Why should WHS connect more with the community?

Janvi, (Year 13) explains what her role as Charities and Partnerships Rep involves and explores her plans for the year. In our busy daily lives, why is it important to make connections to the wider world?

What does the role of Charities and Partnerships Rep involve?

I think it is reasonable to say that the average WHS girl leads a fairly busy life. With countless deadlines and extra-curricular commitments, sometimes it seems impossible to find time for yourself, let alone for others! As Charities and Partnerships Rep, one of my main duties is to remind students of the importance of giving time to charity and helping those in need. I truly believe the core characteristics lying at the heart of every WHS girl are empathy and kindness, and my aim is to motivate pupils throughout the school to use these values to help make a significant impact on the lives of people around us.

Another important aspect of my role is organising and running various charity events such as the Autumn Charity Fair which took place last week. It was heart-warming to see students of all ages working together to raise money for various causes, led by our newly elected year-group charity reps.

Aims for the year

My aims for this academic year fall under three categories:

  1. Raising awareness

Bringing awareness to the work which a charity does is very important as it encourages more people to get involved and fundraise as well as bringing to light different issues faced by people across the world. For this reason, I plan to start a termly newsletter detailing the work done by our chosen year-group charities and the charity events that have been taking place.

 

  1. Giving time and getting involved

As I have mentioned, giving time to charity is often neglected due to our busy lives, so with the help of our year-group charity reps, I would like to encourage people to take time out of their week to help others.

 

  1. Increasing our fundraising output

Fundraising is crucial as charities need money to provide the people they help with specific resources and services. Therefore, the goal for each year group this year is to raise £300 per term towards their chosen charity.

Why is making connections to the wider world so important?

Our pastoral theme for this year is “Connections”, which is an idea that links very closely to charity and partnerships. When it comes to charity work, there is often a heavy focus on fundraising. Whilst giving money to charity is undoubtedly important, the power of connecting with individuals on a personal level is astounding and often underestimated. Every week during our Enrichment session at Kew House Care Home, I find myself astonished at the impact our visit has on the elderly residents. Seeing their faces light up as we chat to them and play games with them is a powerful reminder of the difference that can be made to a person’s life by simply giving your time and energy without expecting anything in return. To us, it is simply an hour out of our day every week, whilst to them we are making a significant improvement to their day.

Spending time with people in our community and making connections with them is also incredibly rewarding. Not only does it bring happiness and a sense of fulfilment and purpose, but it constantly challenges us to see the world from somebody else’s perspective and reminds us to be grateful for what we have. In our day-to-day life it is very easy to forget how lucky we are and the privilege we hold, but charity work enables us to put our problems into perspective which is crucial to living a fulfilling life.

For these reasons, my main goal this year is to encourage students to make connections, whether it be locally or globally, because giving a tiny fraction of your time to support a person who is in desperate need of help can truly make a significant improvement to their life.

How do Independent-State School Partnerships (ISSPs) improve education for all?

ISSPS partnership

Nicola Kersley, co-ordinator of Charities and Partnerships at WHS, celebrates the government’s recent push for more ISSPs and looks at their value to all of the schools involved, and looks at how Wimbledon High is embracing partnerships.

ISSPs on the political agenda

Hard to remember though it may be, there was a time that the government talked about things other than Brexit; back in those halcyon days, Theresa May had her focus well and truly on education [1]. Her plans were intended to provide the backbone for her social mobility agenda, and included: the expansion of selective education in the form of grammar schools, the removal of barriers to good schools (for example selection based on faith), and universities and schools in the private sector giving more back to the state sector [2]. Acting swiftly on her ‘education, education, education’ moment, it took May’s government only two months to publish a green paper outlining its plans for the last of these, the partnerships strand to the strategy [3].

Partnerships between state and private schools were first formally given government backing in 1998 [4] when there was funding provided, and they have gone in and out of vogue ever since. May’s new initiative is in the process of renewing their position in the political limelight, and more power to her. Partnerships between schools should be a key feature of our education system, benefiting not only schools as institutions, but also the children they have a duty of care to, and even the wider community as a whole. This article addresses the arguments in favour of these partnerships and cites examples from Wimbledon High to demonstrate the successes that our reasonably young Teach Together partnership program is already having.

