How Arts Award helped Hillview School for Girls achieve Artsmark Platinum

Date Created: 27th May 2021

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Hillview School for Girls’ drama lead, Jeanette Howard, knew Arts Award had the potential to help them develop not just a creative curriculum for children and young people, but also a creative whole-school culture that would ultimately contribute to their achievement of Artsmark Platinum…

When arriving at Hillview School for Girls in Kent five years ago, I was a qualified Arts Award advisor and knew how this qualification allowed students to become passionate about the arts as they learnt new skills and experienced live theatre. As the school’s specialism was in the Performing Arts, the Bronze and Silver Arts Award was already taught as part of the curriculum, although the option to complete the award was based on individual finances. As the new Curriculum Leader for Drama, I monitored the effectiveness of it being taught in this manner and realised that some students were more invested than others in the qualification when it was taught in lessons. I moved the qualification to an after-school club where the students opted to be there and were enthusiastic about the arts. With smaller numbers, I could listen to student voice and give students unique opportunities linked to their specific passions. This also allowed me to build up partnerships with external practitioners.

After a couple of years, the club had grown due to word of mouth around school as an exciting opportunity to learn new skills and visit the theatre. As part of Arts Council England’s Artsmark Platinum pilot, the school’s ethos was to encourage independence, innovation and creativity, and delivering Arts Award helped us meet a vast amount of the Artsmark Platinum criteria. Not only were the students learning new skills through Bronze Arts Award, they were then harnessing these skills through Silver Arts Award, so that as they progressed through school, they could become teachers to the lower years, meaning there was less reliance on external practitioners as our own students were becoming the experts.

This allowed the students to build confidence, leadership qualities and a sense of ownership, which encouraged them to offer their assistance in other school leadership areas including choreographing and directing scenes in the annual school musical and running Key Stage 3 clubs. This not only relieved the workload of teachers but gave the students an exciting experience that they could include in their personal statements for university.

The sense of achievement, respect from their teachers and peers, plus the reward of seeing their ideas become a reality, encouraged the older students to have the confidence to question why, as a Performing Arts school, there was not an option to study the arts as part of the enrichment curriculum in the sixth form. This gave birth to Gold Arts Award being taught within the sixth form timetable, allowing students the time to explore the performing arts industry while continuing to take a leadership role at school, their hard work rewarded by achieving an extra qualification. By teaching all three levels of Arts Award, it allowed the students to develop, know what to expect before embarking on the next level, and look forward to taking on the role of older students who had taught them specific skills. A plethora of skills and workshops became available to students, and while teachers monitored the older students leading these extra-curricular activities, it relieved their planning. This approach allowed students to develop character traits that are sought after by employers and experience the stress and enjoyment of the industry. Most importantly, it has given students the enthusiasm, confidence and tenacity to try new, if challenging, things. One such example was when a KS4 student designed the set for our Drama production of Lord of the Flies. An extensive task that required her to adapt and be extremely organised, the design was so successful that numerous parents and students commented on its effectiveness and execution, calling it ‘outstanding’. This student learnt how to use specialist equipment such as a 3D printer to make all of the props, including the conch shell, with assistance from our technician.

Another student learnt how to make props with our technician, developed an impressive portfolio that helped them gain a work experience placement on Kinky Boots the musical, and is now studying set and prop design at university. Arts Award has allowed students to learn about the various roles in theatre and experience the demands and rewards of this creative environment.

Since embedding the Arts Award and Artsmark culture into our school, we have observed an increase in uptake of arts subjects for GCSE and A Level. Our reputation has grown, making our creative curriculum our unique selling point. We have embraced social media, creating Instagram pages for some arts subjects which have proven hugely successful as the students are so proud that their successes are celebrated and shared with the community. We plan to expand these Instagram pages, as younger students have started to follow them, generating an increased amount of interest in those subjects. As we have now become an established institution in our own right, more external companies have approached us offering opportunities, and other schools have sought our advice and assistance, which meets yet another aspect of the criteria for Artsmark Platinum. By embracing the creativity and ethos of the Artsmark objectives, we have been more susceptible to and observant of opportunities and experiences.

Teaching Arts Award has assisted our school in maintaining our Artsmark Platinum status as they go hand in hand with the same objective to offer vast, unique experiences for our students that help us advocate for the performing arts industry. I would recommend that schools working towards their Artsmark award embed Arts Award teaching as it helps your school to meet the criteria in a creative, inspiring and student-focused manner. It encourages students to take responsibility for their learning and to pursue their interests. Artsmark is not about implementing a new range of teaching and increasing workload for teachers, but simply recognising the wonderful opportunities that the school already offers their students. What teachers do every day often meets the criteria, but since it has become the ‘norm’, many schools fail to realise its importance and impact on the students in their school. Artsmark is a celebration of what the school already offers rather than an add-on that the school should consider. By completing the Artsmark journey in conjunction with Arts Award, it allows the arts to become embedded in the culture of the school rather than trying to force the arts into the curriculum. The Artsmark paperwork reports the success of your school and evidences the hard work of teachers and students to celebrate what makes your school unique, valuing the arts and its industry for future generations.

Words: Jeanette Howard, 2021, Hillview School for Girls

Awarded by Arts Council England, Artsmark supports schools and education settings to embed arts, culture and creativity in their curriculum. To find out more about our work through Artsmark and start bringing learning to life through arts and culture, click here. To learn more about our Arts Award work click here.

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