Sculpture park installation will celebrate Airedale teacher Muriel Pyrah

Mrs Pyrah's Classroom, 1972. Muriel Pyrah Collection. Courtesy the National Arts Education Archive, YSP
Mrs Pyrah's Classroom, 1972. Muriel Pyrah Collection. Courtesy the National Arts Education Archive, YSP

A new installation at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, "Asking Out", showcases the revolutionary teaching techniques of Airedale School teacher Muriel Pyrah.

Glaswegian artist Ruth Ewan has recreated a Castleford primary school classroom from 1972, which is inspired by incredible artworks of local, working-class children that made national headlines at the time.

One of Mrs Pyrah's ex-pupils, the late Alison Drake, was instrumental in several high-profile cultural developments in Castleford, including the restoration of Queen's Mill.

One of Mrs Pyrah's ex-pupils, the late Alison Drake, was instrumental in several high-profile cultural developments in Castleford, including the restoration of Queen's Mill.

Former Chief Education Officer of the West Riding, Sir Alec Clegg said the work of Muriel Pyrah with children, throughout the 1960s and 70s, "was unlike anything I had ever seen and indeed I have never seen it’s like.”

Despite Mrs Pyrah not being formally trained as a teacher, the children in her classes showed remarkable progress and academic ability compared to children with similar backgrounds.

Her pioneering technique coined "asking out" encouraged children, who were typically taught to be seen and not heard, to speak out, ask questions and directly engage with each other.

And the majority of her students passed the eleven-plus and went through secondary schools.

The Muriel Pyrah Collection at the National Arts Education Archive includes art by children from Airedale School in Castleford made between 1930 and the 1970s, with many examples of pupils’ ‘free written’ work following nature walks, visits and outings, all in illustrated booklets.

The collection is a personal favourite of MP Yvette Cooper and has gone on to inspire films, television and radio programmes.

Speaking of Mrs Pyrah in 1975, Professor of Education at Oakland University Dr Edward Bantel said, "not only did she teach these children to read, but she taught them to learn to love reading as much as she did. She taught them not only to claim words as their own but taught them to claim their lives as their own".

One of Mrs Pyrah's ex-pupils, the late Alison Drake, was instrumental in several high-profile cultural developments in Castleford, including the restoration of Queen's Mill.

Mrs Pyrah died in 2001 at the age of 95.

The exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park runs from the 13th of July until the 4th of November.