School leader reflections on pure imagination: creative capital

SSAT National Conference 2018

Reading time: 4 minues. Related article: School leaders reflect on pure imagination: social and cultural capital

A major theme of SSAT’s 2018 National Conference was capital: after social and cultural capital, covered previously, David Priestley, executive headteacher, Greenfield Community College reflected on creative capital.

Do the decisions that we make as leaders really allow our young people to develop fully their potential as confident, self-led learners? Could we do more to create the right opportunities, circumstances and conditions for our students to thrive?

In May 2017, Ofsted judged Greenfield Community College to require improvement. I’m sure many of you’d be aware that this can provide some additional pressures to do the right thing. At Greenfield, we keep asking ourselves, do the decisions we make allow our young people to develop fully? How do we navigate the pressures, judgements, and national performance agenda to ensure that we can best enable our young people? To achieve that, we have been exploring three priorities:

  • Maintaining a self-improving culture of learning across our organisation
  • Providing the right curriculum that will promote a strong student voice and a can-do attitude
  • Creating an outstanding learning experience for each and every one of our students.

So, after a period of doing what was expected of us as an RI school, we reviewed our approach and started to do more of what we believe to be the right thing for our students. We recognised that often a school improvement agenda does not place enough value on each and every child. If anything, students can become incidental to the systems and mechanisms put in place. If we want to enable young people to engage in learning, they need to feel a deep sense of belonging and self-worth.

Last year our students led a campaign across our school community, ‘from the ordinary to the extraordinary’. We hosted a theatre residency, facilitated joint student leader and staff training and published a personal development book that every member of our school community received. This, in turn, influenced the design of our new student planner. But most of all, our student leaders opened up a dialogue about how we can be the best we can be as individuals and as a school. This led to some decisions including a new house system across both sites – facilitated by the students – and the regrouping and movement of students and teachers to realise the best opportunities on both of our sites.

David Priestley speaking at SSAT National Conference 2018

So, how do we provide the right curriculum that will promote a strong student voice and a can-do attitude? It’s about getting the climate and culture of our school right, so it is focused on the young people. We have been promoting creative and collaborative approaches to learning in our curriculum planning, and professional learning and development for all staff. We invest significantly in the arts, continuing to have visual and performing arts, music, dance, and drama at the heart of our curriculum offer, as well as having our own arts organisation, Greenfield Arts, who act as consultants to deliver creative programmes supporting school improvement.

Visual and performing arts, music, dance, and drama are at the heart of our curriculum offer, and our own arts organisation act as consultants to deliver creative programmes

Our ‘time for success’ lesson provides a space to promote inquiry-based approaches to learning, to develop the attributes which we believe underpin application of skills and knowledge for effective learning. These attributes are resilience, reflection, responsibility, creativity, and collaboration. We want the experience of learning at our school to be memorable because it is meaningful and enjoyable.

On invitation from David Priestley, a Greenfield student described this lesson: “we ask big questions such as, where do I come from and why do we learn? We’re also offered mentoring with our teachers who help support us, to reflect on our learning and plan ahead”

We’re committed to a wider school offer of opportunities including off-site visits, theatre residencies, international work, creative partnerships with regional organisations. Our alliance with Greenfield Arts provokes many creative learning opportunities with arts organisations such as Battersea Arts Touring Network, providing a theatre residency, Unfolding Theatre’s ‘Best in the world’ residency, providing stimulus for a year-long time for success programme, or the Speak Up for Writing programme, with writers and performers working with groups of students to develop communications and literacy.

It can be a challenge to provide space for this important work, and it has been my job to try and develop school improvement and student learning through this approach. And so far, it’s having very positive results.

We are developing our staff and students collectively to become a learning organisation that is confident to question and to explore challenges.

It’s not always easy to make the right decisions, especially when we are being judged, measured and questioned. However, I believe that with the right climate and culture, we can realise a shift so that possibilities and aspirations will flourish. We want to be an exceptional school, offering extraordinary opportunities that each and every student takes advantage of to develop fully their potential as ambitious, confident self-led learners.

David Priestley

SSAT Members can watch: David Priestley’s presentation from SSAT National Conference 2018

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