Schools Together series: King’s College School, Wimbledon

Harry Chapman tells us about the development of a cross-sector drama production at King’s College School

Introduction

There were two main strands to the school’s partnerships programme in 2010: our work at management and staff level with the secondary schools and academies in our independent-state schools partnership, and a volunteering programme which took place in timetabled time on Friday afternoons. While arrangements with the partner schools included governorships, a shared middle-management course and teacher-training opportunities, the volunteering programme mainly consisted of the mentoring of younger pupils at secondary, primary and special schools by King’s pupils in years 10-13.

Two of our partner schools, Ricards Lodge High School and Coombe Boys’ School, had exceptional drama departments, and visits to productions at their schools and the experience of working with their sixth-formers and ours on an annual arts scheme for primary schools had shown us that our pupils could learn from each other. Although mentoring was popular with our pupils and afforded invaluable work experience, we felt that the creation of joint projects between pupils of the same age would enable the schools to work together on a more equal basis. An annual showcase would give the creative projects we were engaged in a sharper focus, and provide parents and other visitors with the chance to engage with the programme. 

We decided to mount an arts showcase at the end of the spring term. This would unite staff and pupils from schools we already worked with in a joint artistic endeavour and give the creative projects in our volunteering programme a focus. Called the Open Doors evening, it would comprise a series of short performances created during regular volunteering sessions on Friday afternoons. 

A still from The Merton Mysteries

The Open Doors evening

The first Open Doors evening took place in March 2011 and included the performance of a play by the children of Bond primary school in Mitcham and our pupils, short films made by our pupils about the art and poetry created by students at Perseid and Cricket Green special schools with our pupils’ support, a performance by a primary school choir coached by sixth-formers, and an exhibition of art made at the two special schools. The display also included photographs of the equipment designed and created for Perseid school by our DT volunteers. The reception before the show enabled head teachers, staff and governors as well as parents to meet, and the success of the evening encouraged us to launch a similar event the following year. 

A growing number of Friday afternoon projects were dedicated to preparing for the show in the years that followed. By the third evening, it included a joint musical section with pupils from Coombe Girls’ School and a drama performance by an ensemble consisting of sixth-formers at King’s and the Ricards Lodge High School sixth form, known as RR6. The latter was filmed and submitted as their BTEC pupils’ drama coursework, while the technical management by other RR6 students contributed to their coursework. 

By 2014 the evening included pupils from Coombe Girl’s School and its sixth form, Ricards Lodge High School and RR6, St Mark’s academy, Cricket Green special school and Bond primary in Mitcham. Our deputy director of music, Peter Hatch, had formed a partnership choir, which met to rehearse on Friday afternoons. We also showed a film of our pupils working with those at Perseid, a school for students with severe learning difficulties. At that year’s reception, the headteacher of Perseid agreed to let her students join ours on stage the next year. By the fourth evening we knew we could collaborate with a wide range of schools on an annual showcase for projects in drama, music, art, movement and design technology.

A still from The Merton Mysteries

The Merton Mysteries

In 2013 our parent-teacher association, known as the Friends, agreed to fund the appointment of a director-in-residence, and the school appointed David Antrobus, who had been involved in outreach work at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. After meetings with all schools involved, it was agreed that a community production directed by David Antrobus would replace the Open Doors evening in 2015. 

As a theme was needed that would allow each group to take charge of a different section, David Antrobus chose the Medieval mystery plays, to which each guild contributed an episode. As most of the schools were in the London borough of Merton, we called the show The Merton Mysteries. Most of the cost was covered by invisible expenditure on staff salaries and overheads as well as an annual budget for community projects.

In September 2014 over 350 King’s pupil volunteers in Years 10 to 13 gathered to hear about the volunteering programme. David Antrobus spoke about his vision for the production and encouraged pupils to sign up to the projects that would create it. Each was supervised by a King’s teacher, usually working with their counterpart at the partner school. The projects were:

  • Design Technology in the community
  • Music for the production
  • Partnership choir with Coombe Girls’ School and St Mark’s academy
  • Drama with Year 12 at RR6 and Year 8 at Ricards Lodge High School
  • Drama with Year 12 at Coombe Sixth Form and Year 10 at Coombe Boys’ School
  • Drama with Perseid special school
  • Drama with Cricket Green special school
  • Art and physical theatre with Bond primary school 

The performance in March 2015 was attended by over 200 guests, staff and pupils from all the schools, including Head Master of King’s Andrew Halls, our Chair of Governors, several head teachers, the Mayor of Merton and the Bishop of Southwark. The trust each school had placed in the production was amply rewarded and its success has emboldened us to repeat the experiment in 2015-16. This year’s community production, based on Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees, will be performed in the school theatre on 24th March. 

Conclusion

Although the community production achieved its aims of enabling a group of schools to share their expertise and providing an opportunity for pupils of different backgrounds to work together, there were plenty of difficulties.

These included the challenge of timetabling with other schools, transport problems, absences due to school visits, keeping primary school children occupied when not on stage, and the size of the venue, which meant that not every cast member could see the whole show. 

What the production has taught us is that it is possible to do outstanding creative work across the sectors providing each project is based on the principle of mutual benefit. Our experience also demonstrates the importance of starting modestly and progressing step by step. It was through the gradual development of familiarity and trust that the production evolved.       

Harry Chapman is Director of Partnerships and Outreach at King’s College School, Wimbledon

This article originated from Schools Together and is part of a series of case studies on IE Today. Tell us about your partnership work to be featured here – send your stories to Stephanie.broad@wildfirecomms.co.uk    

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