“Arts and creativity are at the core of what we do”

By Emma Watson, Artsmark Consultant for Arts Connect in conversation with Michael Penn, Vice Principal of Birmingham Ormiston Academy and Executive Director of the Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham

EW: Tell us about Birmingham Ormiston Academy 
MP: We are a 14-19 academy in Eastside, Birmingham; we specialise in creative, digital and performing arts and have 1100 students on roll. We have recently established ourselves as a multi-academy trust, opening our second academy, BOA: Stage and Screen Production in 2021, with our third academy, BOA: Digital, opening in September 2022. 

We are a regional academy with students from Birmingham and the Midlands area. Our academy has 8.1% of students eligible for pupil premium; 8.6% eligible for free school meals; 1.67% who have English as an additional language and 13.6% of our students have special educational needs.

We also run The Old Rep Theatre in Birmingham, which we use as our second campus, allowing students the opportunity to perform at and run the UK’s oldest repertory theatre. 

EW: Why do you place arts and creativity at the core of what you do and how does this impact on outcomes for your students, particularly those on pupil premium or with special educational needs or disabilities?
MP: The power of arts and culture is at the heart of everything we do.  Our core value is that through the arts, we will provide a dynamic and personalised pathway for each individual student to achieve their full potential. One key way in which this is achieved is via a staff body that consists of a blend of arts education specialists and practitioners from professional arts industry backgrounds.  This creates teaching and learning that is innovative, exciting and supported with authentic advice and guidance regarding career progression.

All our students receive a place at BOA based on aptitude in their chosen arts pathway and our focus on inclusivity and individualised pathways means that our SEN students often achieve a higher proportion of distinction and distinction* grades in BTEC than their peers. 

EW: How do you use your expertise and specialist knowledge to support other schools and colleges to develop their arts provision? 
BOA took over the Old Rep Theatre in 2014 operating the venue as second campus, a training ground for young people in the arts and a professional theatre run for and by young people.  Each year we produce a Christmas musical for four weeks which is commissioned especially for our students who form four casts, work backstage and front of house to perform over 40 performances to schools, youth groups and wider audiences.  

Our students also take workshops to local primary schools, often providing young people with their first experience of live performance.

The #WeWill project is a nationwide project spearheaded by the National Lottery Community Fund that ensures young people take the lead on social action projects across the nation.  By March 2022, BOA’s social action team will have worked with at least one local primary school in a disadvantaged area of Birmingham to create and choreograph a dance performance for ‘The Great Big Dance Off’ at The Alexandra Theatre. By July 2022, we will complete a project working with the Turtle Key Arts – Turtle Opera. This joint project focuses on working with autistic children to demonstrate the liberating power of the arts and dispel any preconceived notions regarding the exclusivity of art forms such as opera. 

EW: You’re clearly an advocate of cultural education. Why did you choose to engage with Artsmark and how did it support your school to develop? 
: Artsmark is nationally recognised as a mark of commitment to the arts.  We see on a daily basis the difference that arts education can make to young people both in developing their arts skills, knowledge and abilities but also the skills of cooperation, expression, teamwork and resilience.  

Taking part in the Artsmark journey, now for the second time, has encouraged us to be self-reflective and strive to improve even further.  We received supportive training from Arts Connect who gave us feedback on our Statement of Commitment before final submission and then working towards and achieving Platinum, which we are hoping to achieve for a second time with our current submission. 

EW: Has Artsmark influenced your school’s strategic priorities? 
: Our current Statement of Commitment is linked to our Academy strategic improvement plan as we are consistently trying to develop both the teaching and learning within the arts but also the other opportunities we can afford students.  This ‘Culture Capital’ is more important than ever for students after the interruptions seen in education and arts experiences due to Covid-19.  The Artsmark process has provided further focus to these intended improvements and a clear timeline for development. 

EW: What advice would you give to other schools and colleges about arts provision, especially those who may struggle to see the value, or don’t feel they can prioritise it right now?
: In 2019, arts and culture contributed £10.8 billion to the UK economy.  We have seen a serious interruption to this with the pandemic however it has proved that the arts are more important than ever to our mental health, enjoyment and general wellbeing.  OSFTED looks for a broad and ambitious curriculum and the arts play a key role in this.  Whether curricular or extra-curricular they provide both the soft skills and the needed training and specialisms to pursue their passions.  These have assisted students in their public speaking skills, communication and creative approaches.    

Narrowing the curriculum and removing arts subjects from schools may seem cost effective in the short term but there will be a long-term cost to the next generation of artists and those who enjoy the arts.  In my current setting, arts are crucial to what we do.  We are oversubscribed and successful because we promote a rich arts education for young people.  

Michael Penn is Vice Principal of Birmingham Ormiston Academy and Executive Director of the Old Rep Theatre

Find out how Artsmark Award can support school improvement and pupil wellbeing here.

Artsmark will be in discussion with ASCL Primary and Data Specialist Tiffnie Harris at the Conference hub at 3.25pm 11 March at ASCL Annual Conference. You can also visit them at Stand 22.
Posted: 09/03/2022 09:52:31