Willowfield School's journey to Artsmark Platinum

Debbie Chapman-Andrews tells us how the Artsmark process has benefitted her school, and shares details of their innovative CPD programme

7 January 2020

Image credit: Willowfield School

Willowfield School are a secondary community school in Waltham Forest, east London. They were one of 92 schools to be awarded Artsmark in London last year, and received an Artsmark Platinum award in November 2019.

We spoke to Assistant Headteacher, Debbie Chapman-Andrews, about their experience...

What made you register for Artsmark in the first place? Why are the arts important to you as a school?

At Willowfield we have long valued the arts, and have recently increased our arts provision, the range of subjects we teach, and the experiences that the students have within the school. We believe that this enables our students to have agency and be able to compete with anyone personally and professionally in a world that is their future.

As a school, we have been heavily involved in shaping the educational arts provision in Waltham Forest through the inaugural London Borough of Culture year. After a period of internal development and change at Willowfield, we registered for the Artsmark Award in order to evaluate our arts journey and to seek external validation and objective feedback on our next steps.

Artsmark is about celebrating what you’re doing well and addressing the challenges and gaps in your arts provision. How did the CPD section of the framework help you develop your school’s arts offer?

The ability for the whole school community to work creatively and collaboratively extends across all staff subject teams, with learning and teaching strategies transferring from department to department through our unique whole-school Lesson Study – a research-informed CPD programme that we have developed to meet the personalised needs of our students.

We were confident that our CPD was having a significant impact on student outcomes and the quality of teaching though holistic monitoring practices. We also knew that other local schools were interested in our CPD programme and were adopting our methodology. Based on the Japanese Lesson Study model, we have adapted collaborative research-informed professional development that is based on a triad coaching model and involves student voice. Lesson Study cycles have a focus for improving outcomes for focus students, and staff are involved in creative co-planning; trialling new pedagogical strategies, getting 'out of their comfort zone', and taking part in peer observations with a focus on how students learn.

Our Lesson Study programme is ever-evolving and developing, and is very much a part of our creative leadership and outward-facing review and learning. We have found that the results of strengthened teaching quality has lead to raised student and teacher aspirations, positive attitudes towards learning, and a culture of shared learning and development among students and staff alike.

The gaps that have been identified as a result of the Artsmark process are enabling us to further develop student agency through a reviewed school council, and develop a whole school focus on social action with students contributing actively. Much of this is being achieved through arts-based activities such as developing and producing videos for their peers which raise awareness of positive mental health and wellbeing.

What were the challenges you faced along the way in developing your CPD? How did you get everyone involved? Did anything unexpected happen along the way?

The initial challenge when implementing our CPD Lesson Study programme was getting staff on board and showing them how Lesson Study could work to improve learning and teaching for them. Initial trials of the programme with NQTs and selected staff provided us with advocates, and the early Lesson Study cycles enabled staff to self-evaluate and focus on an area of development that was personal to them.

The amount of groundwork and seeking of relevant current research to support each individual teacher was a gamble, but staff were able to experience first-hand the impact on their own teaching and on the engagement of their focus students. By winning hearts and minds, we were able to move to a whole school focus with 'challenge', 'talk for teaching' and 'SEND' being the focus in subsequent cycles.

Another challenge was getting the staff involved in open and honest student voice activity. The development of coaching questions and an impact framework has evolved and enabled student voice to become embedded in our CPD provision. We constantly review, evaluate and test our CPD provision through creative, collaborative and challenging leadership practice. Our mantra of “teaching with the door open” is a key feature of the learning experience for all at Willowfield.

How did the pupils benefit from your CPD programme?

“All students should be able to take part in Lesson Study” “
Can we do this again?
I feel that my teachers have really listened to me and I can recognise when they are acting on my advice

These are just a few of the comments from our year 11 students who took part in the Lesson Study cycle in the last year – all of whom went on to achieve one grade or more higher than their predicted grades in the subjects in which they were “stuck” during their final term.

Student attitudes, and staff wellbeing and retention have improved significantly since we have implemented this programme, and Willowfield is now in the top 20% of school performance levels nationally.

What did the Artsmark Award mean for your pupils, teachers, families and wider community?

Willowfield is a school in east London with high levels of deprivation, but we are a school at the heart of a changing and growing arts community. We initially thought that we could aim for a Gold Artsmark Award, but as a result of the review process we found that the journey that we had been on since completing the Statement of Commitment had been an incredibly aspirational one that had far reaching impact on student outcomes, learning, teaching and arts experiences for the whole school community.

We have been delighted to have been awarded the Platinum Artsmark Award as it validates what we are doing as a truly collaborative effort. We are a happy school with high aspirations for our staff, students and families. The review process has helped to define further developments and next steps as part of a continually reflective process. The Award is one which the whole school community has genuinely participated in and contributed to and we are all incredibly proud of this. The Award also gives us credibility as we further develop our Lesson Study CPD programmes with partner schools, and continue to contribute to educational arts development within school and across Waltham Forest.

What advice would you give other schools thinking about registering for Artsmark?

Go ahead and register! The process of review against the initial Statement of Commitment is a valuable tool that will help you to keep arts provision and creativity high on the agenda as part of whole school improvement. This is particularly important in a time when arts provision is diminishing.

A New Direction supports London schools throughout their Artsmark journey, offering expert guidance, advice and training.

Find out more