Bringing the history of art to everyone

Posted on: 08 Feb 2018

Sally-Anne Huang, headmistress at James Allen’s Girls’ School, recognises that the squeeze in teaching of creative subjects means that partnership work between independent and state schools is more important than ever.

Those of us working within education have long been aware of the pressure placed upon creative subjects within the maintained sector. Lack of resources as well as the emphasis on other areas of the curriculum have caused serious issues and these problems have made headlines again in recent weeks.

At James Allen’s Girls’ School, we are fortunate enough to be able to offer pupils the chance to study a range of creative arts subjects. We also recognise that this is an area where partnerships with the state sector can really make a difference, not just to individual students but to society as a whole. Those who constantly emphasise STEM or ‘enabling’ subjects ahead of performing and creative arts are potentially missing a trick. Britain is already a world leader in the creative industries, one of the country’s fastest growing sectors. It is therefore vital that we do our part in ensuring that students from all backgrounds have the chance to get involved in these areas and so we are immensely proud to be supporting a charity that does just that.

Since 2014, JAGS teacher, Rose Aidin, has been running an Art History for Everyone scheme that allows her to share her passion for history of art – a subject which is taught in just eight schools in the state sector. Every Saturday between September and May she and her team of teaching assistants and volunteers from the charity Art History Link-Up give their time to teach the course, at the end of which state school pupils from a range of backgrounds sit exams to achieve an AS qualification. Plans are now in place to extend the opportunities on offer and from September children enrolling on the scheme will be able to continue studying for a second year, after which they can take a full A-level exam.

Students from 25 state schools are currently enrolled for Art History for Everyone and, with classes taking place at The Wallace Collection and The National Gallery, they could hardly be in a better place to learn about this enriching and inspiring subject. The fact that these two major players are so keen to open their doors and accommodate these classes indicates that they too wish to break down ‘them and us’ stereotypes of elitism and to bring the vast history of their collections to a new crowd.

The enthusiasm of the pupils on the scheme has been heart-warming and their dedication has achieved incredible results. They delivered 100% pass rates for the AS Exams in 2015 and 2016 and all pupils in the 2016/17 cohort went on to achieve relevant work experience placements.

Feedback from the students themselves indicates the important and success of the project:

"The course has helped me with all my other subjects and has opened my eyes to the skills and complexity involved in art and architecture; I now see the world in a different way.”

“All the lessons are enjoyable, and I look forward to coming each week. Not only have Saturday mornings become one of my favourite days but I now know how to analyse art which is so fun!”

“I expected to be taught art history by someone old and posh but the teachers are actually amazing. The course was not at all what I expected to be.”

“I am now considering History of Art and Design at university - I probably wasn't going to apply before - and am also looking at relevant apprenticeship opportunities."

At JAGS, we have been delighted to get involved and to add our name to this fantastic work. This year we have made a financial donation that will cover the students’ exam entry costs and are providing the hall and facilities for students to sit their papers.

But the best partnerships are always about the individuals who work together and other colleagues here have also stepped up to get involved. We have several members of staff giving up their time to support the charity in a whole range of aspects, from organising the administration of exam entries to helping with the plans to implement the A-level course and even giving advice to candidates ahead of interviews for Oxbridge. Furthermore, year 13 student of art history, Verity, is now a volunteer on the Art History for Everyone programme.

Keeping this scheme going requires more than the generosity of Rose and her team with their time, and of the Wallace Collection and National Gallery in sharing their collections and study spaces. We are proud to have our name alongside other donors doing their bit to keep Art History for Everyone running, including Hannah Rothschild of the Rothschild Foundation and The Band Trust. Other museums and galleries including the V&A, British Museum and the Courtauld Institute of Art also host visits for the course.

This is an exceptional example of what can happen when independent and state education come together but it also shows how much more can be achieved when major players in industry are also a part of it. At its heart, this project is about pupils, teachers and the art world pulling together. It is about casting aside the perceptions of exclusivity and privilege and making sure that, during a period of threat and challenge, the creative arts are there for everyone to enjoy.

For more information on the Art history for Everyone programme follow them on Twitter.

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About Sally-Anne Huang

Sally-Anne Huang is Head of James Allen’s Girls’ School in London.