See it, hear it, feel it | Performing Arts Lead Becca Gardner shares Towers School’s inspiring Artsmark journey so far…
Date Created: 6th Nov 2019
At Towers School and Sixth Form, our Artsmark journey began after a period of serious reflection. Our previous arts curriculum was inadequate; disciplines were not taught within other subject areas, such as Drama within English and Dance within PE, and arts subjects were occasionally used as vehicles for PSHE topics, limiting the curriculum content and rigour. We knew that each child was deserving of a rich, varied experience of excellent arts and cultural education and that denying them this was socially and morally unconscionable. The arts became a focus of the school improvement plan and our improvement priorities. Our Head of Governors took ownership of the Arts Faculty and, through his involvement and the unwavering support of our leadership team, we have successfully embedded the arts within our school framework.
We are proud to now offer a diverse and challenging arts curriculum. Students have four hours of arts education each week, studying both the Visual and Performing Arts. We believe that arts, and creativity work best in tandem with deep subject knowledge and expertise. Our arts curriculum is founded on understanding. Pupils learn about key movements and eras, immersing themselves in the practices of artists, writers and performers. Student voice shows pupils acknowledge that, “the arts give us a deeper understanding of history and different cultures.” Our pupils are taught to consider how humankind has found expression, to appreciate the beauty in crafted work or performance, to understand different cultures and behaviours, to have opinions on what has been created and to make their own artistic and imaginative choices. We are also proud of the role that the arts have to play within the character education of each child. Our school’s arts curriculum aims to awaken the ambitions of all pupils, supporting them in reaching their full potential and becoming the best version of themselves.
Pupils believe that through a rich and diverse arts curriculum they “gain a self-awareness of our own abilities” as well as “the confidence to speak, perform and create things in front of other people.” It is through engaging in these opportunities for cultural learning that we have seen pupils’ creative capacity nurtured and their personal, social and academic development greatly enriched.
Within our local community, experience of the arts is a matter of social justice. It is simply wrong and unfair that some children have a fraction of the access to orchestras, artists and live theatre that their most privileged peers enjoy and therefore our school has made a commitment to provide authentic arts and cultural experience for all of our pupils.
During the first year of our Artsmark journey, over 650 of our students took part in an arts activity outside of their timetabled lessons. We ran 8 live theatre and orchestra visits, 12 workshops with professional artists, companies or directors, 4 gallery visits and held 10 school productions, concerts and showcases. Authentic cultural and arts experiences were no longer only available to those whose parents could provide the opportunity. Our prestigious collaborations with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Marlowe Theatre, in Canterbury, have been pivotal in supporting us to bring cultural capital to our school and local community. In November 2018, the RSC toured to our school with their production of First Encounters: The Comedy of Errors. Across two performances, over 300 young people and their families were able to experience live professional theatre, first-hand. Audience members commented that their children would be “inspired for life by this unique opportunity” and that the event was “the first experience my primary age children have had of live theatre.” For us as a school, this emphasised the importance of our Artsmark journey not only for our own pupils but our wider community.
At Towers School and Sixth Form, we feel strongly that an arts education should not be limited to within the curriculum alone and it is through our broad enrichment timetable that we are able to offer diverse arts and cultural opportunities. This includes Drama and Dance clubs, Art and Design Clubs, Music Tech Club, Ukulele Club, a Function Band, Music Mindfulness and much, much more. Every day, over 100 pupils stay after school to take part in these activities, helping them lead more fulfilled lives.
Parent Voice has evidenced for us the positive impact that these additional opportunities offer our young people with one parent commenting that their child’s “confidence has soared” with the arts being a “key catalyst for this development.” Likewise, we regularly see the arts bringing our pupils together with another parent stating that her son has “made some exceptional friendships” as part of his after school club, and now has a “greater sense of belonging.”
Every child in our school now engages with the arts but we wanted to take this further. It was important to us to ensure that it was the pupils who were at the forefront of the arts, leading arts initiatives and raising awareness of the arts amongst their peers. Therefore, we established a Student Arts Council during the last academic year. The group of 20 students from Years 7 to 13 led and organised arts competitions and productions, including the hugely successful Towers’ Got Talent, a sold out performance and now an annual event on the school calendar. The council, which has grown in number since September, have worked tirelessly to ensure that the opinions of our pupils are included when planning arts activities. Their innovative ideas for exhibitions and galleries, competitions and performances has raised the presence of the arts within our school community and environment. Artwork, from all year groups, adorns our walls and this has again now extended to our local community, with students’ work displayed in galleries in Folkestone and the offices Kingsford Solicitors in Ashford.
One member of the Student Arts Council said that, “Being on the Arts Council means working together with students from different years and different backgrounds. We believe that there is talent in everyone and we think that the arts teach you to believe in yourself.” It is this passion that has enthused and revitalised the arts provision within our school.
Our Student Arts Council were responsible for planning how we would show recognition of our Artsmark journey as part of the nationwide Artsmark Celebration Week at the start of October 2019. Together, they planned a series of events and challenges, open to all students, across our three lunch sittings. These events aimed to allow creativity to flourish in ways which would celebrate the talents of our pupils.
The week began with a ‘Voices of the Arts’ challenge. Pupils created an installation of their opinions of the arts as well as a Vox Pop video, exploring the impact that the arts have had so far in our school. As the week continued with an art competition exploring ‘What are the Arts?’ and then cake decorating, the numbers of pupils attending grew to over two hundred. Each day, pupils were congregating in our arts spaces, eager to learn about and take part in today’s activity. To track attendance, loyalty cards, much like you would receive in a coffee shop, were made to reward those who had completed an activity across the week. We lost count of the number who had achieved a stamp for each day; pupils were thriving having the opportunity to be creative in their recreation time, many bringing along friends to the latter activities, encouraging them to get involved. In acknowledgement of World Mental Health Awareness Day, on Thursday 10th October, our arts activity was to design a mouse mat with an empowering message to gift to someone. The thoughtful and creative gestures of our pupils really were inspiring with many pupils gifting their creations to their teachers. This highlighted the health and wellbeing potential of the arts for students and teachers alike. Our final day of celebrations included an ‘Artsmark Showcase’ where students performed various talents, such as dancing, short devised performances and singing to each other.
The range of talent was broad but the activity so inclusive; every student that took part felt the pride and exhilaration that can only come from this powerful, shared experience.
During the next year, we hope to achieve our Artsmark Award. As a school, this will be a milestone in our journey but not the end. Creativity, culture and the arts will continue to be our priority because by making the most of our pupils’ capacity for imagination, we are preparing them to influence our world for the better.
Towers School is alive with the arts. You can see it, hear it, feel it.
Words: Becca Gardner, Faculty Lead of the Performing Arts, Towers School and Sixth Form Centre