The STAR workshops were designed by performers Martha and Eve to bring out students’ creativity in music, drama and discussion

Rosalind Scott of Tilbury and Chadwell Excellence Cluster and Ann Nelson of Havering Excellence Cluster describe the experience.

The Tilbury and Chadwell experience 

Rosalind Scott

The Martha and Eve STAR school project was commissioned to build the team of G&T coordinators in Tilbury and Chadwell Excellence Cluster through shared success in catering for talented students. The G&T coordinators, central cluster team and professional performers Martha Lewis and Eve Polycarpou together developed a model to encourage creativity, discover talent and develop the potential for expertise. By working with three entertainment industry professionals (Martha and Eve and a professional film-maker, Caroline Mylon), the young people would come to understand the passion and dedication required to achieve excellence.

The workshops were designed to bring out the students’ STAR qualities:

  • Strength
  • Talent
  • Attitude and focus
  • Respect.

Martha and Eve went into each of the 11 schools in the cluster to present a half-day workshop to a cohort of students from the G&T register. As the theme was creativity, this workshop was not restricted to children with performance talents. We are conscious that G&T students are often prevented from achieving their full potential by reticence, fear of failure, lack of confidence and not having been encouraged to give rein to their wild ideas. Here was an opportunity to address this. Students were encouraged to discover their talents in a lively, fun workshop of singing, rhythm, drama and discussion. Afterwards Martha and Eve spent time with the staff, many of whom had been along to see the workshop take place, to talk about the qualities of creative talent and which students might be invited to a week long holiday workshop. Three or four students from each school were invited to spend the five days of half term in a workshop. This meant that the workshop had students from Year 3 to Year 10, cross phase and interschool.

The students didn’t know each other, so building a STAR school student body began with confidence-building exercises, games and songs. The team of learning mentors supported students from their arrival, provided pastoral care and encouraged social mixing. By the end of the first day the students had been sent home to write poetry and sketches, seek out their musical instruments and think creatively on the theme, ‘Making Waves’. There were no dropouts! By the end of the week they had composed and presented an hour-long performance.

The filming captured the good practice and high standards set by Martha and Eve, as well as capturing the student voice as the week went on. The DVD of the performance was shown at a ‘world première’ on a cinema screen in the local theatre and presented to the students as a record of achievement. The DVD of the process was shown afterwards to most of the friends, family, fans and educators in the audience. This DVD has since been shown to teachers and support staff as part of their CPD.

One parent reported that their child could not sleep for the anticipation of the next day’s activities

Improving classroom practice Headteachers discussed how to use experiences such as these to help embed G&T in classroom practice.

  • Goals are always made clear: both short-term – what we are doing today – what next, and also longer-term: where do we need to be by Friday afternoon? This ensures that pace and focus is maintained.
  • Students are led towards achieving well above their own personal expectation: the importance of establishing and maintaining high aspirations.
  • High standards and complete focus are expected – no compromise on this.
  • Students’ views and inputs are sought and respected.
  • Students’ wider learning skills – creativity, problem solving and so on – are enhanced.

Schools have enthusiastically followed up on the school workshops and tracked the progress of participants. Several students have subsequently taken up musical instruments; one who had struggled to learn because of his poor behaviour has become a prefect. There is no doubt that participants have increased confidence and self-esteem.

The Havering experience

Ann Nelson

I was concerned that I was neglecting the ‘talent’ part of G&T initiatives, and so part of my action plan for this year was to develop talent within the Havering Excellence Cluster. To facilitate this I employed the services of performers Martha and Eve, who teach and organise educational drama and music events. They are also professional songwriters, recording artists, and actors. I came across Martha and Eve as part of the Excellence in Cities (EiC) peer review process, when they were working in Tilbury and Chadwell. Each school I visited sang their praises so highly that I knew they were exactly what we needed to develop talented pupils in Havering.

In Havering two infant and seven junior schools participated. Each school nominated up to 30 pupils whom they considered to be interested in drama to work with Martha and Eve in a lively two-hour workshop which made the children think and work as a group. From each workshop Martha and Eve and the school staff chose four pupils to take part in a week-long summer school.

Thirty-two students came to Hilldene School for what proved to be a very exciting and challenging week. They composed, sang, wrote poetry, and sketches and most importantly formed a very strongly bonded group, another STAR school Again Martha and Eve set very high standards for the pupils and were uncompromising about their expectations of what could be achieved in just one week. They maintained pace and rigour by establishing very clear goals for each pupil for each day, and through this the students were able to raise their own expectations of what could be achieved. Throughout the process the students’ views and inputs were sought, used and respected by Martha and Eve and each other.

While delivering their children to the summer school each morning many parents reported on how excited and enthusiastic their children were about the STAR school; indeed one parent reported that their child could not sleep for the anticipation of the next day’s activities!

The performance was a great success and support from parents was fantastic. It was attended by 130 parents and friends, plus the mayor of Havering who presented certificates to each pupil. The contribution made by learning mentors to the overall success of this venture cannot be underestimated. They acted as critical friends, lunchtime supervisors, ‘shoulders to cry on’, first aiders, register keepers, stage hands, lighting operators, and generally supported Martha and Eve and myself throughout the week. The analysis of the pupils’ evaluation of the event showed that they found the process fantastically enjoyable, but most importantly, challenging.

Successfully replicating the model used in Tilbury and Chadwell, the DVD was screened on a cinema-size screen at a local venue. All but two pupils and their parents and friends attended the screening of the DVD and they could not attend because they were in their school play!

The future A second Martha and Eve STAR schools has just been completed at Tilbury and Chadwell Excellence Cluster, building on last year’s success. This time the theme was exploring what it means to be gifted and talented – STAR qualities. The positive response of parents was striking.

The value of the project includes real social impact, especially easing transition and encouraging high achievers to form new friendships. This was particularly successful because of the input of learning mentors. Follow-up work at schools will include tracking and self reported progress in the termly returns on G&T, but themes and activities will be captured in lesson planning.

We believe that because the workshop is so popular we can create a level of anticipation from parents and students that will succeed in embedding the project. In the future cluster schools and neighbouring schools may be encouraged to bid for participation in this rolling programme as a cost-effective way to meet the needs and entitlements of their students to enjoy and achieve.

The EiC peer review process
I came across Martha and Eve as part of the peer review process. The Excellence in Cities (EiC) programme set up the peer review process, whereby excellence clusters looked at each other’s work and graded each strand of the initiative. The peer review involved producing evidence for their peer review partners and visits to schools. The process proved to be a very valuable experience for us and much sharing of good practice has happened as a result of it. We have held joint training for coordinators from Havering and Tilbury and Chadwell and the link continues to develop.

Further information
Martha and Eve Education, 102 White Hart Lane, London N17 8HP

Ann Nelson is the G&T Strand coordinator, Havering Excellence Cluster
Rosalind Scott is director and coordinator of Tilbury and Chadwell Excellence Cluster