The BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology is in Selhurst, South London, a stone’s throw from Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace’s football stadium. The school has just celebrated 25 years since it first opened its doors as the first free provision of its kind for young people who have a creative passion.
We are different to most schools. The arts are at the heart of everything we do. Students can apply to the school for key stage 4 entry, or at key stage 5.
I am the assistant director of the theatre department and the school’s teacher training leader. I’ve been teaching at BRIT for six years now. The biggest difference compared to teaching elsewhere is the creative freedom I have – and the fact that I get to wear trainers to work.
The school encourages brave, original and ambitious work, which means that I am able to develop as a director and theatre-maker, creating work that represents the world that our young people live in. Some of the projects I worked on last year were a devised piece with Year 10 based on Liberian child soldiers, a political applied-physical-theatre show with Year 13 and an all-female version of Macbeth inspired by the Russian punk-rock feminist band Pussy Riot.
At key stage 4, our students follow the national curriculum, studying for their GCSEs and a BTEC in a vocational strand, such as theatre, dance or film and media production. In key stage 5, students spend 16 hours a week in their strand subject, studying a UAL Extended Diploma. Some might do an extra A level alongside this.
No bells or whistles
The staff and students don’t wear uniform and we don’t have bells. Students take responsibility to get themselves from breaks to lessons. The principal Stuart Worden often says “you can be who you want to be here”. Our students are encouraged to be themselves and this is a place where they can safely explore their identities. The school ethos is built on our young people being kind and open.
My day starts at 5.45am, because I have a drive to Selhurst. I like to get to school extra early to beat the traffic and prepare for the day ahead. I usually begin with a coffee and some planning. Lessons start at 9am.
I don’t think lunch breaks really exist for teachers. Wherever you teach, you will always be super busy. My lunchtimes are often spent running extra rehearsals with students and attending creative meetings for productions.
Lessons finish at 4.15pm, but we often have to ask students to leave long after this – they love to use the spaces to carry on their work. With lots of changes occurring frequently in education, this job can often be challenging. But at BRIT we have to break the mould or we would be disadvantaging our students. My hope is that our school will continue to flourish and that the arts will always have a special place here.
So many schools surrounding us have had to make drama less accessible as a result of curriculum reforms. But I believe that access to the arts can change lives.
I only have to reflect on some recent alumni to affirm this. Two of my former students have just graduated from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. One is now starting her acting career and the other a teaching career. This makes me so proud. As we say here: “Once BRIT, always BRIT.”
Sarah Goodall is assistant director of theatre and teacher training leader at The BRIT School in London