inspiring future arts careers

This post is written by Lexi Earl on her visit to St Ambrose Barlow RC High School in Salford.

In my conversation with Bernie Furey, the Assistant Head Teacher (Creativity and Research) at St Ambrose Barlow RC High School in Salford, she talked about the focus on giving students functional and useful art skills. This is to enable students to obtain jobs in the creative industries when they’ve finished studying. One of the ways the art teachers at St Ambrose do this is through developing a wide range of partnerships with creative organisations – from the Tate galleries to the Ideas Foundation to working with artists and design agencies.

The art department spends a lot of time organizing and taking their students to local galleries like Manchester Art Gallery and the Tate Liverpool so that students can see art on display and get ideas for their own work. These experiences have a long-term focus, extending the possibilities of what their students might aspire to be.

During our conversation, I asked Bernie if the department were conscious of the kinds of job markets that might exist when their students finished. 

Definitely and making sure that we are giving them those skills and we are working very closely with the digital industry in Manchester to make sure that our curriculum is fit for purpose.

One of the partnerships the department has is with McCann’s – a design agency that has offices in both London and New York City. In the weeks before my visit, the art department took a number of students from Year 10 and 6th form to New York City for 5 days. The packed schedule included a trip to the top of Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Central Park and a show on Broadway as well as visits to MoMA, the Natural History Museum, and the Whitney.

The students spoke about their trip with enthusiasm:

Everything you could do in five days, we did.

[On the NYC galleries] They were all different I’d say. None of them were the same. In each one none of the art was the same. There was so much different art. So it was good for us to get ideas.

It was so big as well like. There were so many different types of art, to see them all, it was really good.

Some students also visited the McCann offices in NYC. One of the Year 12’s I spoke to there told me about her experience in the design agency:

I want to go into advertising and Ms. Furey has really helped me out with that. Because when we went to New York I went to visit McCann’s agency. […] We went to the 16th floor and they have the whole floor and it’s the creative side to it. They had different sections so we went round there. Then they were showing us how they create magazine covers and it was just really good to see how it’s all created. So they start off with a basic idea and then we moved on to how they edit it on Photoshop and then how they print it. They do loads of different prints to see which is best. It was just nice to see how it all comes together and how much work it actually takes to create something like that. It was just really good.

Rose Warner, one of the art teachers, explained about the importance of these kinds of experiences for their students.

It was great. The kids just loved it. […] We did a lot in five days and it was a really good trip and the kids get a lot from that for their sketchbooks. […] It’s an exhausting trip but it is brilliant because some of our kids haven’t even been out of Salford by the time they get to Year 10 and there were about four girls who had never flown before. That is a lot for them and it means to lot to them and they learn an awful lot from it even down to how to manage their own budget and money. […] I think for us it’s the chance for pupils to see us in a different way and a couple of years ago we took a girl who had completely switched off from art and when we took her to New York she returned a completely changed girl who wanted to get back to her art. We took a girl this year who is really quiet but creates beautiful art work but can’t talk about it and she came back with a much more confident side to her. I think it will help their confidence a lot.

Bernie and her team work to build these partnerships precisely so that their students are able to gain a lot of experiences whilst still at school. This, they hope, will help their students understand the wide range of job opportunities that exist, particularly in a creative hub like Manchester.

keys to the city

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My research conversations with GCSE and A level art students from Upton Hall School FCJ quickly revealed some in depth knowledge and engagement with the galleries and public art in the centre of Liverpool. On further enquiry it was clear that this relates to an annual summer homework which invites the students to visit a specific exhibition and then choose a number of other venues and galleries to visit and to document this in their sketchbooks.For those students who have taken art through to A level, this means they will have undertaken this activity four or five times by the end of their courses.

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I looked through the documentation the students had created after their visits which varied in design and content considerably. Each journey the students had taken reflected their personal responses and affinities with particular spaces or exhibitions. Many of them used a mapping design aesthetic, adapting the materials from the galleries such as logos and directions and plotting them on the page. This gave a strong indication that the students felt a degree of ownership or connection to the key cultural institutions in their city, despite living a long bus journey outside the city centre.

