Monday, 27 July 2015

Using Film as a Centre of a Curriculum Model

In this case study Dr Sue Robinson asks Karen Bastick Styles, Executive Headteacher of Greenside School in London, what led to her innovative approach of adopting film making as the basis of her school’s curriculum and probes more about what the experience will be like for children. It is the first of a two-part study. The second part, at the end of the Autumn Term, will look at some of the impact of the approach and the film work produced by the children.

Karen believes that a good learning experience for her primary aged children should teach them to be world ready and test ready. She describes these two areas of learning:

"We are using two bold phrases. One is ‘world ready’ as when these students grow up we don’t know what the world will be like but we need to prepare them for the world of adulthood. It will have changed and they need to be ready. We also use ‘test ready’. By this we mean testing yourself and overcoming the challenge of getting things wrong and having the resilience to deal with it. Also academic tests because we want them to do well but it shouldn’t be an either/or. 
There has to be a balance. We want them to be world and test ready but we are doing it through the Arts. In the autumn term we are turning the school into a film company. We are calling ourselves, The Greenside Film Factory in tribute to Russian Cinema and Andy Wharhol, which is of course where we are getting our name. Everything we do for the whole week will be without any constraints of lessons and of time. We plan lots of vertical learning and innovative approaches."

Before discovering what the learning experience will look like in detail I wondered what led Karen to adopt this approach?

The route to innovation

Although most of Karen’s experience is in secondary education, which included leading two secondary schools, Karen became a primary head when asked by a friend to support her current school that was:

‘… Struggling a little and likely to go into a category and would I go and just be there to see them through that inspection. I said yes and joined them in September and Ofsted came in October and we got RI. I don’t wear that with a badge of honour! What happens then of course is that Ofsted and HMI say that if there is to be another change then that judgement is difficult to give because of sustainability.   
I said I would stay a year and we appointed a Head of School. I then agreed to executive head, 2 days a week for a year to ensure consistency. The Head of School left during the year. We were then left with a school awaiting another inspection and as a positive move and we decided we would use the model of me as Exec Head 3 days a week with my two Deputies leading Greenside on the other days.’ 

How did Karen initiate the changes she wanted to make at Greenside?

‘On the first day I came it was clear to see that we needed to improve significantly and rapidly. We needed changes to the pedagogy and philosophy of learning and so with a new vision it was easy to do. The first thing we did was to radically change the curriculum and introduce our own Creative Baccalaureate.  
The last 2 and half years of concentrating on how students learn have led up to this point. We recently quite literally sat down with a piece of paper and asked ‘What is the point of primary education?’ I don’t believe this country has a clear understanding of what it expects and the purpose of primary education. Sadly in the Secondary the battle for creativity has reduced with each new education reform. Just temporarily, I hope. I think primary education has around 3 years to regain the wonder, fun and creativity and to reclaim what we know is important about learning. This will demand a new emphasis on different skills, knowledge and understanding and a different focus on application.

Joining the Elliot Foundation

Greenside converted to become a member of the Elliot Foundation on 1st April 2015 and Karen comments:

'To do so has been so positive for us. I say that as somebody who was ‘Ms Anti Academy extraordinaire!’  But working with The Elliot Foundation felt right. Without exception everyone, in terms of a philosophy of education, is coming from the same direction. I wouldn’t have joined Greenside to any other group. 
You do genuinely feel that like - minded people are here working in partnership with you and moving in the same direction. We had a ‘good with outstanding features’ inspection in October 2014 and needed to think about how to move on from that point in our journey. It’s the right time for us to take calculated risks and we want to do something new and different to improve the experience our students have even more.  We have both a freedom and partnership being with The Elliot Foundation and we relish this!'

‘Creating an alternative school’

Karen has been ‘relentlessly pragmatic’ in her use of resources, planning and ensuring her curriculum will work for children. What will the experience look like? 

