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St Wilfrid’s Head: The strain on creativity in schools

Michael Ferry, Headteacher at St Wilfrid’s School, on the importance of creative projects such as their recent production of “Grease”.

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A couple of weeks ago, St Wilfrid’s put on the show to end all shows – Grease! It really was the hottest ticket in town, seeing us sell out in four out of the five public performances with only a few seats spare on the back row on our opening night. Yes, I’m biased but this was an amazing effort from all concerned and it was, yet again, our “best ever” show!

So, what is my point? I could go on and wax lyrical about the choreography and the dancing, about the singing and the acting, about the behind the scenes crew and the band, and yes, I am biased, I am the Headteacher and I am so proud of everyone involved but, what if it never actually happened? What if over 1300 people didn’t pay to see this show over the course of the week?

What do you mean I hear you say? Well, let’s imagine that it never actually happened and that over 100 students never had the experience of not just the performances themselves but the experience of committing to a project and seeing it develop over 5 months, of showing resilience when things went wrong, of striving to achieve a standard of excellence and of never feeling that level of fulfilment and self-confidence. In fact, let’s imagine that not only did it not happen this year but that it didn’t happen in previous years either.

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Every single student involved in the production, whether it be behind the scenes or on stage has a talent and boy, if you’d seen the show, you’d realise that it is in abundance. If it hadn’t taken place then their talents wouldn’t have had the opportunity to shine, they would not have felt the massive highs of performance as well as the massive lows of it being all over. They would not have come together as strangers across Years 7 – 13 and then parted as friends. They would not have produced performance after performance, which transported every member of the audience out of their day-to-day living into a world of unbridled joy and happiness; their work got inside people’s heads and kept them awake to the songs of “Freddie My Love”, “Those Magic Changes” and “Greased Lightnin” to name just a few.

For more on St Wilfrid’s production of “Grease”, click here.

Yes, now to the point; let’s imagine that it never happened and that the creative talents of those involved were left hidden. Let’s imagine that not only did extra-curricular productions like this not take place but that the creative side of the curriculum in school was reduced possibility to the point of paying only lip service.

“That would never happen surely” you say. Well, that is the world, if we are not careful, that schools will sleep walk into. We live at a time when there is a hierarchy of subjects within the curriculum. Perhaps it was always thus but now we have schools being made more and more accountable for results, for “performance data” and “league table” positioning. The only place where league tables should be used is in football!

St Wilfrid’s production of “Grease” was a huge success

Within this environment the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) has emerged. From there we have the EBacc “bucket” which is part of the process of measuring schools; put simply, a child needs to choose to take a humanity subject (History or Geography) or a Modern Foreign Language otherwise the school will be penalised in the way that it is deemed to be performing from a data point of view. Now, don’t get me wrong, the study of History and Geography and languages is great; I myself gained GCSEs in History and Geography and still have a passion for them but what about the child who has a passion for Drama, Dance and Music? In a 3 option system, that leaves the school in a difficult position. If it allows the child to choose these three subjects then the school will be disadvantaged. The more students who don’t fill the EBacc bucket, the more the disadvantage.

I was recently challenged by an Ofsted Inspector as to the academic rigour of the curriculum at St Wilfrid’s. We exchanged some frank views and although I don’t believe that we now share the same views, she accepted my reasoning around the importance of offering a broad and balanced curriculum which allowed all students to flourish in a personalised curriculum and that to make it so called “more academic” would put the creative side of the curriculum at risk. Ofsted, to their credit do talk publicly about the development of the whole child but in our most recent inspection, there was a significant amount of time spent looking at the data of the school.

“West Sussex schools are chronically underfunded”

So, are Creative Arts subjects in schools at risk? Absolutely! In a system preoccupied with academia and in a local authority which is critically underfunded compared to other areas (if St Wilfrid’s were in Greenwich I could afford to employ an extra 40 teachers as I’d have an extra £1m) and where there is a teaching recruitment crisis, which subjects would you expect to see remain in the curriculum and which would you expect to see cut when schools can’t set balanced budgets? It’s not rocket science!

