Shake up talent

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
Giving academic and vocational subjects equal importance is just the job, Hannah Frankel discovers at a Glasgow school
Giving academic and vocational subjects equal importance is just the job, Hannah Frankel discovers at a Glasgow school

How many schools can confidently say they double as a fully working production company? Govan High School in Glasgow can.

It has developed a mini-media empire within its curriculum that aims to better meet the needs of its pupils and improve their chances of employment.

Pupils are encouraged to create costumes, sets and props, as well as develop their acting, dancing and production skills, all of which impresses employers.

Branches of the BBC, Channel 4 and Filmcity have recently relocated to south Glasgow - offering regeneration to one of the most disadvantaged parts of Scotland. Through developing skills such as prop-based carpentry and painting, pupils grow in self-confidence and increase their chances of desirable jobs on their doorstep.

"The essence is to provide pupils with opportunities and skills now and for the future that will make them more employable," says Iain White, headteacher. "The academic and vocational are both viewed with parity of esteem here. Neither is seen as inferior or alternative."

The launch of Govan's pioneering stage school, which received pound;50,000 of funding from the Hunter Foundation, a philanthropy organisation, is at the heart of the school's skill-based curriculum. It is equipped with a state-of-the-art dance studio with mirrors and bars, plus a sound and lighting system.

Other creative additions to the curriculum include a range of vocational courses such as hairdressing and beauty training, which run alongside academic accreditations.

But it is not all singing and dancing, insists June Alba, a professional actor and the school's theatre arts co-ordinator. Different elements of production are embedded across the curriculum, whether it be in art, media studies or design and technology, and a database is being developed that will track each individual's collection of skills. All courses are also certified by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Pupils who do not want to be on stage can look after the sound or lighting or become part of the stage crew. Others can get involved backstage, manage the front of house, help with ticket distribution, marketing or fundraising.

Such a well-oiled machine leads to highly professional productions, according to Iain. The school held a pantomime over Christmas, while its "Summer Madness" season will involve the school's choreographer helping feeder primaries with a production of Oliver! (the musical), just as secondary pupils showcase an adaptation of Hairspray, the West End musical and film.

An ambitious end of term Brazilian carnival will also involve pupils making costumes and masks.

It ticks all the boxes for Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence - reform introduced in 2004 that aims to give teachers and pupils more freedom and choice when deciding what and how they learn.

"It's rolling out what the Scottish Executive wants in a practical way," says June. "We are an industry within an industry, and we're growing our reputation. We take the raw material and build a range of skills and confidence they sometimes aren't aware they have."


- Substitute the spoken word with gestures and facial expressions. Then see if the rest of the class understood what was going on.

- Get groups of pupils to form a "human statue" or enact a scene in slow motion to summarise a key moment from the text.

- Use "hot seating", whereby a pupil - still in character - is asked questions.

- Use "thought tracking" when a pupil verbalises their inner thoughts. Then compare with the actual script.

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