Benefits to Schools

The benefits of general collaboration have been explored in depth by Alex Farrer in November 2018’s WimTeach article [5] so I will avoid rehashing the details and rather stick to the more niche scenario of inter-school collaboration. Most obviously, collaboration provides opportunities for economies of scale [6]; if Wimbledon High hosts an Explore lecture and opens it up to attendees from its partner schools the cost per capita is reduced. The same applies for training days for staff and trips to visit universities.

Schools benefit from partnerships because staff benefit from partnerships [4]. It is through the breadth of experience that teaching practice flourishes, and working with pupils and staff from different schools, and indeed different socio-economic backgrounds, epitomises this. Working in ISSPs ensures that we do not become complacent in our own bubbles and that we are aware of other educational landscapes, often to mutual benefit [7]. For example, an ISSP can enable significant sharing of experiences and strategies regarding pastoral policies. Whilst independent schools are more susceptible to some issues pastorally and state schools are more susceptible to others, neither are immune to anything; the larger the knowledge base the better [6].

Figure 1: Local Primary teachers come together to test out new Science resources in our STEAM space

Partnerships also allow for resource sharing; it is undeniable that we in the independent sector are able to access resources and facilities closed off to many state schools. One prong of our partnership work at Wimbledon High is in the provision of access to facilities like our swimming pool, our music facilities (including the secondment of staff), and our Latin teachers allowing for immeasurable benefit to state school pupils, staff and departments. In the Physics department, our highly experienced lab technician is providing support to non-specialist technicians at some of our partner schools, the impact of which is hugely beneficial to those Physics departments and their ability to provide experience in practical work for pupils.

Figure 2: Physics teachers from WHS’s state school secondary partners share CPD and teaching ideas

Benefits to students

At Wimbledon High, one of our most wide-reaching expressions of partnership work is in our Teach Together program. This sees our pupils deliver well-prepared lessons and support to younger partner school pupils, supported by experienced teachers to ensure that benefit is maximised. The WHS girls involved are knowledgeable and respectable sixth formers and year 11s who the younger state school pupils can look up to, not only as ambassadors for their subject but also as aspirational role models. An excellent example of this is the work that WHS girls do every week mentoring Year 8s at Tolworth Girls’ School, a hugely successful project that sees our girls use their peer-counselling training to help Tolworth pupils think through their problems logically and level-headedly. For the state schoolchildren involved there can be only good done by attending extra sessions in a subject in which they need more support, be that academic or pastoral.

Figure 3: WHS sixth formers help Ricards Lodge KS3 students with Maths extension activities in an after school club

The benefits to the independent school participants are less obvious but certainly no less meaningful. Teachers know better than most that you do not really understand something until you have taught it, and it is in this assertion that the greatest benefit to the pupils lies. By preparing and delivering sessions for younger learners, the pupils are not only reinforcing their understanding of a topic [8] but also enhancing their ability to express their knowledge clearly, an undeniably important skill not least for university and job interviews. At Wimbledon High, we have a vast range of projects that allow our girls to inspire younger pupils with their chosen subjects, such as teaching Science to local primary schools at St Boniface and St Matthews. The girls are able to really develop their academic rigour when preparing the sessions, then hone their communication skills as they deliver them. When we work with other cohorts more similar in age, the abilities to collaborate and compromise are necessities. These skills are essential in projects like our science scheme with Ark Putney Academy (APA) in which our Year 11s, 12s and 13s are working with Year 10s from APA to collect real data about melting ice caps for scientists at the centre for polar observation and modelling [9]. Work like this is an invaluable practice in confidence building and teamwork.