Let’s be very clear, West Sussex schools are chronically underfunded when compared to similar schools in other areas across England. Much has been made of this through the WorthLess? Campaign which many of you will be aware of. Let’s also be clear that the recruitment of teachers into the profession is at crisis point. So, what is my point regarding the Arts? Well, put simply, if a school like St Wilfrid’s was to reduce the arts side of the curriculum and reduce the opportunities for students to take part in extra-curricular activities then, ultimately, those staff would leave. This would leave the possibility of those staff not being replaced, not necessarily because the decision is made not to replace them but because there may not be anyone to replace them with. The self-fulfilling prophecy then takes over and where there was once vibrant Drama, Music, Art & Dance Departments; you are left with tumbleweed.

That’s outrageous I hear you say; yes it is, but here’s a question; what are you prepared to do about it? If nothing, then read no further, but if you really are interested, do two things. Firstly, if your son or daughter at any point in their school lives, or in fact at any point in their life, says that they want to choose any of the art subjects; let them, and even better, fully support them; leave no stone unturned in allowing them to develop their passion, their talent, because by doing this they will be happy and isn’t that the point. Imagine you are stuck in a job whereby every day you wake up and it’s an effort to force yourself into work, you don’t enjoy it but just wished you could do something else; now imagine that is the way your child thinks about going to school because you made them choose the so called academic subjects because you think they are more important, because you’ve believed the hype. Secondly, support your child’s school, write to your local MP about funding, even better go to their surgery and confront them about it in a relentlessly reasonable way; it really isn’t good enough, you pay the same amount of tax as the same family in Greenwich!

We are in challenging times in education, of that there is no doubt but one thing is for sure, where parents/carers and schools unite in challenging inequality, then change can follow. We need more funding, we need more teachers and we need your help to ensure that all children get the very best experience in schools and that they are happy and fulfilled by their experiences; they only get one “shot at the title”.

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Education

Crawley students’ A-Level success!

Find out how students across Crawley got on in their A-Level exams.

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Students in Crawley and across the country have today be finding out their A-level exam results.

Tears of joy, relief and possibly sadness will be shed as pupils open the envelope that decides their fate for the next few years.

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One success story from St. Wilfrid’s Catholic School was that of Toby Read. He was left momentarily speechless after seeing his results.

Toby (right) and his friend opening their A-level results at St. Wilfrid’s.

He was awarded two A* and a B in his A-levels and was listed as one of St. Wilfrid’s ‘outstanding performers’.

Toby said:

“I’m surprised. I’m surprised about Maths – I got an A* which is better than my predicted A.”

Toby is off to Loughborough University in September to study Maths for three years.

“There’s been a lot of work [this year], especially in Maths. I mean, I probably could’ve put more work in though as I got a B in Economics.”

Although he’s not sure what he wants to do for a career yet, Toby is happy with his decision to study Maths further as “Maths goes into many things”.

Toby from St. Wilfrid’s received two A*s and a B and will continue to study Maths at University.

Michael Ferry, Headteacher at St. Wilfrid’s said:

“We’re in the second year of massive changes in A-Levels, lots of exams have moved towards terminal exams at the end of two years, the value of coursework has been reduced, so it has become harder by the very nature of those changes.”

“Given the fact that predictions yesterday were going to be that the top grades were going to, nationally, drop because of all the unconditional offers that have been made by universities, we haven’t experienced that hit.

“We’ve done really well, this is our second best ever set of results, from a progress point of view. We’ve maintained and improved some of our top grades. Students have worked phenomenally hard, staff have as well in terms of making sure that they’ve adapted to the changes in all of the specifications and we’ve been blessed with some fantastic results. There’s going to be a lot of happy people this morning.”

Some of the students have already gained apprenticeships since leaving Year 13, with many being successful in gaining university places from September.

Mr Ferry added:

“Although it is early days, we believe that every student who applied for university has been offered a place. We wish them all the very best for the future.”

Over at Hazelwick, the school is celebrating an A-level pass rate of 99 per cent. An incredible 78 per cent of these were A*-C.

