From poppy installations to winning national awards, Bromley High School GDST certainly shows how far a good art & design education can take pupils. The Head of Art & Design at the school, Becky Shepley, talks to Mark Kebble about the snowball effect
You have been here five and a half years Becky – what’s your background before coming to Bromley High School?
I worked at Croydon High, which is a sister GDST School, and prior to that I worked at a Sixth Form College. I got to a point where I felt I would like to work with a broader age group. I wanted to play a part in nurturing the skills of individuals over a longer time frame.
Working in a secondary school has provided that facility, to interact with pupils from Year 7 to 13. It has been really wonderful because you develop a positive working relationship over time and I enjoy seeing the pupil’s progression in maturity both as an artist and as a human being.
How do things work with the junior school?
My sixth form art scholar runs an after school art club for pupils from the junior school. It is a great way for the younger pupils to experience the senior school art department. The work they are producing is fantastic and Anna, our scholar, is proving to be a well organised and inspiring teacher. Anna and Beatrice, who helps her, are curating an exhibition to showcase the achievement of the girls to the rest of the school.
‘Cross Phase’ has been a successful initiative. Departments work cross – curricular and structure a day off timetable around a theme. Participation is from Years 5-8 and allows the girls to respond to the theme together – which has been hugely beneficial. Recent themes have been ‘Flight’ and ‘Synchronisation’. Developing our day with the maths and RE department led to an installation of hand painted Mandalas.
How did it feel to see your student Beatrice Forward pick up an award recently?
We are invited every year to submit work to the John Downton Award, a competition celebrating the achievements of young artists in Kent. Beatrice won the gold award in the 11-16 category for an abstract etching installation. I was delighted for her. Over the years I have seen Beatrice develop into a fine young artist. There is integrity to her work; she is skilled and thoughtful. She always seeks out new ways of working in order to inform her practise further.
Her piece of work is being exhibited is Maidstone County Gallery and then is going to be exhibited at the Turner Contemporary in Margate. This is a huge achievement for Beatrice and recognition of her skill.
For you as Head of Art & Design, do you prefer being very hands on with younger students or watching your older girls at work?
That’s very interesting. With the younger ones you get more a sense of their involvement and their excitement, whereas the older ones are more understated. The pleasure you get from the older girls is having discussions about interesting ideas, encouraging them to question their practise… what are they communicating, how and why, and then enjoying witnessing them uncovering something they might not have thought of. With the younger ones, you get that sense of pleasure when they are visibly pleased with their achievement; when they walk out of your lesson and say thank you. That is a good feeling for all age groups.
How do the after school clubs here normally work?
There are a variety of clubs offered to the girls. I started ‘Knit & Knatter’ Club about a year and a half ago. I was taught to knit by my grandmother, how to use a sewing machine by my mother, but many young people are not exposed to these life skills. It’s really interesting how it has taken off. It is open to all age groups; Year 7 through to members of staff, which is lovely as the atmosphere has become quite informal. We do what it says on the tin! Our projects account for all levels of ability and have led to a variety of fundraising events for local and international charities. This has meant that the girls are becoming more exposed to current affairs, which are discussed while we knit.
Our sixth form led by our art scholar runs a club for Year 7. Etching is one of the processes they have covered. Again, the girls who organise the club will organise an exhibition of work.
We have an animation club in Year 9 and also run film clubs for GCSE and sixth form pupils; providing an opportunity to debate current issues in art. The sixth form art pupils often run workshops, sharing skills with the GCSE groups. I also run a number of residential art study tours to European cities; Rome and Venice have been recent destinations.
Wasn’t the Knit & Knatter Club behind the recent poppy installation here?
Yes. It started quite small scale; the idea to knit and crochet poppies to sell in order to raise funds for the British Legion. Then it took off… I challenged the whole school and their families to knit, crochet make a poppy out of anything. The patterns could be simple or complex, so within the group we could all do something that would stretch and challenge us. My father died two years ago and was committed to the British Legion, so it was also a personal salute to him.
Individuals became obsessed, coming into school with not one, but a bag of hand made poppies. A number of people subsequently said they hadn’t knitted for years and it got them knitting again. A lot of positive things came out of it.
We received approximately 800 poppies and created an installation in the foyer at school. It was beautiful yet sobering in the build up to Remembrance Day. We then sold the poppies and we raised just under £1,000. It was from a seed of an idea and just talking around a table. It took on its own momentum. Now what are we going to do next year!? The experience brought a lot of people together in a really positive and often unexpected way.
Bromley High School GDST, Blackbrook Lane, Bickley BR1 2TW; 020 8781 7000; bromleyhigh.gdst.net