Figure 4: APA and WHS students work together to collect data for the Institute of Research in the School’s MELT initiative

Measuring impact

The question for us working in partnerships is not whether or not there is a mutual benefit provided by partnership work because we know it to be fact. Rather, the question is how to demonstrate quantifiably this benefit. As an independent school, not only are we interested in measuring the value of each of our projects for the sake of growth and improvement, we are also required to report to the Independent Schools Council about the impact that they are having [10]. Evidence gathered is often qualitative and anecdotal making the impact difficult to quantify [11], but by using questionnaires issued to both staff and pupils, we have been able to track certain success measures such as interest in the subject and confidence. We are also able to look at tracking data of those pupils that we are working with and hope to see progress by using baseline data and tracing attainment over the course of the year, albeit a method made problematic due to significant external variables.

Conclusion

The government’s renewed push for ISSPs is a truly welcome initiative that we are embracing at Wimbledon High. By sharing resources and widening our circles of communication, staff and schools are already benefitting. Partnerships allow cohesion between the two sectors, and a breaking down of barriers and negative preconceptions. They enable teachers and support staff to benefit from high-quality professional development and the sharing of expertise [4].

Partnerships are also great for pupils involved, providing opportunities for learners from widely differing backgrounds to interact with each other in a positive and often innovative learning context. Those activities relating to academics are beneficial to all parties involved, providing support to the younger pupil being taught, and a revision opportunity and confidence builder for the pupil delivering the lesson. They foster imaginative, creative and exciting classroom and extracurricular provision. Mentoring projects give our girls excellent experience in peer counselling and provide positive role models for the state schoolchildren.

The challenge that we face moving forward is how to measure the impact that we instinctively know that we are having. We will be working over the next year on formulating meaningful measurement tools to provide quantifiable data, whilst we continue to expand the program to ensure that it is as wide-reaching and impactful as possible.


References

[1] T. May, “Why I’m giving education a huge boost,” The Telegraph, 7 March 2017.
[2] Lexington Communications, “Theresa May’s education education education moment,” 19 January 2019. [Online]. Available: http://lexcomm.co.uk/theresa-mays-education-education-education-moment.
[3] Department for Education, “Schools that work for everyone,” Department for Education, London, 2016.
[4] Ofsted, “Independent/State School Partnerships,” Ofsted, London, 2005.
[5] A. Farrer, “The Importance of Collaborative Learning,” Wimbledon High School, London, 2018.
[6] D. P. Armstrong, “Effective school partnerships and collaboration for school improvement: a review of the evidence,” Department for Education, London, 2015.
[7] J. Turner, “Building bridges: A study of independent-state school parterships,” National College for School Leadership, Nottingham, 2004.
[8] K. Kobayashi, “Interactivity: A Potential Determinant of Learning by Preparing to Teach and Teaching,” Frontiers in Psychology, Shizuoka, 2019.
[9] P. B. Parker, “IRIS MELT – Introducing the Challenge,” IRIS, [Online]. Available: http://www.researchinschools.org/projects/melt.html. [Accessed 02 03 2019].
[10] Department for Education, “Schools that Work for Everyone, Government consulation response,” Department for Education, London, 2018.
[11] M. Bourne, “Independent State School Partnerships – impact of and lessons learnt,” Department for Education, London, 2017.

 

 

Does taking part in co-curricular activities really improve academic outcomes?

Jenny Cox, Director of Co-curricular and Partnerships at Wimbledon High, looks at the links between co-curricular activities and the impact these can have on academic outcomes in the classroom.

There has been much research over the years investigating the link between Sport and its benefits – not only to a healthy lifestyle – but to the academic progress of students in schools and universities.  Research has shown that regular physical activity leads to improvements in a range of cognitive functions, including information processing, attention and executive function (Chaddock et al. 2011). However, does involvement in any co-curricular club facilitate academic outcomes?

‘Flow’

Can you think of a time when you have ever been so absorbed in an activity that you have completely lost track of time? That whatever you were doing was challenging, totally captivating, was extending your skills and you were virtually operating in the subconscious? If you can, it’s likely that you were experiencing a phenomenon known as ‘flow’. Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi writing in the 1960s researched this initially with it really coming to the forefront of sports psychology in the 1990s.

