Step through the doors of Huddersfield’s only studio school and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into a chic London design agency.
You won’t find the conventional trappings of learning at The Creative & Media Studio School
No school desks, blackboards or whiteboards, no text books or felt tipped pens. In fact, there are not even any traditional classrooms .
In their place are huge open plan creative spaces populated by giant screens, state-of-the-art Apple Mac computers, tailors’ dummies, 3-D printers and a portable TV unit of BBC quality, like the ones used to film Downton Abbey and James Bond’s Skyfall.
There are small businesses on the top floor of the £4.5 million building at Rawthorpe’s Netherhall Learning Campus, which opened in November 2013. They work alongside casually dressed teenage students working on real time commercial projects.
This is the cutting edge of 21st century education.
The innovative Rawthorpe school was one of the first two studio schools in 2010 and is regarded by the Government as the flagship. Director Laura Lee has just returned from a Manchester conference where she make a presentation to other principals.
She said: “I think we blew their minds away a bit with some of the commercial projects we have been working on. These have included promotional DVDs for companies, two commissions for a vintage clothing shop, and graphic design and market research for a youth marketing agency based here at the school.”
Studio Schools are a type of Free School, part of the Academies Programme, which sprang up following employers’ claims that school leavers were unprepared for work.
Their aim is to give students practical skills in workplace environments alongside their other studies. They have links to local employers and offer education specifically related to the world of work.
There is currently just one company based at the Huddersfield Studio School, but a further four are scheduled to arrive by March 2015 and the school is also launching its own creative not-for-profit company next year.
Laura said: “There was a skills gap between qualifications and practical competence, the curriculum was not supporting employers like they wanted - and Studio Schools offered something different.
“Here young people can be creative within a hub containing other creative people. As well as learning, there is an exchange of ideas and techniques.”
When the idea was first mooted by the Government, Netherhall Principal Joan Young saw an opportunity to build on the high school’s strengths in the creative arts. It would give students a chance to follow their creative passions -and hopefully result in a job or university place at the end of it.
Although the Studio School is open to 14 to 19-year-olds, in practice this type of less formal work-related education is more effective for 16-year-olds upwards, post GCSEs.
The school offers a number of Art and Design BTEC courses, in Fashion and Clothing, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Photography, Textiles, Business Studies, Music and Television and Film Production.
After a formal morning registration, Studio School teenagers are guaranteed five “contact hours” a day. In practice they spend much of their time working on individual creative projects, which may involve designing on a Mac or tailor’s dummy.
One of the strengths of the school is the chance students have to work on practical placements or to shadow people in the creative arts. Fashion and photography student Amelia Sobanski, 19, has just returned from a short placement at a fashion photography company in London.
She said: “It was nerve-racking, but amazing, very exciting and very much the scene I want to work in. I was involved in helping with the lighting for an M&S shoot.
“The Studio School has saved my life. Everything is very different here, the general culture is so good; it is like one big family. It is so creative.”
Laura added: “We take students on a journey and when they leave us at 18 or 19, they are unique. They have an impressive portfolio, a set of advanced skills, experience on their CV and they are more confident.
“We give them the edge.”
Studio School staff will be touring local secondary schools to outline the courses available early in the New Year.