Free schools across the country offer some of the most innovative practices in the state sector. East London Arts and Music (ELAM) is a fine example of this.
ELAM, a free school in East London, recently hosted a Spotlight visit for free school leaders wanting to learn more about what has made this unique school such a success. Established to give students aged 16 to 19 the opportunity to pursue a career in music, games design or film and television, ELAM aims to make all students ‘industry ready’, providing them with the technical and personal qualities that allow young adults to progress into successful careers or onto university.
The school provides bespoke subject pathways to widen the access routes for pupils into the creative industries, facilitating progression into the industry through cultivation of talent instead of ‘who you know’. By attending ELAM’s Spotlight visit, NSN was lucky enough to get first hand insight into the fantastic work that both students and staff are doing at the school.
Project-based learning to an industry standard
Through the evolution of the curriculum at ELAM, the school currently provides UAL courses for music, games design and film and television. Within these courses, learners explore their creativity through project-based learning. No two days are the same as pupils demonstrate their talent through individual or group projects, as well as develop their professional skills of project management, organisation and communication through networking with industry professionals. ELAM also ensures that its students are given firm academic foundations, through a robust offer of maths and English at GCSE and Level 3, as well as offering A level maths.
ELAM tailors its curriculum to ensure that the importance of progress and attainment through their creative courses is combined with a significant focus on upholding work to industry standard. In order to achieve this equilibrium, ELAM has extensive partnerships with various companies within the creative industry. Some examples, to name a few, include The Creative Assembly, YouTube and Universal Studios. These partnerships are deep-rooted within the school and curriculum so that learning is shaped to the needs of the industry. This is achieved by providing students with professional industry mentors across all courses, who provide regular feedback from an industry perspective as well as deliver masterclasses within the school, where experts share their secrets of success. Students then have the opportunity to put what they have learnt into practice. For example, in music, every student will create a set of their material which will be pitched to industry partners (such as UMG, Sony ATV and All Points East), for professional feedback, development, and even a potential platform for their work. We heard first hand from pupils how industry contacts have provided consistent feedback and ideas for both their college work as well as their personal film making projects outside of school.
All year 13 students also undertake a work experience placement with one of the school’s partners, which has even led to some pupils being offered roles when they leave the school. This work experience is strategically timed to avoid ‘Year 13 syndrome’, a name given to the idea that early exposure to the industry of a student’s choice may cause them to lose focus by the time they are in their final year of study.
While it is no easy feat to establish these high level partnerships, ELAM stressed that detailed planning and clarity around the relationship is key. You must set out a clear definition of that it is you want to achieve, how you can achieve it and exactly what the commitment of the partner would be to achieve this is. The school has also hired an Engagement Manager to facilitate and manage partnerships.
Teaching and Learning
ELAM knows that the key to offering its students an exceptional educational offer is through staff development and review, particularly given the bespoke teaching that is on offer. The school has extensive, embedded continuous professional development (CPD) and staff support, such as its peer-to-peer impact sessions, where one teacher will present their lesson plan to another teacher for no more than five minutes, after which the observer follows up with constructive advice and feedback. Used as a frequent and quick-fire method of CPD, the exercise is designed to, and is effective in, provoking teaching staff to continuously consider the rationale behind all aspects of their lesson plans.
But staff CPD doesn’t stop at peer-to-peer: they also get students involved. During the visit, four film and television pupils were asked four open questions regarding the teaching and learning that they experienced in their lessons, including the conclusive question: “If you could give [the teacher] one piece of feedback, what would it be?”. This session provided an opportunity for students to provide their thoughts and feelings, but also for leadership to understand a particular staff member’s teaching and learning from the crucial perspective of the learners themselves. With a teaching force of around twenty staff, feedback from both peers and pupils offers an important flow of CPD in a school which provides such a bespoke offer, and is crucial to tailoring the curriculum to pupils’ needs
East London Arts and Music is a shining example of how innovation within the free school programme can produce extraordinary results through tailored courses and the integration of industry partners into the school curriculum. It was clear to see when touring the school that every pupil has fantastic energy and personality, which is promoted by the creative setting which they are in. When meeting pupils, I couldn’t help but feel that I am likely see them again - on the big stage.