60 seconds with Mr Branch, Head of Art
What is your job title?
I am the Head of Art.
Tell us about yourself
I've been teaching for 22 years and Head of Art for 15 years now, working in three schools within South London. I have been with Blackheath High School since September 2015, my first job at an independent school!
I'm responsible for all the teaching and learning that goes on within the Art department. Although we are a relatively small department, we offer two A-Levels subjects. As well as both teaching Art to students in Years 7 to 11, Mrs Gilbert runs the Textiles course and I teach A level Art. I would say that our responsibilities go way beyond simply teaching in the department. For example, there are many events, exhibitions and trips that are always on offer and we also spend time setting up displays around the school. There's quite a lot to bear in mind on a daily basis. It's a very varied role with every day being completely different, but the students are great and really engage with the subject.
What makes working here at Blackheath High School so rewarding and enjoyable?
The students really make Blackheath the school that it is. The girls are so keen and enthusiastic and it still surprises when they leave a lesson and give you a really sincere 'thank you'. I'd never had that before.
It's always also a huge compliment when girls continue to study Art once they leave school, either on an art foundation course or at degree level. It's extremely rewarding and it certainly makes you feel that you’ve inspired them in some significant way.
When I was interviewed for the position, Mrs Chandler Thompson showed me the plans for the huge school re-development, which I found to be extremely exciting. It is a pleasure to teach in our new environment now the redevelopment is complete.
What has been your biggest achievement at Blackheath High School?
I would say that it was having a hand in planning the new Art department facilities as part of the school re-development. It felt amazing to able to shape the learning environment and structure of the department as this plays such an important part in the students’ experience.
What has been your biggest challenge at Blackheath High School?
It was also particularly challenging for us during the time of the redevelopment as we were one of the departments most affected. Within two to three years, we had to move the entire contents of the Art department twice, so it was a very complex and demanding process, especially as the original Art rooms had been used for nearly 15 years. We were quite proactive in looking at the early designs and seeing what we could do with the spaces to improve the layouts and functionality. We designed the storage specifically which is really important in an Art department. Although it created a lot of extra work, we wanted to make sure that the facilities would inspire the students and we're really grateful that we were given this opportunity and fully supported by GDST.
How do you feel COVID-19 lock down has affected your role and the way you're teaching the girls currently?
I’ve had to rethink the kind of activities being set and interactions with students in order to still inspire and motivate. The Getty Museum Challenge is a great example of something that has been successful in nurturing their creativity. We are planning tasks at the moment that are less technical and more open to interpretation due to materials possibly not being available for girls at home. Due to the freedom that Art offers, we can just adapt as we go!
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I spend quite a bit of time on DIY and renovating my house. I also enjoying cooking and spending time with my children.
Tell me something surprising about yourself
I'm deaf in one ear and I used to be on the books for a local professional football team.