CALSA blog: an introduction

October 2018

In the first of a series of posts, Stephen Hughes, one of our team of Cultural & Arts Leaders in Schools and Academies introduces us to his CALSA journey….

At a recent Flipped Learning event organised by Whole Education in Haverhill, I was asked by Festival Bridge to write a blog periodically throughout the year based on my CALSA (Cultural Arts Leader in Schools and Academies) experiences. I was more than happy to oblige, but I wondered: why did they ask me? It appears that I have a positive and “can-do” attitude, and that I have grown through the CALSA process into someone who can maybe talk from a little experience.

My journey started last year when commencing my role at Stamford Welland Academy as Leader of Art and Photography – a position that I was surprised and pleased to be offered. I wandered in to the Art Department to find a mainly empty space that did not portray what I expect to see when walking in to the most creative department in a school. I asked the art technician at the time where all the resources were kept, to which she showed me a cupboard mostly consisting of scrag ends of pastels, chalks, etc. I asked where the prior students’ exemplar work was kept and received a blank look.

It was from this point (after a bit of a panic) that I started to form a vision of what I wanted the department to become. My problem was a lack of two things: hundreds and thousands of pounds to make the department of my dreams, and the connections to local and wider art professionals to bring art from outside the academy to within. So, it was clear to me that I needed help.

Festival Bridge had contacted the schools in the CMAT schools group asking for a person from each establishment to be the CALSA – so I signed up not knowing exactly what it would mean, but deciding that it must be a good step forward for culture and arts in the academy. Straight away I felt like I had backup for all the things I wanted to accomplish. Don’t get me wrong – they didn’t endow me with a bottomless pot of cash and tell me to paint the town red. More like, I had someone to go to in order to ask questions about whom to speak to when pushing things forward to achieve my vision. I received invitations to arts meet-ups to extend the opportunities in the local area for my students, was given the opportunity to fund an Arts Award training course so we could start delivering it in our academy, and also had chances to mingle with arts and culture professionals who – let’s face it – I could steal ideas from.

The CALSA group was split in half to form the north and south groups. I applied to be a Lead CALSA and was asked to take on the role as part of my wider job description, with Hannah Kennard from Swavesey Village Academy as my counterpart. This meant we could help a team of other creative professionals from primary and secondary schools achieve the things they wanted to with the help of Festival Bridge and our academy trust senior leaders.

With the CALSA role in its infancy, I see it as something to be nurtured to become organically a resource that I hope all participating schools and academies will find useful when promoting the validity of the arts. If talking in front of crowds about the arts, I ask how they arrived today. “By car? Designed by artists. From your home? Designed by an artist. Wearing nice clothes? Designed by artists,” and so on. The creative industry in the UK is rapidly growing as more manual labour is taken over by robots. If we don’t become the catalyst for arts becoming one of the most important strengths in a school, then we have let go of a great opportunity. That is what I see the role of the CALSA as being, so I hope in future blogs to expand on what we are doing in more detail.