Allens Croft is a Platinum Arts Mark school in King’s Heath, five miles south of the centre of Birmingham. During our visit, we spoke to students and staff to get the inside story of the many benefits the arts bring to their school.
We learned how Allens Croft are specialists in the performing arts, particularly drama. Arts Lead Dan Jones spoke highly of the school’s partnership with The Hippodrome, an iconic late 19th Century theatre in the city centre. As well as having a Hippodrome learning officer in the school for one day a week, Dan and the students told us about the plays and musicals they had performed at the theatre. As part of their partnership, the school also gets to see many professional productions.
Students told us about how much they love playing steel pans, ukuleles and other instruments in their music lessons. They were enthusiastic about the regular ‘X Factor’-style Talent Shows. The professional lighting and sound equipment in the Hall was evidence to how serious the school took these competitions.
We spoke with the boy who had won the previous year’s talent show as a rapper. This led to a discussion about whether rapping, DJing and making music on a computer should be taught in primary schools. We spoke with students who did all of these things at home, sometimes with a parent or family member. One student suggested that stand-up comedy should also be on the timetable. We wondered whether this has happened in other schools. There’s a first time for everything!
The school are also partnered with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Birmingham-based Linden Dance Company, New Wave Arts/Birmingham Music Service, and The Play House (Theatre in Education) company.
Allens Croft also have links with BCMG (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group) with whom they are involved in a research project. We also learned about the students’ visits to the Brandwood Centre, a local community centre where they help out with the art club, and sing. They also visit Pineapple Place, a residential home for older adults where they sing at Christmas time.
Dan talked about his five-year journey to achieve the Platinum Arts Mark and described the process as extremely valuable in raising the standards of the arts in the school. With a Master’s in Work Based Learning (Drama), Dan was clear about the ways that the arts benefitted his students; an alternative place to be successful, especially for those that struggle to engage with the more academic subjects; an opportunity to build language skills from Reception onwards, and; and as a focus to foster social skills (Dan’s MA dissertation was on this very subject) by mixing abilities and getting students to work with different people each time.
Dan also stressed the value of the Arts Connect network of Birmingham schools set up by Gill Sparrow, Head of Hillstone Primary (one of our RAPS schools) in east Birmingham, and the staff he had met from Billesley Primary (another school in our project), just two miles away from Allens Croft. There must be some creativity flowing through the canals of Birmingham!
From the front of the school, it’s clear that Allens Croft take diversity and inclusion seriously. The giant rainbow is a symbol of the extensive work they do on issues around race, LGBTQ+ (through Educate and Celebrate – a charity that supports schools to talk about homophobia and LGBTQ+ issues), and domestic abuse (through Operation Encompass). Like other schools we have visited, Allens Croft is a UNICEF Rights Respecting School.
Headteacher Paula Weaver (first Degree in Furniture Design, former secondary DT teacher) told us how diversity, inclusion, the respect of rights and a focus on oracy were hard-wired into the school’s mission to produce students who can ‘regulate their emotions … know how to interact with people … [and] celebrate difference’. Paula explained how the school are ‘really good at managing anxieties and trauma’ and how that has attracted a high proportion of special needs children.
We enjoyed talking to three such students – the animated Arts Ambassadors in The Turtles. The quote in the title of this blog post comes from one of them. As well as telling us about some of their art works and projects, and showing us some work in progress, they sang us a sea shanty. However, despite talking excitedly about Disney’s Encanto, they did not want to talk about Bruno!
While Paula mentioned that the arts at Allens Croft were ‘seriously embedded’, Dan (‘every school should have a Dan’: Paula) has plans to develop the visual arts in the ‘constantly evolving’ curriculum and continue to support students’ wellbeing and social skills through the arts after the disruptions of Covid.
We wish all the best to Headteacher Paula Weaver, Arts Lead Dan Jones, and all of the Year 4, 5 and 6 students who we spoke with on our visit, not forgetting The Turtles! Thanks for inviting us into your arts-rich school to learn about your great work.
You may also be interested in reading our recently-published Art, Craft and Design Rapid Evidence Review – a survey of published scholarly literature on art, craft and design in education.