Fuel Your Imagination

Steve McQueen photographs London’s Year 3 classes to highlight creative deficit in schools

According to Tate Britain, every child should be given the opportunity to express their artistic side, to explore their creativity, a belief at the heart of Steve McQueen’s latest project Year 3.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE


Over the last five years, 68% of primary schools in England have seen arts provision decrease, according to a survey from Fabian/YouGov. Almost half of the teachers surveyed also revealed that the quality of what art education is being offered has declined.

According to Tate Britain, every child should be given the opportunity to express their artistic side, to explore their creativity. This belief is at the heart of Steve McQueen’s latest project Year 3, which Tate Britain says is one of “the most ambitious visual portraits of citizenship ever undertaken”.

The photos will also be shown on over 600 billboards across London’s 33 boroughs in tube stations, on buildings and by railways. As well as the Tate, the project has also been backed by Artangel and the creative learning specialists A New Direction.

McQueen and a team of trained Tate photographers shot traditional school class photographs of Year 3 pupils in London. The 75,000 children who make up the project were from 3,128 schools across the capital, just under 70% of all schools in London, including state primaries, independent schools, faith schools as well as home-educated children. The project even visited McQueen’s old primary school, Little Ealing Primary School, where the artist was in Year 3 in 1977, the photo of which provided the inspiration behind the work.

McQueen, a British artist who has won both the Turner prize and is an Oscar-award winning filmmaker, wanted to capture children at an age when they are still unmoulded by the negativity of the world around them; a turning point when they are still hopeful for a bright future.

The equality and similarity of the images was key to the project as it shows every child on a level playing field. It poses the question, does what one person achieves come from “ability, opportunity, or luck” as Clarrie Wallis, the exhibition’s curator explained.

One vital part of the project, which began in 2018, for McQueen, is to highlight the need for art education in schools and for diverse work to be shown in art institutions. McQueen sees this project as an “urgent” undertaking, one that will give people “an overview of London and to a certain extent of our future.”

Notably the project is hugely inclusive and each day for 20 weeks, 600 schoolchildren will visit the Tate Britain to view the exhibition, with many of them able to spot themselves and their own class photo hanging on the wall. The visits are set to inspire the next generation, to take children beyond their borough and into one of the most revered art institutions, giving them the freedom to explore a world unlike their own.

The exhibition will run until 3rd May 2020 after which the portraits will be sent to each prospective school. For more information, visit the Tate Britain website.

Steve McQueen - Year 3.jpg
Steve McQueen - Year 3 project.jpg

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Art Inclusion Education