He described it as:

“A deeply rewarding and optimal experience characterised

by intense focus on a specific activity

to the point of becoming totally absorbed in it”

Csikszentmihalyi suggested that experiencing ‘flow’ makes us happier and more successful, which in turn leads to increased performance. To get to this point, he pointed out that tasks have to be constantly challenging which in turn results in personal growth and development. This doesn’t mean that we always have to be in a state of optimal performance, but more that we are fully immersed in the process of the task in hand, as shown in the diagram below:

Activities & Flow diagram by Csikszentmihalyi

‘Flow’ experiences can happen as part of everyday life, and Csikszentmihalyi suggested overlearning a concept or a skill can help people experience flow. Within a sporting context, it is sometimes referred to a “being in the zone”, experiencing a loss of self-consciousness and feeling a sense of complete mastery.

Motivation

In addition to overlearning, another key component of finding ‘flow’ is doing activities that we are intrinsically motivated to take part in. This means work and activities that we feel real meaning behind and enjoy doing for the sake of doing. Financial gain, awards and praise can be by-products of the ‘flow’ activities you do, but they cannot be the core motivation behind what you’re doing. Csikszentmihalyi even goes further, saying the feeling should be “such that often the end goal is just an excuse for the process.”

Academic success

So why is this relevant to our school co-curricular programme and can it be linked to academic success?  The links here are two-fold.

Firstly, the co-curricular programme is designed to inspire and enhance the general learning of new skills and concepts. It gives us more time to focus on over-learning a skill or concept because there is no pressure of being examined, therefore no exact specification or course content to get through. We have the luxury of taking our time, over-rehearsing, over practising to a point of taking part in an activity with a loss of sub-consciousness. We may repeat skills so frequently because we revisit them two, three, four, seven, eight times a week, (think of rowing, drama, and music to name just three activities that have repeat weekly sessions), that the feeling of knowing a skill, a sequence, a technique really well and performing is sub-consciously really does happen.

Secondly, with this feeling of ‘flow’ comes those ‘magic moments’ we can all benefit from at any point during the day. The mere fact we are immersed in activity we enjoy could result in us being ‘in the zone’. We are busy immersed in something which is likely to mean we are automatically not thinking about an essay, a grade, a piece of coursework, a friendship or relationship issue at that time and so as a consequence that time contributes enormously to our state of well-being and happiness. This, in turn, is highly likely to lead to a more productive ‘head space’ for work when we return to it, less procrastinating, greater focus and possibly better outcomes.

So can we draw a link between participation in co-curricular activities and academic outcomes? There is research to indicate we can….. happy reading!

References

  • Chaddock, L., C. H. Hillman, S. M. Buck, and N. J. Cohen. 2011. “Aerobic Fitness and Executive Control of Relational Memory in Preadolescent Children.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 43 (2): 344–349.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row
  • Bailey R. (2016): Sport, physical activity and educational achievement – towards an explanatory model, Sport in Society

 

 

Global partnerships

Claire Baty, Head of French, considers the importance of global links in education, with particular reference to a developing partnership with a school in India.

“Let us together create pathways for our children connecting local to global”
Rima C Ailawadi, Principal of GD Goenka Public School, Model Town, Delhi

One of the key aims of WHS is for ‘every girl to leave [the school] prepared to shape the society in which she lives and works’. However, we have another responsibility that I think goes hand in hand with this particular aim; helping our students to realise that society is not limited to the local community and that they can and should spread their wings much further afield.

An outstanding education must provide opportunities for students to experience the world beyond their doorstep. Arguably, cultural interaction has never been more important than it is today. Technology enables young people to explore the world from their bedroom but only a few actually experience it. Despite, or perhaps because of, the political uncertainty in Europe young people must go out into the world with the knowledge, skills and attitude needed to thrive in an ever-changing international environment. This means experiencing different cultures, faiths, religions and languages through meaningful and enjoyable collaboration with their peers in other countries.

As a French teacher, I am obviously aware of the fundamental role played by trips abroad in the development of language proficiency. Immersion in the target language and culture is the best way to develop communication skills. Yet, we must not forget that students also gain invaluable life skills from these visits; networking and communication skills, compassion, independence, open-mindedness, to name but a few. These skills empower young people and lead to a more tolerant and empathetic world.

