A school hoping for serious gains from clowning around

3rd April 2015 at 01:00
Edinburgh International Festival joins forces with city secondary

The Edinburgh International Festival has announced its first long-term partnership with a school, in a move that will generate tens of thousands of pounds of investment for a secondary in the city.

The festival, which brings world-class music, theatre, opera and dance to Edinburgh every August, has signed up to a three-year partnership with a school that is used to finding itself centre stage for all the wrong reasons.

Two years ago, Castlebrae Community High was saved from closure. The last-minute reprieve was hailed as a fresh start for the school, which was just a quarter full, had "very poor" results, low attendance and a higher rate of exclusions than schools in similar circumstances.

Despite this promising beginning, problems continued to dog Castlebrae. Today it remains a quarter full, with a roll of 130 pupils, and - despite an increase in S1 pupils to 26, up from 10 two years ago - the school understandably lacks confidence.

However, its new headteacher, Norma Prentice, is hoping that the partnership will prove to be transformational. "When you have a school with such a small roll you need partners to deliver an exciting curriculum because you're talking about single-person departments," she said.

The students, too, are optimistic about the recent move. "It will boost the school's confidence after all the bad publicity," said S6 pupil Shannon Gray.

Despite living in Edinburgh, few of the Castlebrae students have experienced the festival before. According to Ms Prentice, who is on secondment from her post as headteacher of Drummond Community High, many rarely venture into the city centre at all.

Sally Hobson, the festival's head of creative learning, said she hoped the partnership would have a "nurturing effect". The programme will be designed in response to the pupils' interests, strengths and difficulties, and the aim is to run between 12 and 18 sessions at the school each month. Some students will also undertake work experience alongside festival staff.

Knitting together

Students in S2 and S3 are being taught to knit, with their creations set to adorn sculptures in The Hub during the festival. Young people in the early secondary phase have been learning clowning skills, and this month they will be creating "soul boxes" - a collection of trinkets and memorabilia they want to take with them through their lives.

Senior pupils, meanwhile, will make their own film in May, to be entitled From Castlebrae With Love. It will be shown ahead of From Scotland with Love - a documentary film compiled from archive footage - and will take inspiration from the piece.

Ms Hobson said: "In primary you can work with the kids for a whole day, but in secondary you can't really work in any depth because the day is broken into small boxes of time. That's a challenge for all arts organisations. Working with a school for a period of time gives us the opportunity to see how other schools might work with us in the future."

The link came about when new festival director Fergus Linehan asked his staff to create a project for teenagers.

"The 13-18 age group is one of those difficult periods where you're not quite old enough to go to gigs but you're too old for a lot of the children's things," he said. "The future of the festival and the arts is in the hands of young people - we have to get out and make ourselves part of their everyday lives and expectations."

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