Upper Shirley High

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“Pupils are making better progress in the academy.” Ofsted 2016

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The balanced curriculum

21 October 2015

If art was easy and required no developed knowledge, skill or attribute to succeed, then wouldn't every painting be a masterpiece? every play a hit? every design faultless? every actor an Oscar nominee? possibly...The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan in a recent speech to the creative industries rallied for the British Arts and this was commendable; our country needs designers, artists and craftspeople to continue the tradition of great British art. I read with interest about the plans to create ‘more rigour'* in GCSE arts and am curious to see how that works out...I hope the changes are not facsimiles of changes to other subjects; left brain thinking applied to the right….

The arts have never been the easy option for students; the creative process is the tough part; thinking of ideas, responding to the world and developing a view…that’s the challenge and an area which stretches our young people to grow and mature; hearts and minds. Let's remember that art accesses some of the most advanced processes of human intuitive analysis and helps us form an appreciation of everything we see.

Upper Shirley High will never marginalise the arts because we know they matter, not just in the formal curriculum but to the spirit and lifeblood of our school.

The new emphasis (for GCSE Art) on rigour and drawing announced recently (I’m guessing in the grand tradition of classicists) will continue to test students' fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination but we shouldn’t forgot that drawing is only one part of how art is created. For many students the arts are an area in which they can shine and develop character; the implicit discipline required to succeed in the arts goes unnoticed in assessment criteria. In industry, tenacity and self-belief reign supreme. This is why at USH we also run so many extra-curricular clubs for the arts; to offer all students the chance to express themselves and grow in confidence. Incidentally, it’s also why we are introducing public speaking and spelling bees in the coming months. 

The only work I have left from my school days are my final pieces from Art. Alongside a misguided and blazing row with my art teacher over one of my drawings; (resolved with grace and diplomacy by my mum some 26 years ago) I still remember how I felt when I showed my parents my work; and it was this feeling which led me to an early career in the arts. It made me who I am.

I am certain that the fewer nationally predicted high-grade passes in the arts will not signal a fall in creative ambition or indeed in young people’s lack of the highest artistic acumen. USH students will continue to achieve exceptionally well in the arts and this demonstrates how equally we rate their standing in our curriculum.

The arts will never feel like second-class subjects at Upper Shirley High and as head I continue to champion a well-balanced curriculum; building on a strong English Baccalaureate (significantly higher than the national average). I welcome the rigour to the new GCSEs, I trust the changes will enhance the subjects and do not diminish their appeal; we are after all in the business of inspiring children. USH will rise to the new challenges and the opportunities these present.

Finally,on the subject of art...Stephen Sondheim’s seminal piece ‘Putting it together’ sums things up at USH brilliantly:


A vision's just a vision if it's only in your head
If no one gets to see it, it's as good as dead
It has to come to life
Bit by bit, putting it together
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art
Every moment makes a contribution
Every little detail plays a part
Having just a vision's no solution
Everything depends on execution
Putting it together, that's what counts


*Rig:or (NOUN) 1. The quality of being extremely thorough, exhaustive or accurate.



“Please congratulate the staff and students that took part in Rock Challenge last night. I thought USH's piece was excellent and deserved a top slot! Our son is already up for next year's show.” Year 7 Parent