Case study: Wellington college, Berkshire

4th February 2005 at 00:00
We've been running an artists in residence scheme for 14 years. The bursar allocates enough money to employ someone for eight months a year, and we can be flexible about how we use it. We usually have two artists for four months each. That's long enough for the school and the artist to get used to each other, and it allows the artist time to make an impact. Some residencies have been so successful that we've extended them beyond four months.

A rota system gives all the arts subjects a chance to have a residency.

We've had photographers, painters, songwriters, sculptors, puppet makers, lighting designers, theatre directors, set designers, writers, computer artists, composers and a maker of automata. Often, we find people by word of mouth, but sometimes it's a chance meeting or the result of trawling the internet and making a few calls. When we find someone we like the sound of, we invite them to the school to ask them about the sort of work they might like to do. Then, if we still like the look of each other, we will arrange a formal interview before making an appointment.

The main aim of a residency is to fire up enthusiasm among our students, but there's also an element of old-fashioned patronage. We want the artists to pursue their own projects, as well as working with the school, and we hope the residency will give them the necessary time, space and financial security. Greg Norminton is a writer who completed his first novel during his time here, and has gone on to establish himself. In turn, the school benefited from the writing and acting workshops he led, and from a couple of plays he wrote for our first year pupils.

We pay our artists pound;750 a month, which isn't a lot, and I'm due to review this with the bursar in the next couple of months. We offer accommodation too, though sometimes people prefer to travel in. If it's appropriate, we also like to buy a piece of work from the artist to give a permanent reminder of the residency. We're privileged to be able to afford to run a scheme like this, but the residencies enrich the cultural life of the school. We try to offer good value to parents, and the residencies are money well spent.

Inevitably, some ventures are more successful than others. One or two haven't quite worked, not through any fault of the school or the artist, just because things haven't clicked. But when they work well, they can be stunning. One term we had musician and raconteur Jeremy Taylor, who used a small choir and an organ to produce a musical piece based around Ted Hughes' poems from Crow. It was unique and memorable. And it's always good to see the lasting impact a residency can have. Pete Churchill taught huge numbers of pupils to sing gospel music with enthusiasm, and broadened the school's appreciation of jazz. Playwright Jane Buckler worked particularly with younger children. She directed them in a couple of plays; as that year group grew up they retained a real passion for drama and became a mainstay of the school's theatre. Later this term, Nancy Hirst will be coming to do the same thing.

We have a talented staff at Wellington, but having a practising artist in school takes everything to a professional level. Students sometimes think a teacher is just a teacher, whereas if someone is making a living from their art, it's obvious they are good at what they do. So they get enormous respect. A subtext of any residency is the idea that students could be inspired to think of a career in the arts. A child with talent in a particular area will naturally see the artist as a role model. And the residencies are also wonderful development opportunities for staff. It is always inspirational to watch a professional in action and to see new ways of doing things. When a residency works well, the artist is a cultural example to the whole school community.

Anthony Peter is a teacher of English and chairman of the arts committee at Wellington college in Berkshire. He was talking to Steven Hastings

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