Here at WHS we have embraced the idea of a truly international education, offering our students countless opportunities to experience the world in which they live. Curriculum teaching that immerses Y3 students in the culture of Africa, exchange and study visits to France, Germany, Spain and Japan, community projects in Sri Lanka and Ghana all inspire our girls to make social change on a global scale.

Following on from the success of our other partnerships, WHS is now reaping the benefits of an exciting new connection with GD Goenka Public school in New Delhi, India. This is exciting, not least because the students are able to make friends with someone from a completely different country and culture, but also because we are able to work together on areas of common interest. The students are sharing their ideas, asking questions, carrying out research on behalf of their partners in India and vice versa. The aim is to create some academically enriching presentations on topics such as cultural diversity, freedom of expression in art, the importance of festivals in both cultures, the role of women in Indian society, air pollution and environmental issues affecting Delhi and London, the impact of social media on teenagers in India and the UK, sustainable development. These are just some of the myriad of possible areas of research. That is why a partnership project like this is so exciting, the opportunity to challenge perspectives on global issues, to step outside the ‘Wimbledon Bubble’ and share ideas with young people growing up in a culturally and socially different country.

Global partnerships projects are all about building connections with others, communicating effectively, and learning about other people and from other people. Ultimately encouraging collaboration and understanding between nations. Exchanging intellectual ideas is important, but so too is getting to know those other people. We talk about connecting schools, but it is really about connecting people.[1]

Global partnerships allow students to examine the differences and similarities between different countries and communities; this in turn broadens their perspectives in the classroom. Being able to compare effectively also opens their mind to the world of metacognition. “Once you experience something that challenges your beliefs or defies what you are familiar with, you have the beautiful opportunity to re-evaluate the way you think about your own life as well as the world at large” [2] and that is why global connections should be an intrinsic part of school life.

[1] The British Council
[2] 8 life skills travelling teaches by Kay Rodriguez www.wanderingeducators.com

Forging new relationships; the value of school partnerships – 28/09/18

Mr Richard Bristow, Director of Music here at WHS, looks at school partnerships and how external groups can enhance the academic and co-curricular programme, discussing a new partnership between WHS and the Jigsaw Players.

Partnerships have become increasingly important to schools since the turn of the Millennium, with a significant number of schools in both the State and Independent sectors working together in various ways. Broadly speaking there are two different types of school partnership: formal and informal.

Formal partnerships

A formal partnership will often involve a strategic merger between two or more schools, who might operate under the same trust with a central CEO or Executive Headteacher. The GDST, of which Wimbledon High is proudly a part of, is in this type of partnership with 25 schools (including 2 Academies) across the UK working closely together to provide the very best education for girls. In the State sector, this might involve the merger of an Academy Trust with several different schools working under the same central leadership team; a local example would be the Harris Federation, where 47 different academies – Primary and Secondary – operate within the same charitable trust.

The GDST Network in numbers

Informal partnerships

The informal partnership, however, involves smaller links between schools that retain their autonomy and own decision-making at a strategic level. This could be between two similar schools – for example the OWLS project between Oxford High and Wimbledon High (OWLS standing for Oxford and Wimbledon Leading Scholarship). This is where two schools work closely together to craft a vision to enhance an aspect of their shared goals, sharing resources, good practice and enabling the pupils and staff to develop their skills.[1]

These informal partnerships also exist between Independent and State Schools, as detailed below.

Teach Together

In late 2014, the Department of Education granted a significant amount of money to various different partnerships across the UK, focusing specifically on the primary curriculum. Various different projects occurred throughout the country, from developing coding skills to organising MFL challenge days. Wimbledon High was involved in this project, forming a Teach Together partnership with St Boniface RC Primary School to engage pupils with the science curriculum through storytelling and narrative. This partnership continues to this day with weekly links between the schools with our Enrichment programme.

