Spotlight on Art
From an annual Fashion Show to a residential trip to New York and an exhibition at Farrow & Ball, Mr D Branch (Head of Art) takes us through Art at Blackheath High School.
How long have you been teaching Art at the school?
I joined Blackheath High School as Head of Art in September 2015 having previously taught in schools in Eltham and Beckenham. I trained as a sculptor and maintain a real interest in all things ‘crafted’, from fine art sculpture and ceramics through to furniture, product design and architecture. I am always looking for ways to introduce our students to new materials and processes to increase their repertoire of skills and give them the confidence to make ambitious work.
What is covered in Art?
Our main aim is to offer our students a wide-ranging and challenging Art and Design ‘experience’ that combines the teaching of traditional skills with an awareness of more contemporary ideas and practices. At any one time, there are a whole host of different outcomes, projects and special initiatives on the go – this is what makes teaching this subject so enjoyable as it throws up all kinds of possibilities that test your own creative capabilities.
This term is undoubtedly our busiest period for many reasons. Recently, we held our GCSE and A-Level exams: this is where students create very personal and individual responses to an exam ‘title’ across either 10 or 15 hours. These groups have also been working tremendously hard to complete and submit their coursework portfolios for assessment and, of course, all these project will be showcased at our end of year Art Exhibition on 21 June.
Meanwhile, our Key Stage 3 classes are working towards finishing all their project work for this year so that each students can have one or more of their pieces featured in the Key Stage 3 Art exhibition in September.
Would you say that Art is a popular choice of subject?
Art is very popular within the curriculum with around 40-50% of students opting to study at GCSE level which, in turn, enables us to offer two separate A-Level endorsements of Art and Textiles, with some girls each year electing to study both courses. We also have an ‘open studio’ policy at lunchtimes and after school which means that we are often really busy as girls from different year groups come to join in with one of the clubs that we offer or continue with their own work.
Is there a particular aspect of the course that students tend to enjoy?
Students tend to enjoy the ‘active’ style of learning in this subject alongside the opportunity to experiment with different approaches and develop individual ideas. We try to give them as many opportunities as possible to attend trips and visits, not only to fuel their interest, but also to give them some memorable moments. This year’s excursions have seen us travel to Rome and New York on residential visits, plus several days out to Kew Gardens, Chatham Dockyard and we are planning an upcoming Year 10 trip to Hastings.
What are the benefits of studying Art at Blackheath High School?
Mrs Gilbert and I have many years of experience and our own interests and expertise combine really effectively to enable us to offer guidance to the students no matter what kinds of ideas that they want to explore. This year, we have been joined by a new Art Technician, India Copley, who has done a great job in supporting the girls, particularly with their Fashion Show designs and textiles work.
We are always looking to increase the creative opportunities that we provide. One of the features of the department is to run a whole host of special projects throughout the year, some that are designed to extend and stretch our most talented artists, whilst others are open to all. Each year, we try to add at least one new initiative to combine with our more established annual occasions, such as our Fashion Show and Big Draw events.
For example, in January, our Art scholars exhibited a collection of paintings in our local Farrow & Ball showroom and a group of students from Years 7-10 are currently creating a really ambitious installation that will be permanently sited in our new building. It is a very exciting time for us, as moving into our new and expanded Art department accommodation will certainly increase the potential for providing our students with lots of new ideas and creative experiences.