Blog: Artsmark for Sixth Form Colleges

10 October 2018

Artsmark for Sixth Form Colleges

Blog by Joanna Bailey, Chief Executive Officer, Tees Valley Collaborative Trust

When we received an invitation to participate in a pilot scheme including sixth form colleges in the Artsmark family I knew straight away that I wanted our college to participate.

Prior Pursglove and Stockton Sixth Form College is unique in that the college comprises two sites over 20 miles apart spanning the river Tees and the Tees Valley, the two independent colleges having merged in 2016.

On both sites there is a commitment to the arts in a myriad forms: visual, creative, digital and performance. However, over recent years we have seen a decline in the number of students choosing to study arts subjects at post-16. We are clear that this is largely due to changes to the curriculum in schools, where initiatives such as Ebacc and Best 8 have seen the curriculum shrink and give prominence to the most traditional subjects. Less clear is the reason why this effect is more pronounced in the north east of England.

I feel strongly that an over-dependence on literacy and numeracy skills – vital as they are – and the STEM agenda risks turning many young people off education and sells short the creative skills that are the envy of other parts of the world and are key to so much that we do. It’s not necessarily about creating lots of artists and actors for our workforce, it’s about creating employees who can problem solve, communicate and think outside the box.

Since attending the Artsmark Development Day we have been inspired to add value to all our work in the arts and to go further in publicising and including the whole student population and wider community in what we do.

Producing the Statement of Commitment was a substantial piece of work involving a number of colleagues. However, if we are to really own the Artsmark journey it is essential that we go through this process. From this we produced a fourteen-point action plan which will describe our Artsmark journey. At our college we have Artsmark leads on both sites who are implementing the action plan and providing updates on a termly basis. These will inform the case study that we write in the run-up to the levelling process roughly a year from now.

Participating in Artsmark has re-energised teachers and support staff working in this part of the curriculum and there are all sorts of additional activities taking place. We have recruited two artists in residence who, in return for use of a studio space, equipment and resources are working with our students and mounting exhibitions and installations of their work in areas of the college where students enjoy and comment on them.

Developments planned for 2019 include cross-phase collaborative projects with local secondary and primary schools and hopefully joining the RSCs prestigious Associate Schools Programme.