 

unspecified-4I asked the students if they ever felt that the galleries were ‘not for them,’ a comment students from other schools have made in the course of the project. They strongly rejected this idea, stating that Liverpool was ‘not posh’. One student also suggested that the staff at the school had high expectations of them and this included things like visiting galleries independently as well as through school visits and projects. Others talked of the summer homework as something they did with friends, describing it as an enjoyable and memorable experience. The students talked about the art they had engaged with and how it had influenced their own work, citing different artists as well as shared experiences.

Ann Spears, Head of Art at Upton Hall School FCJ, described the rationale:

We consider familiarisation and a sense of ownership with galleries and museums to be pivotal to the success of the GCSE and A Level courses and that the pupils’ cultural development is an absolute entitlement for our pupils. Their experience outside the classroom energises learning. Our aim is to support the development of eloquent and confident students, whatever their backgrounds, who can embrace contemporary art and innovative ideas to inform their own practice. Students regularly undertake workshops with artists in residence both at the galleries and at school and benefit enormously from the interaction.

Funding can be an issue but initiatives such as the Arts Council and Curious Mind’s SLiCE Fellowship has enabled me to work collaboratively as the Lead School with Cultural Partnership organisations in Liverpool and by adopting a Systems Leadership approach has enabled 3 other schools to benefit from the enriching experience with a series of 4 workshops based on the current exhibit Open 2:Pieces of you at the Open Eye Gallery.

The key aim of this year’s research project is to measure the impact on literacy of a Pupil Premium cohort by tracking pupil progress over the academic year after their involvement in the project.

a SLICE of creativity

 

When I first arrived at St Ambrose School in Salford, it was the day after attending a seminar at the Centre for Creativity, Arts and Literacy (CRACL) led by Paul Collard of Creativity, Culture and Education. When I mentioned this to Bernie Furey, the assistant head in charge of creativity across the curriculum and research and development at the school, we quickly realised that the animation Collard had shown and some of the stories he had shared were the results of the work of St Ambrose who have focused on creativity in teaching and learning across the school for many years. No coincidence! Indeed Bernie and previous head, Marie Garside, visited Boston Arts Academy  nine years ago and later became a Creative Partnerships school. so it was very interesting to begin to understand the relationship with  Tate Liverpool in this context.

Over the last two years the school have been in a partnership with the Tate Liverpool, with Bernie in role as a SLICE (specialist leader in cultural education). This scheme is managed by Curious Minds who are a bridge organisation for the Arts Council. This enabled a partnership through which Tate Liverpool and St Ambrose considered how young people are invited to engage with art in galleries. This resulted in impact for both partners as Bernie reflected:

Tate changed their practice that year and it also made us re-evaluate how we engage with an art gallery. Years ago, when we used to go to an art gallery, we would ask the children to sit down and do a drawing of a work that they liked in the gallery but I think now that is a total waste of time. We get them to gather resources and create collages; take photographs; tweet; use social media. Because that is their language and that is how they get to learn more. It made us think about when you go to a gallery you don’t have to look at everything and you might just look at one or two pieces and that’s fine.

The partnership, now in the second year, has also led to changing practices in relation to staff planning meetings, highlighting the need for teachers to be inspired and stimulated:

 So, through working with the Tate it’s changed our way of thinking and it’s also had an impact on how we’ve had staff meetings because we realised that it’s good to get out of the school and go to a creative organisation and have our meeting there because we are more inspired and we’ve found that we get better results and that came from our discussions with the Tate.

Despite this extensive experience, it is also very clear that St Ambrose do not only reflect on their previous successes. They are currently collaborating with Bill Lucas on developing creative habits of mind and  the school has also been working with their new head, to produce a three year creative plan which they have articulated in visual form.