This partnership has significant benefit to both schools, and this is essential for the partnership to work effectively. Both schools need to put in and get something out of the partnership to avoid it from lacking equality. In this case, WHS girls from Year 11-13 consolidate their scientific knowledge and understanding by teaching scientific concepts in a new way to Key Stage 2 pupils. This not only helps the pupils they are teaching, but develops the older pupils’ ability to communicate with others, encouraging them to look outwards, to support others and be ready to shape the society in which they live. Thus partnership work also meets one of Wimbledon High’s key aims. By ensuring both sides of the arrangement are getting something they require out of the partnership, it is far more likely to succeed. If it was a one-sided agreement, where only one side was gaining from the arrangement, the chances of success would rapidly diminish.

When asked the question ‘Have you seen notable progress?’ the feedback is overwhelmingly positive from both sides, including

  • From WHS Staff: “Yes, in interest & excitement in science. Pupils have produced projects which reflect the time they have spent to continue on these themes & also class room displays linked to our visits.”
  • From WHS Pupils: “I get to see the delight of the pupils in learning new things… developing my confidence and resilience” and “[I have more] confidence in my abilities as I am able to fully teach new concepts to children in maths. [I have] an insight into how far I have come with maths as I reflect “
  • From St Boniface Pupils: “The lesson I enjoyed the most was when we went to Wimbledon High School and learned about Light. I have enjoyed going outside to try new experiments”

SHINE

WHS also hosts the nationally-recognised SHINE programme. This is an education charity seeking to turn potential into success, and at WHS this is presented as ‘Serious Fun on Saturdays’, with 24 Year 4 and 5 primary pupils coming to WHS to learn a range of topics based around the idea of ‘Reaching for the Stars’. Some of the activities include making frisbees in DT, learning to bake, understanding more about astrology in Geography and learning how to perform as an ensemble in Music. Each pupil is given a WHS mentor from Year 12, allowing these pupils to develop their mentoring skills.

External agencies

These links between schools – where skills and resources are shared to develop both sides of the partnership – are of vital importance. However, schools are also increasingly offering new partnerships using external agencies and providers which are open to the whole local community.

A new partnership from September 2018 is the partnership between Wimbledon High School Music Department and the Jigsaw Players. The Jigsaw Players are a Not-for-Profit concert series based in Wimbledon, performing world-class chamber music and jazz. They run educational projects for local children, sponsor young up-and-coming jazz and classical ensembles, and heavily subsidise all their concert ticket prices, to help ensure music is accessible to all in Merton.[2]

WHS and the Jigsaw Players

This accessibility is increasing further with this new partnership with WHS. The Jigsaw Players will host four different events throughout the academic year 2018-19 focusing on composition skills and female composers via workshops and concerts. These are completely free to attend and are open to all.

The workshops will allow pupils from year 9-13 from WHS and local schools to understand more about how to write for chamber forces – specifically string quartet – enabling a higher quality of composition work required for GCSE and A Level Music courses. With numbers of pupils studying the subject across the country in sharp decline[3], schools are either struggling to offer Music as an academic subject or have small numbers doing so outside of the timetable. As the numbers are small, funding can be hard to secure as the impact lacks large-scale focus. Against this backdrop, these partnerships are of even more importance as they offer a chance for all schools – state and independent – to engage with curriculum enrichment at zero cost.

Composition is frequently the area of compulsory study at GCSE and A Level which is the most complex to teach and learn and is the area where examiner marks are frequently debated owing to the more ‘subjective’ nature of composition. This will not change as long as composition is a compulsory part of GCSE and A Level Music, but what we can do as a school is to create a time and space for teachers, pupils and professional musicians to come together to discuss the challenges and work together on finding potential solutions. This collaboration gives confidence and allows for networking – something vital for a subject like Music which are often staffed by only one teacher for the entire school.

Free tickets to the workshops can be booked below:

Workshop 1 https://www.trybooking.com/uk/book/event?eid=4118& 3rd October 4:15-6:15pm M11

Workshop 2 https://www.trybooking.com/uk/book/event?eid=4121& 14th February 4:15-6:15pm M11

The concerts are also open to all, focusing on the chamber music of female composers. This clearly links the chance to hear professional musicians with the overall ethos of girls’-first education, championing music which often struggles to find a voice in the canon of Western Classical Music. This type of cultural enrichment is universal and has significant benefits to overall academic progress[4].

