ArtsEd school ‘over-subscribed’ despite crisis in performing arts

Image above: National Theatre

Influential voices in the theatre, among them Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, President of ArtsEd and Chiswick resident David Tennant, are asking Government to come to the aid of the performing arts. A letter from arts bodies including the Society of London Theatre and One Dance to the Prime Minister, dated 11 June, said:

“COVID-19 has removed all the sector’s trading income at a stroke and thrown business into crisis. Overall, the impact has been immediate and devastating.”

The theatres are haemorrhaging money on expensive overheads, some have already closed for good and some 200,000 job losses among both employed and freelance theatre workers are anticipated.

Not an economic climate in which you’d really want your child to pick a career in the performing arts. I wondered what the impact of all this had been on the Arts Ed, Chiswick’s performing arts schools, which offers secondary school education and BA degree courses as well as a variety of short courses.

Image above: ArtsEd production of Edwin Drood

Growth period for film

Arts Ed’s day school head Adrian Blake was surprisingly upbeat.

“Arts Ed is not a drama school” he was at pains to point out. They teach drama and musical theatre, but they offer an all-round education which is regularly deemed ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and judged to be one of the best in the country by any league table. They were judged as ‘excellent’ in all categories by the Independent Schools Inspectorate in November 2019. The work they do in performing arts also develops a range of soft skills such as a strong work ethic, positive experience of relationship building and team work. Their students are very employable, whatever they go on to do.

Yes, he acknowledged, if they’d chosen to specialize in musical theatre they may have to ride out the storm for a while as a singing teacher or an acting coach rather than making their debut on a West End stage, but there is plenty of work available in film. Filming is starting up again, in ‘production bubbles’ and Adrian has a number of students waiting to get their filming schedules for the summer.

“If you think about it there’s never been such a growth period for film. Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google, they’re all making their own content. They’ve just announced the opening of cinemas and it won’t be long before they roll it out to theatres”.

Image above: Arts Ed Day School Head teacher Adrian Blake

Arts Ed ‘over-subscribed’ for September

I suspect that being one of life’s optimists, and radiating positivity are core skill requirements for a head teacher of a performing arts school. But this is not someone who has his head in the clouds. Far from being, as I had feared, under an existential threat, ArtsEd day school and sixth form is, if anything, over-subscribed for September.

“Three vocational schools are closing their doors – the Barbara Speake school * (where Phil Collins’ mother famously taught), Redroofs theatre school in Windsor and the Italia Conti day school. We’ve had over 60 applications just from those three schools”.

*I spoke to the Principal of the Barbara Speake school, Shereen Boucher, who said they were relocating and still hoped to be open again in September, though the impact of Covid-19 on top of the relocation has put their future in doubt. Redroofs closed as a full-time day school In April. Italia Conti announced in May that their school for 10 – 16 year-olds would not reopen next year.

‘Never worked so hard in my life’

The day school at Arts Ed closed on Wednesday 18 March, the day it was announced that schools must shut that Friday, in two days’ time.

“I saw the way it was going and we decided to use the time so we could reopen with full-time online timetable of classes the following Monday”.

The school has been giving its students eight periods a day of online tuition since the first Monday of lockdown and the parents have appreciated it.

“I’d say 40 – 50% of the parents have reached out directly to say ‘thank you, you’re doing a fantastic job’.”

Comments such as:

“…amazing collaborative effort to keep the “ArtsEd show” on the road” – Year 11 parent

“unbelievable effort and a credit to how resilient and inventive you are all being. Well done” – Year 10 parent

“My child is behaving as if he has school. It’s amazing!!” – Year 10 parent

Adrian is an experienced head, who mentors other head teachers, so the school’s success is in large measure down to his leadership, but he says:

“I am enormously proud of the whole school”.

He has 83 students currently in school (at time of writing on 25 June 2020), all of year 10 and all but four of year 12 (who went to their homes abroad and haven’t been able to come back yet) as these are the cohorts who will be taking exams next year.

The year groups are split into two groups who are in school either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, with a deep clean on Wednesdays. They’re only doing the core subjects in school – Maths, English and Science and either Acting, Dance or Musical Theatre, so they can stay in their ‘bubbles’. Optional subjects such as History and Geography are continued online.

“I’ve never worked so hard in my life” he told me.

Image above: Isabella Pappas in the Arts Ed Concert 2019

The school surveyed its parents about what they wanted them to focus on. He’s aware that he needs to provide not just the academic curriculum but have a mind to the students’ emotional well-being.

“They’ve come back with big smiles on their faces and are just picking up with friendships, but it’s not just about learning loss, but social loss and actual loss of loved ones. A number of students have lost grandparents”.

The assessment of GCSE and A Level grades has proved easier than you might think.

“We do a data drop every half term. Every head of department looks at how their students are doing and how they might help them do better”.

That means that if examiners question the marks, they have a solid factual record to which they can point for evidence. The results will be published on the dates they would normally have been: A Levels on 13 August and GCSE results on 20 August.

In an economic environment where it’s estimated that 10% independent will struggle to stay open, the Arts Ed’s prospects are looking very healthy.

Images above: Zoe Brough in the Arts Ed Concert 2019; Olivia Beaumont in Sex Education

Arts Ed students currently filming

TV, Film and stage production companies which were in the process of filming or rehearsing, have stayed active with virtual rehearsals and script reading sessions. Here are some of the students currently engaged in professional filming.

Isabella Pappas (Year 13) had just completed filming for Finding Alice (ITV) with Keeley Hawes, Joanna Lumley, and Nigel Havers (also an ArtsEd graduate).

Becky Ineson (Year 12) in The Northman for Disney with Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard.

Louis Moffat (Year 13) was set to be filming Midnight Mass for Netflix in Vancouver but the shoot was postponed due to lockdown, rehearsals have continued but filming has now been re-scheduled.

Zoe Brough (Year 12) due to appear in The Still Room at The Park Theatre.

Olivia Beaumont (Year 9) in Sex Education for Netflix

Find out more about ArtsEd day school and sixth form from their website:

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