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School's Arts Awards Success

5th February 2018

School's Arts Awards Success

St Bede’s and St Joseph’s (SBSJ) in Bradford is one of the UK’s biggest schools and the largest Catholic school in the country. It has a very diverse cohort, with 30% of its pupils being Muslim. It is a split site school with over a mile between sites and it is a recent amalgamation between two single-sex schools.


SBSJ refer to their core learning skills as ‘learning muscles’. They want their students to thrive and understand that qualifications without life and employment skills will not serve their students very well. Thus they focus on team work, creativity, aspiration, independence, reflection and resilience. All six of these skills or ‘learning muscles’ are demanded within the Arts Award.


The Arts Award is a Level 1 qualification similar to the Duke of Edinburgh or ‘Faith in Action’ awards but focused on the Arts.  At SBSJ the qualification also goes towards the school’s in-house 'Christus Lumen Gentium' Key stage 3 diploma and is funded through their exams budget. Since it sits within their Key Stage 3 Diploma, this makes perfect sense. An increasing number of schools are following suit and, as a result, are taking the financial burden away from arts faculties capitations or enrichment budgets. The Arts Award is a nationally recognised award that is examined so, again this makes perfect sense.


At SBSJ four art forms are covered: dance, drama, music and art –so students are given a breadth of subject knowledge. The work is covered in their lessons and they must attempt all four areas and pass at least three in order to get the qualification. All of the students successfully passed all four parts this year.  The school enter an entire year group through Arts Award Bronze. 


Beckie Fuller, who leads the arts subjects at the school, initially established the Bronze award for Year 11 students within Drama and Performing Arts BTEC.  However, two years ago she was asked to consider what the arts could contribute to a new initiative in the school – a KS3 Diploma. Beckie’s approach to the award was to ask teachers from Drama, Dance, Music and Art what they already did that would fit with the Bronze structure. She was keen that the award would add focus and status to their curriculum – but not create a lot more work for teachers!


Quite quickly, the structure emerged. In Art, students study a variety of famous artists and research their work, style and form. Art work is then created. Thus researching the work of an artist/craftsperson that inspires them is done easily and efficiently. In Drama, students actively participate in a series of skills and narrative-based workshops, linked to the Charles Causley poem, What Has Happened to Lulu? In Dance they pass on arts skills. This year they studied skills based on the Gobstoppers characters in The Nutcracker and then devised warm-ups using these skills to teach to their peers. In Music and Drama they experience art as an audience member and write reviews for the portfolio.


Students must complete a portfolio of work which covers four main areas showing they have experienced the arts, shared a skill as an artist, researched an artist and watched a live piece of theatre, dance etc. Most of the evidence is written or video based but all of it has involved an element of practical exploration of the art form and development of skills.


All portfolio evidence comes from homework tasks that not only evidence the students’ participation in the requirements of the Arts Award; they also provide the required evidence of learning for the rigours of the school curriculum. Students are encouraged to be as creative in their approaches to the portfolio as they are in the practical work.


The students are challenged throughout the Arts Award work both in the breadth of their knowledge and in their assumptions about what the arts are. This year some students reviewed the school production, others reviewed live professional theatre and some went to view the art works on display at Cartwright Hall. 


Beckie acknowledges that they have benefited from admin support to collate the 300 portfolios, first from the Arts Technician and now from a newly appointed Division Manager. Without them though she insists it would still be very possible to manage. As it is, each trained advisor in the school takes responsibility for assessing one tutor group’s work.


There is already one member of staff who is trained to deliver and assess the Gold Award and the school is finding the funding to train two more. Once trained, St Bede’s and St Joseph’s sixth form students will do the Gold Award as part of their A Levels in either Drama, Dance, Music, Art or Photography. The UCAS points that come with the Gold Award will significantly enhance the students’ university chances and employability in the future.


Beckie’s ambitions don’t stop there. ‘If all Year 7 students have the Bronze Award by the end of their first year at the school, then why not the Silver…?’ she says.


That is exactly what is planned; students will undertake the arts practice and pathways elements of the Silver Award across their Year 8 arts lessons, and then do the arts leadership elements in Year 9.  Not only does this provide huge amounts of rigour and challenge to the St Bede’s and St Joseph’s students, it also boosts the status and importance of the arts. With such a belief in the power of the arts to both deliver the ‘learning muscles’ and to boost students’ attainment across the school, the senior leadership team are certain that their investment in the arts pays off.  


As Assistant Headteacher Mark Sneddon says:  'The arts definitely deliver transferable skills. The way in which students collaborate and reflect has a huge impact across the school.’