Free tickets to the concert can be booked below:

Concert 1 https://www.trybooking.com/uk/book/event?eid=4120& 3rd December 7pm Senior Hall

Concert 2 https://www.trybooking.co.uk/4122 7th May 7pm Senior Hall

Summary

The most effective partnerships are ones characterised by a shared vision and passion between the schools and agencies agreeing to work together. Without this shared goal, partnerships become forced and subsequently lack effectiveness, reducing impact. Honesty, openness and clear communication are central to ensuring success for all stakeholders.

The new partnership with the Jigsaw Players is an exciting opportunity to work with local professional musicians and other GCSE and A Level pupils and staff, allowing new networking opportunities on a staff and pupil level and encouraging all-important discussions about Music as an academic subject. Whether you would like to attend as an active participant in the workshops or simply as a member of the audience listening to the music by composers past and present, you are warmly invited to become part of our shared passion for all things musical.

[1] See OWLS Quarterly here http://www.wimbledonhigh.gdst.net/userfiles/wimbledonhighmvc/Documents/Sixth%20Form/OWLS/OWLS%20Quarterly-First%20Edition%2C%20February%202018.pdf

[2] http://www.jigsawplayers.co.uk/about-us/

[3] https://www.economist.com/britain/2018/03/01/the-quiet-decline-of-music-in-british-schools

[4] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180326140244.htm

 

The creative-academic problem: why we should value the creative curriculum.

Richard Bristow, Director of Music at WHS, looks at recent developments in the creative curriculum.

News report:

‘Creative industries worth almost £10 million an hour to economy’

Dept. of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, January 2016

 

‘Creative industries grow twice as fast as UK economy in 2015-16, making up 5.3% of the economy’

Economic Estimates for 2016 Report

 

‘The government is aiming for 90% of Year 10 pupils to be studying the EBacc…by 2025’

Telegraph April 2018

 

 ‘Arts education should be the entitlement of every child’

Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, April 2018

 

 

‘Music could “face extinction” in secondary schools in England, researchers have warned’

BBC, March 2017

 

“A combination of cuts to school budgets and the consequential loss of specialist teachers has created a skills loss”

Prof Colin Lawson, Director of RCM, March 2018

 

‘How to improve the school results: not extra maths but music, and loads of it’

Guardian, October 2017

 

‘Axe looms for county music service: 7000 school instrumental lessons impacted’

Sussex Express, April 2018

 

The creative-academic problem:

The news reports above pose a dilemma. On one hand, Creative Industries in the UK have had a celebrated few years, adding significant value to the UK economy; on the other, cuts to creative (and specifically Music) education in secondary schools in England paint a bleak picture of an emerging skills gap, threatening this very success.

A recent BBC survey with data collected from over 1200 schools – some 40% of all secondary schools in England – revealed a damming 90% of schools have made cuts to staffing, resourcing or facilities to at least one creative arts subject over the last year. Music, Drama, Art and Design and Technology all find themselves squeezed because of a growing need to teach ‘academic’ subjects – a key feature of the new English Baccalaureate (or EBacc for short), which has become a compulsory part of state education in England. This division of academic and creative is a central problem in education. After all, we want creative solutions to scientific problems, and an academic approach to art allows for increased understanding. Yes, the Theory of Relativity is complex, but so is Schenkerian musical analysis. Why do we have to choose? Why can we not value both?

90% of schools have made cuts to the creative arts over the last year

BBC Survey

The EBacc

Introduced from 2010, the EBacc seeks to counter the fall in numbers of pupils studying foreign languages and sciences (see here) by measuring pupil progress in English, maths, the sciences, a language and either history or geography.

EBacc Subjects:
  • English Literature
  • English Language
  • Maths
  • Combined or Triple Science
  • History or Geography
  • A Language – ancient or modern

The Government originally set a target of 90% of Year 10 pupils studying the EBacc to be achieved by 2025. This however has recently been reduced to 75% in the latest Conservative manifesto – not to allow for a broadening of the EBacc subjects, but because there are not enough Modern Foreign Language teachers to allow the original target to be met. The cuts to language teaching are a little more established than the more recent cuts to creative subjects, showing the ‘boom and bust’ approach to education in the UK in the 21st Century (see here for more information on MFL provision).

