things that go wrong. That is an essential part of the creative process. Don’t be afraid to show the children this process

If you could encourage all Primary school teachers to consistently do ONE thing in art, what would it be?


Do your research when ordering so that you have the right resources, so that your children can succeed in what you want them to do. If you want fine lines and details in a painting – give the fine brushes. If you want them to shade, give them shading pencils. It makes it so much harder for the children to succeed without the right equipment.

Another key message from Emma:

I get asked this question often in my practice- what is more important the process or the outcome?

I feel the process and the outcome are both important. As an artist I need an outcome to aim towards and to drive me forward. The process may change what my outcome turns out like as I learn on the way, but I still get a sense of achievement when I create a finished thing.

From my experience in the classroom I think this is the same with children. They love seeing the finished outcome and knowing that they achieved it. The process is like the magic that got them to their goal. Both are as important as each other.


Emma has led on our Gateway Alliance Curriculum Art event receiving fantastic feedback:

‘Love the practical element! Really loved seeing all of the real life examples too. Every time I hear Emma, I feel reinvigorated and ready to up level our curriculum again!’

‘Lots of fantastic information shared that was very useful. Emma had brilliant knowledge herself and it was great to hear her views. Lots of good examples of work which was great to see. Was also great that EYFS was heavily included. Brilliant!’

‘Really enjoyed the EYFS links and whole school approach. Also great to hear the creative approach and that there isn’t an expectation for a linear ‘one size fits all’ approach.’


Emma Bairstow is an art consultant working nationally to up-skill, build confidence and create positive learning experiences for children and teachers in art within the primary setting. Emma graduated from Wimbledon College of Art in 2002 and has since been based in an educational setting carving her own path as an art specialist for the Inspire Partnership in London and now setting up Artworks Education and working across the country delivering CPD and workshops. She combines her own creative practice with what she has learnt through teaching art to support staff in embedding a rich and skills-based art curriculum that builds on skills over time.

You can follow Emma on X (Twitter) @artworksedu


If you would like to find out more about how you can benefit from the expertise such as Emma’s expertise to support in school, please contact us on

Find out more about our other Curriculum CPD events this year at Gateway Alliance.