The Conversation: Creative schools

31st October 2008 at 00:00
Tim Barclay tells Trevor Averre Beeson how he has turned his artistic leanings to his school's advantage

Tell me what led you to become a teacher?

To be honest, I was an artist. I took fine art at university, and for two years tried to sell my wares. But you have to be brilliant or lucky to make a living, and I didn't seem to be. So the second string to my bow was windsurfing, a love of mine to this day. I ran a course for the youth opportunity programme in 1981. I really liked working with young people who had been dumped on in life, and I slowly realised that teaching might be my thing.

It must have been hard to give up the life of an artist?

I moved with a band I was friendly with to Brighton, so it was still very Bohemian. They played music and I trained to teach. I still hankered after art. I had lined up a PhD place in London, but I liked teaching so much I never got there.

Where did you first work?

My first job was as head of art at Hampton Park School in Southampton. I was very lucky because, at the age of 25, I became the head of the performing arts faculty and, with a huge budget, was given the latitude to organise some really creative and exciting projects. It was a career gift. I re-equipped and refurbished the whole faculty. Creativity has always been my thing. If you make learning creative and exciting, then you have children eating out of your hands.

Creativity in learning is very important to you?

It is, but it can catch you out too, if you aren't prepared. I became deputy head at Islington Green School in north London in 1993, when I was 35. The biggest event for me there was when the newly formed Ofsted visited and plunged the school into special measures. We were dumbstruck; we thought the school was fine, but clearly Ofsted felt otherwise. So that ran entirely against the creativity that the school had fostered and the part that I had played in it. It made me realise that you should never take any Ofsted inspection for granted. Even if the school's real strength is in the arts or performance, that still needs to be presented in a way that Ofsted will recognise.

When did you become a head?

Sir Bob Salisbury was running a wonderful on-the-job training scheme for future heads, which doesn't exist now as such. I spent a year learning so much at George Green's School in Tower Hamlets under Kenny Frederick, a marvellous headteacher. And then my old ties to Brighton brought me back to Hove Park.

How did your performing arts background have an impact on your headship?

First of all, I think learning has to be creative and fun to engage the student and help them move forward. It also teaches you to take a bit of risk sometimes. I did that by inviting Teachers TV into Hove Park. The show was called Follow the Learner. It involved three students being followed by cameras at home and in school and completing a video diary.

Some have said I was brave to allow cameras to scrutinise classes from a student's viewpoint, but it was brilliant professional development for the staff involved. It has given us a brilliant training tool.

What are you most proud of as a school leader?

When I see students succeed. One boy who left here recently with eight A*s had been on the verge of permanent exclusion. The turning point came when I pointed out to him that his IQ scores showed he was the brightest student in his year. He had assumed lots of others were more intelligent. Almost from that moment, he turned around - a "light bulb" moment. Traditional schooling had not brought that out. That's one reason I support a range of activities outside the curriculum.

What would your message for other school leaders be?

Be relentless in the pursuit of learning and be creative in your planning - let it be the driver. When everything around you appears tough, when the Department for Children, Schools and Families or Ofsted descend, when the in-tray piles up, walk down the corridor, open up a classroom and look in. Stick with it because that is what makes children happy and successful: to be motivated, challenged and learning every minute of every day.

Trevor Averre Beeson is executive head of Salisbury School at Enfield, north London.

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