“We’re a normal school – with an obsession with anything creative.” This is what Cosmo Jackson, Hurtwood House’s headmaster, told IE when we visited the school in January. His father, Richard, founded the independent sixth form school in 1970, offering 16–19-year-olds an idyllic spot in the Surrey countryside to study their A-levels. His brother, Ted Jackson, takes up a role of house master.
With a focus on giving students an experience geared towards a university lifestyle, Hurtwood students go down several different paths after finishing, such as taking a gap year (10%), studying creative courses (25%) and going to university (65%, with 10% going to a university abroad).
Jackson’s comment comes from a discussion about the school’s strengths – one of which is its strong portfolio of creative subjects. Performing arts, dance, music, art, film and media – Hurtwood has everything a budding performer could need. With former pupils including actress Emily Blunt and film score composer Hans Zimmer, it is no surprise that the school has garnered itself a reputation for its theatrical flair.
1. Pupils: 330 (over 50% girls)
2. International pupils: 30%
3. Boarding: 90%
4. Staff: 150 (80 teachers)
5. Boarding fees per term: £14,089–£16,204
The arts are widely discussed in the education sector, with the question of whether they are given enough focus coming up time and time again. Richard told IE about the school’s approach: “People nowadays are talking about core subjects and the arts getting squeezed to one side. We’ve been here almost 50 years now and we’ve always valued the arts tremendously, not to the exclusion of maths, science or economics, it’s just we give it equal value.
“If you look at education in the broadest sense and what we are doing for students, so they can go on after school to succeed, the ability to think creatively is going to separate them from the hordes.”
But how do you keep creative subjects current for students at a time when technology is moving at a rapid pace?
Rex Pearson seems to have the answer.
He worked as a session guitar player and then started producing and sharing his own music videos online. Winning a YouTube NextUp award, which scouts the platform for the best up and coming channels, Pearson flew to America to work with US artists.
He brought his talents back to Hurtwood as a music technology teacher and started Project YouTube last year, where students create music videos monthly. There are a range of roles available for students to take on, from singing to audio visual, even drone-flying.
Pearson explains: “There are a lot of incredibly talented students at Hurtwood and we wanted to do something where we could give these students a platform. It was a way of showcasing students outside of a school environment and giving them an experience of what it’s like to make professional music videos or work behind the scenes of one.
“What I wanted to do was address the fact that there is increasingly more of a preference for experience over qualifications. It’s really hard to get experience and qualifications in the same school because they are two separate worlds.
“Every student that’s involved, whether they’re crew, photographers, singers, lighting or editing, is credited in the video description.
“When they approach future employers, they can use it as part of their portfolio and it will look incredible.”
The way it brings together students is something Richard has noticed, as he says: “What’s nice from the school’s point of view is that the upcoming video has got 30 students involved which range from singers to crew, all absolutely loving the experience of knocking around the studio and being useful.”
The project has already had help from famous faces such as X Factor winner Ben Haenow, with plans to work with many more including percussion player Heidi Joubert and singer Hannah Trigwell.
The first season of videos have over one million views collectively; each video has over 100,000 views.
Pearson introduced IE to two students who have taken part. Piano player Ray, who attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School previously, says he wants to be a musical performer after school.
“Meeting the professional singers who come in to help is great and I am inspired by the creative people around me. It’s good to make these connections. The main thing I’ve learnt here is how to perform a piece in one take. All of the videos we produce are live and I like seeing the difference between the live performance and one that has had hours of tweaking.”
August, who works on the audio side, enjoys the technical challenges the project brings up: “It’s a great experience and you learn a lot about problem-solving. With the technical side, there are always issues and this project really helps you to solve problems faster.”
1. Hurtwood has four recording studios and one TV studio.
2. The school’s motto, ‘studia abeunt in mores’ translates as ‘studies determine character’.
3. The Edwardian mansion is located in the Surrey Hills.
4. Last year 58% of its A-level passes were graded with an A* or A.
5. The music videos are filmed on a Canon C100 on a gimbal and easyrig crane.
What’s next for Project YouTube? Pearson says: “The plan for the future is to grow the channel but we’d also like to start a record label.
“If we have a student that is particularly gifted, which we do every year, and they write original music, we want to give that person, and all the crew involved, the opportunity to launch their career.”
But why the focus on the arts and from the school’s perspective, does it really work? Richard says: “Of course we have a totally balanced curriculum of Arts and Science at Hurtwood – with one of the largest A-level Maths departments in the UK – but creativity is the heartbeat of our school because of its life-changing, life-enhancing capability and its massive potential in forming a student’s personal development.
“It teaches students to think for themselves, to work both independently and collaboratively and, most importantly, it makes them dig deep into their personal resources and develop real initiative and self-confidence.
“I once asked one of our A-level Theatre students to describe his course to a visiting parent. He said, ‘do you want me to tell him about the syllabus or how it changed my life?’ And that’s it in a nutshell.
“Out there in the wider world beyond school and university we need fewer drones and more creative thinkers. Whatever the field, it is the creative thinkers who will have the edge in tomorrow’s world.”
A normal independent school, perhaps, an obsession with the creative, most definitely, but also a school that is going above and beyond to deliver an education that will unlock future careers.
For more information about Project YouTube or music technology, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more on Instagram @rexpearson1 or Facebook @Rexpearson.