‘It really is about pushing educational boundaries. We started with our Hollywood star and placed our students at the centre/ top. We asked what do we know about our students, what’s our cohort? We then looked at what we want them to learn and how, at research findings and our underpinning values and pedagogy. We wanted them World Ready and Test Ready and we want to do this through an Arts based model. In the first term our Art form is film and we are testing ‘the power of film’ in student learning. 
From September we want everyone to work as teams and groups to explore Film and to develop skills through an experiential model of learning. It’s going to be fascinating as to how we are going to capture all of the student experiences, progress and success. The students will have an iPAD each and so will create e-portfolios.  
Crucial to the model is genuine independent learning. The outcomes we believe that could come from two days a week with 30 students between 3 and 11 making films together with teachers and other adults is exciting and limitless! We are also commissioning another film to be made by a group of students without any teachers to challenge them beyond limits and see what just what they are capable of achieving. 

What will a week’s experience look like for a student?

'We will start each Monday with a Board Meeting, which will involve every student exploring ‘big questions’, showing accountability to the Film Company and operating within a real world business model. On Mondays and Tuesdays we are operating an integrated Film Based Programme ‘Students as Researchers’. Writing workshops and STEM Learning will be generated from key film texts, all related to our film texts. On Wednesdays and Thursdays we will work in whole school Film Crews. On Friday mornings we will return to writing for an audience and tell Greenside Film Stories for our e-communication strand. Then we’ll be moving straight into specialisms and all students will choose from a whole range of learning experiences including cooking, carpentry, Guitar, Spanish, Running a house and some wonderful charity projects. Each 6-week programme will ensure students have a balance of theory, practice and take their work in to the community. Then on Friday afternoon the whole school will do Sports/ PE together.  

Our week will be punctuated with shared reading, General Knowledge quizzes and SMSC opportunities. We all came into education to change the world… I don’t want this to be a selfish generation and we place so much value at Greenside on altruism and collaboration. 
Our new model requires a balance of everything; competition and collaboration, individual learning and group tasks quick pressure and working to time alongside real in-depth learning. We have done a lot of work on critical thinking skills. We’ve done it for a couple of years and this, along with student leadership is at the heart of The Film Factory. We are trying to be as responsive and free as we can get, times with students able to sit outside for a whole day making costumes for our films whilst creating stories because in education we are always reluctant to spend any length on time on anything.  We give them 10 sequins and worry it takes too much time and wonder why they aren’t any good with fine motor skills. We don’t give enough opportunities for students to ‘get things wrong’ and rectify errors and thus we don’t really build resilience. 

Some days I want our students to explore with time to do so but then on other days we are working to deadlines and they need to understand if they don’t get their completed, legible script to the next person the film doesn’t get made and it lets everybody down. We aim to give students a huge variety and balance of different skills over each term.'

How will Greenside assess the impact of its changes on children’s learning and progress?

'We are working on a core assignments model. The reading and writing assessment will be straightforward as we are setting the portfolios up and students will still sit a formal paper each half term. We will be building this into our Film Company appraisal system!Students will learn and practice skills but there will be no decontextualized learning. We need to ensure that the experiences we give students aren’t fragmented ensuring a successful holistic, integrated approach. It will be fascinating to see how we make everything different. We aren’t going to have lessons, end of! Yet we want every student to excel in a number of different ways; to be sparkling students of English & Maths, confidence leaders, to be critical thinkers, to be amazing global citizens with a desire to make the world a better place and to creative, artistic people. The students at Greenside are fantastic and we are very lucky!

When Karen first joined Greenside she was ‘amazed by how many students couldn’t talk confidently to people. They couldn’t identify or articulate the joys of their learning experiences. Karen argues ‘It is this that set me on the path to the Film Factory’.

How different it is now as students are very keen to describe their exciting learning journey. At the end of the Autumn Term I hope to bring part 2 of this study of Greenside and its principal’s creative and innovative approach to how and what students learn.'

Dr Sue Robinson 07/15

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