Headteacher at Hazelwick, Ann Fearon said:

“We are delighted at another hugely successful year for Hazelwick sixth form, particularly in light of the increased demand of the new linear A Levels.

“We are very optimistic that, with these excellent results, the vast majority will be able to progress to their university of choice.

“One of our top-achieving students has gained a place at Oxford University. One student has been accepted for Medicine at King’s College London.

“These fine results are the reward for two years of dedication and hard work from students and teachers alike – our students have once again risen to the challenge admirably!

“We are not only proud of our sixth formers’ academic success, but also immensely grateful for the enormous contribution they have made to the wider life of the school community”

Hazelwick’s Keely Holland aims to study English Literature after getting three A*s in her A-levels.

Hazelwick student, Anand Boldbaatar plans to study Economics in Manchester after receiving two As, a B and a C.

Rahul Patel will be staying in Sussex as he studies Law at the University of Sussex after getting an A* and two As.

Oriel High School are also celebrating the achievements of it’s Year 13 students. In a year when many new qualifications have been assessed for the first time, there were successes across the board. The school say they “saw strong performance and fulfilled potential in both A-Level and BTEC qualifications, reflecting the diverse nature of our student body and their passions.”

A spokesperson for the school continued to say:

“The range of destinations and pathways open to students is ever increasing. Whilst the largest cohort ever from Oriel High School are now headed to university, many having received unconditional offers during their application process, others are embarking on their first full time employment or beginning one of the increasing numbers of Degree and Higher Level Apprenticeships available locally and nationally.

“A number are seizing the opportunity to complete a Gap Year and voluntary work. We are incredibly proud of our students wherever their next steps may take them. We wish them every success for the future.”

Students from Oriel High School including some top achievers: Lydia Grahamslaw (2nd from left), Charlotte Cole (4th from left), and Holly Boaks (right).

Lydia Grahamslaw (2nd from left in photo) will be studying Biology at York University after receiving two As and a B. Charlotte Cole (4th from left in photo) aims to study Nursing at Surrey University after getting two Distinction* and a Merit. Holly Boaks (right in photo) will go to Lancaster University to study Maths after being awarded two As and two Bs.

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One student at Ifield Community College receiving a lot of praise today is Harry Poil, after he was awarding fantastic grades despite battling leukaemia in his school years.

The school say:

“Harry Poil stands out as a student who has overcome so much diversity to achieve distinction and merit in double Sports BTEC and merit in Health and Social Care BTEC.  When Harry had begun year 7 at ICC he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

“He undertook a programme of chemotherapy which caused a severe reaction, resulting in him spending a year in hospital, throughout most of which time he was completely paralysed. Harry had a long battle of recovery with ongoing physiotherapy but with his strong determination to succeed, today he is deservedly celebrating these results.”

Headteacher, Rob Corbett said:

“Sixth Form Results Day is about securing young people’s futures. I am extremely proud of all of our students and the staff who have supported them so well.

“We set ambitious and challenging targets for our students, work with them to develop their confidence and provide an ethos in which they can study and thrive.

“We wish them all great success in their futures and we now look forward with tremendous enthusiasm and excitement to welcoming the new sixth form joining us in September.”

Ifield has seen a large increase in the number of students achieving university places this year, most especially in top universities, as well as securing highly competitive apprenticeships. They’ve had an increase in the number of top grades for a third year running; 43 per cent of passes are grades A*-B (or equivalent).

Students at Ifield Community College celebrate final A-Level results.

Despite cuts and problems with funding, Thomas Bennett Community College have achieved an overall pass rate of 80 per cent at grades A*-C (or equivalent), with many students meeting and exceeding their national predictions.

Head of Sixth Form, Shouvick Ghosh said:

“It’s been a difficult school year for various things that have been well charted in town, but considering the challenges that the school’s had and the sixth form’s had I think we’ve had a fantastic set of results and it’s a credit to the students and the teachers that they’ve got past that.

“Our vocational results were our best ever but that is just down to the work of the staff and students that they’ve done it. We got 80 per cent A* to C, overall and 72 per cent of our kids got Distinction or higher for BTEC.”

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