 

However, despite the significant press coverage of schools closing their music departments (see here) and some schools even charging pupils to study Music at GCSE (see here) the data seems to show a mismatch. A New Schools Network report (which can be viewed here) analysing data for all state school GCSE entries between 2011/12 and 2015/16 actually shows a rise in the number of pupils sitting at least one creative subject at GCSE over the period and confirms that pupils who achieve the very best EBacc grades are likely to have also achieved well in a creative arts subject. However, it also shows other issues:

  • A reduction in the funding in the creative arts in secondary schools, suggesting state schools have ‘misunderstood’ the requirements of the EBacc to prioritise named subjects at the expense of non-named subjects
  • The impact of this funding reduction has not yet impacted achievement, but it may well do so in the future
  • That the Government can be more enthusiastic about the value of the creative arts
  • That the biggest decline in the take up of creative subjects was in the Independent Sector, who are not required to follow the EBacc, recording a 12.9% fall in take up of at least one creative arts subject at GCSE from 2011/12 to 2015/16
  • That the independent sector has seen a 30% fall in total GCSE and IGCSE entries over the 2011/12 to 2015/16 period

These points add to the confusion. If the picture is as positive as this report suggests, why are we seeing reports suggesting the ‘extinction’ of subjects like Music in state schools? If the picture is one where the evidence shows the EBacc has not declined the provision of arts education, why are Music departments and Music hubs closing? How can pupils access an arts curriculum if the department is not physically there?

Perhaps the biggest problem with the report is that it does not give data for individual subjects. It might show a rise for the pupils studying the creative arts, but it does not show a rise in all creative subjects. So whilst the numbers studying Art or Design and Technology (part of the STEAM initiative) might have risen sharply, this might be at the expense of Music or Drama, who might have seen a strong decline in education provision. This data is needed to truly understand the impact of the EBacc on individual creative subjects.

Partnerships

The NSN Arts Report also calls upon Art Providers to be more active in helping to engage pupils in the creative arts (see Kendall et al, The Longer-Term Impact of Creative Partnerships on the Attainment of Young People). This might be via art organisations setting up free schools, or more likely to encourage art organisations to engage with a cultural education programme with school pupils.

One such example is the Philharmonia Orchestra who have recently completed their Universe of Sound and 360 Experience Project. This exciting project uses virtual reality to film the Philharmonia Orchestra performing Holst’s The Planets allowing people to experience and learn more about the symphony orchestra. They have also commissioned new music by Joby Talbot to give a contemporary interpretation to writing music to represent time and space. I have been lucky enough to do some work on the education resources for this programme over the Easter break, and it is hoped that this experience can offer pupils, parents and teachers a way into linking Music to other STEAM subjects, rising cultural engagement and musical understanding. If you would like to learn more about the project, please visit here for more information.

Final thoughts

If we are to view subjects by their perceived academic worth, then it can be useful to view how the subject has been taught through history. Whilst many would view Music as now being a creative (and not academic subject), it is important to remember that Music as an academic and theoretical subject was one of the Ancient Greek seven liberal arts and a part of the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) which was taught after the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric). Rather than being marginalised as a non-academic subject, we should relish the fact that Music can and has informed scientific understanding throughout history. Practical study of Music is obviously a useful skill, but it is the academic and theoretical knowledge that comes from advanced study of the subject that can really inspire the very best musicians. Perhaps we should redefine STEAM to STEAMM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Maths and Music.

Or maybe we should lose the hierarchy altogether; perhaps, instead of putting subjects against each other in some fruitless competition, we should value passion, enjoyment and the love of learning, seeing the subjects as having equal worth. As Ian McEwan states:

“Science, the humanities and the arts are all forms of investigation,

driven by curiosity and delight in discovery.

The child who flourishes in one should flourish in the others.

The best, the liveliest education, would nourish all three.”

Richard Bristow, 21st April 2018

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