How we did it

When Lord Williams's school became a sports college, Michael Spencer said the aim was to give the arts a sporting chance, too

The bid to become a specialist school was well under way when I arrived as head of Lord Williams's school in Oxfordshire in September 2000, and we became a sports college the following year. The specialism seemed to strike a particular chord with the local sports community and we wanted to build on that.

But when I looked at the school, I realised it had a wide range of strengths - not just sport. Although we were happy to be a sports college with all the advantages and developments that brought, I also wanted to make sure that this wasn't misunderstood by our local community.

The sports college bid was nicely varied. The three components we chose to focus on were dance, rugby and outdoor education - and we've recently launched the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.

Many of the children are participating in expeditions, so there's a big outlet for those who don't thrive in conventional sporting contexts but who do get fulfilled in other areas. But there was still a risk that people would think we were just a sports college, that pupils had to have sporting ability to thrive in the school.

Lord Williams's school, which is the only school serving Thame and the surrounding area, has a long tradition of artistic activity. The art department is strong, with some high-calibre work. In dance, drama and music we have high levels of performance and a wide range of involvement of children. All students study dance in Years 7 to 9. We also have A-level groups in dance and theatre studies.

So when the Arts Council of England's Artsmark scheme (a national arts award for schools in England) came out, we decided to go for it. Our application involved a full audit of our arts provision. We had to describe our curriculum and extra-curricular provision, including performance data, participation rates, trends, staffing levels and expertise. There were supporting statements from people in the community with whom we have links in the arts. The application was followed by a site visit.

We won the Artsmark gold award a year ago. To some extent, it's an award that recognises what we already do - art education is important, and we have good people teaching it. But it's not just an accolade. It's also given us targets: to continue to ensure provision is wide andthe extra-curricular diet is enriched; to provide access and high levels of participation. It's given us a real spur to maintain the quality of provision.

It's important to give children confidence that their achievements across a wide range of activities are of interest and of value, and it is useful to encourage others.

Michael Spencer, head of Lord Williams's school, Thame, Oxfordshire, was talking to Martin Whittaker

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