The Red House opens

The Red House in Plymouth
Throughout my professional career I have had the pleasure to visit many excellent schools across the globe. Each one offers me a little more understanding and insight into the grander picture that is education. I count it a privilege to learn from the students and staff at every school I visit. But to be there at the birth of a school is a quite extraordinary honour. Tonight, along with more than one hundred others - supporters, parents, children and teachers - I saw the Red House officially opened by Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate Gallery. The Red House houses PSCA - the newly established Plymouth School for the Creative Arts.

PSCA is a history making school. Situated in the heart of Plymouth's drab dockland area of Millbay, it is a colourful haven for creativity and self expression. It is the first British school to open as a free school under the patronage of a College of Art, and  - as its visionary head teacher Dave Strudwick said in his speech tonight - it is a school from reception through to employment. Currently with just over 400 children on roll, ultimately it will be a place of learning for more than 1000 students.

Some of the children performing at the Red House opening 
As leader of this creative community, Dave Strudwick has a progressive vision for the curriculum of the Red House. He wants to ensure that the expressive and performing arts have equal time with the STEM subjects. He refuses to accept the oft accepted belief that children cannot succeed if they are poor at maths or science. Failure is not an option when learning through doing and making is the norm. The Tate Gallery's Sir Nicholas made his own prediction that PSCA will very soon become a template for contemporary education that many other schools will copy. PSCA, he said, contradicts the views of politicians that arts and creativity should take second place to STEM subjects. He said he expected government ministers to eat their words when they visited in the future.

The Red House is a beautifully designed space within which learning and creativity can flourish. Built on three floor levels, it gleams boldly in contrast to Millbay Docks international ferry port and the adjacent industrial units. This is almost a metaphor for the fight it has endured against its critics. Instead of classrooms, the school features studios and other open, flexible and creative spaces. As one might expect, dance, music, drama and other expressive arts feature largely in the school curriculum. Students can develop their thinking through a number of traditional and non-conventional curriculum activities. They might find themselves designing the menu and cooking the school lunch, under the supervision of a teacher called Andrew (students know their teachers by first names) - who incidentally has also been an award winning chef in his time. Teachers come from all backgrounds. There is an award winning composer who has worked for BBC radio and the Ministry of Sound, foreign language, geography and history teachers who are passionate to connect their subjects to learning to many other subjects, and a deputy head responsible for performance and pedagogy. The curriculum draws on evidence, expertise and understanding from psychology, neuroscience and social history. Creating Individuals and Making Futures is the school's defining document, guiding all their practises and processes.

Many of us will follow the development of PSCA over the coming years, as it blossoms and develops into a beacon for creativity, in a city that has re-created itself over and over again.

Photos by Steve Wheeler

Creative Commons License
The Red House opens by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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