In our view, a school culture imbued with, and celebrating Art, is telling of the very best schools meaningfully offering breadth of subject choice for their students. It is also equally telling of schools cognisant that the creative Arts are now seen as fundamental requirements of a global digital economy that requires more than a restrictive curriculum focus on Sciences or Commerce.
Research has shown that early exposure to visual art (as well as music and drama) promotes extended activity in the brains of young children and the causal links that are the building blocks of intelligence and innovation. Arguably the study of Art brings clarity to Mathematics and Science, to languages and geography. Drawing provides a direct link with reading, writing and numeracy. Art nurtures inventiveness as it engages children in a process that aids in the development of self-esteem, self-discipline, cooperation, and self-motivation.
Participating in art activities helps children to gain the tools necessary for understanding human experience, adapting to and respecting others’ ways of working and thinking, developing creative problem-solving skills, and communicating thoughts and ideas in a variety of ways.
Art is also a key indicator of a school committed to subject choice, and a means by which children can contribute to the sense of community within a school, and be inspired. There is truly inspirational art on view in many schools – not just to brighten the corridors, though that is always cheering – but as a statement about the school and how they celebrate their students’ creativity, from the most impressive, to those works where it is clear that enormous effort has gone into the piece.
Our short-listed schools all have a reputation for excellence in the provision of Art to their students, to encouraging an all-round approach, to encouraging students of all abilities to seek their creative side, take risks and produce extraordinary work – for some as individuals who thought they did not have such ability within, and sometimes for those whose work must be seen for their innate ability and extraordinary originality and skill.
Art is inevitably subjective. When we visit schools we respond, as every individual, to individual student artists. On a personal note, there were two paintings on our last visit to to one school that I could not a price on such was their impact on us.
This Award is not about technical skills in Art alone. In this area, as so many others, it is not about some scientific exercise in counting up the numbers of technically skilful pictures, and calculating output across phases. That would be ludicrous. Instead we speak with schools. We speak with Art Departments and children. We look at work from the spectrum of abilities – but just as important, we look to see how Art is celebrated in a school – and whether the compositions of all children, regardless of technical ability, are equally celebrated.
One of the questions we like to ask students on our trips is who is their favourite artist. You would be surprised at how few children have an answer readily to hand. In all the schools here, we would expect children to not only be able to answer – but show passion in doing so.
Brighton College has what we can only describe as an extraordinary, hugely inspirational Art department. Student work reflects school investment in, and commitment to, intellectual freedom, innovation, whole child development and individual self-confidence – all of which come high in the list of priorities of this extraordinarily special school. It’s worth noting that in our last visit late in 2018, our Editor came away from his visit from the school speechless at the quality of provision, engagement of children and leadership here.
The College states that Art and Design is a very unique subject within the curriculum. It is a subject which focuses on the development of an individual’s ideas, confidence in problem-solving and modes of self-expression. Skills and techniques are included within the structure of the course but in essence it is about being able to express yourself, the world and what is around you. The Art department has an open-door policy, which enables students to develop a positive work ethic and dedicate as much time as they can to keeping up with the demands of the course.
In the Prep school, students are faced with challenges designed to both fuel their imagination and encourage them to think outside of the box. The curriculum encourages them to take risks and discover their own strengths and weaknesses as young artists. Students document their creative growth not only in sketchbooks and portfolios but also on the college blog, website and through their end of year exhibition in the gallery. This enables students to connect experiences to make sense of the world around them as an essential element of creativity.
Students draw on a wide range of stimuli from differing cultures and traditions with the aim of developing their own creative voice in a supportive and structured environment. Students are exposed to events such as Abu Dhabi Art and Art Dubai which the College believes serve as an excellent starting point for students in making those connections with their local environment and the Art world on a global scale.
The College teaches a wide variety of disciplines including printmaking, photography, sculpture and painting. Photography resources are currently being put in place to enable a dark room to be installed for photography students. The college also offers extracurricular activities such as digital manipulation and Photoshop, the arts award, murals, props and set design.
In addition to Fine Arts focus, the Design Technology department provides a range of machinery including laser technologies as a modern addition to the more traditional expectations of a workshop. The department’s emphasis is on encouraging creativity through the environment in which they learn.
In Years 10 and 11 students may take GCSE Art. The curriculum includes a broad range of options to enable students to develop their own ideas in sculpture and ceramics, painting, drawing, printmaking, digital and analogue photography.
At A Level, the course aims to encourage personal, creative and imaginative approaches to art and design. The course has a four-unit structure, allowing students to follow a broad and flexible path with their work. They are encouraged to work with both traditional and new media, providing them with the opportunity to prepare for higher levels of study in other art and design qualifications. Art A Level aims to develop an independence of mind in relation to developing the students’ own ideas, refining their own intentions and personal outcomes. It should also lead to an understanding of the interrelationships between art, craft and design processed and an awareness of the contexts in which they operate.
The Art and Design Centre is a hub of creativity, located close to the Performing Arts Centre in a separate wing of the school. The art works on display through the lobby and towards the art rooms are extraordinary, but the displays around the main school building itself, the murals and paintings illustrating the walls, and the artwork by students, reflect creativity at all levels and from all age groups. It is rather like visiting a private art gallery – and very much worth the visit.
It’s also worth noting that a very strong spirit of philanthropy and compassion run through Brighton College Abu Dhabi and if you look closely you can find telling nods to this in many of the works on display.
It is the way that this extraordinary school celebrates child achievement across every subject that makes it stand-out. Art is celebrated no less, and no more. And that is a powerful accolade here. On our last visit we found children sketching after school with imaginations running riot, talking animatedly about what they were creating and extraordinary levels of engagement. Around them, other children were coding, others, singing and writing. The buzz of “whole child” education was something to behold in a school where children are encouraged to both find their interests and to pursue them – together. At Brighton College Abu Dhabi Art is intrinsic to school life and its impacts are felt, and inspire, right across the school community.
ADEK Rating: Outstanding
ADEK weakness: None
Subject breadth/meeting the needs of children: Outstanding (FABULOUS school but note: no technical stream)
Fees: AED 62K – 94K
Number of students: 1681
Age of role: Secondary 11 – 18
Curriculum: British (GCSE, A Level)
School type: Private, for-profit
Number of students with SEND: 7% (Above 5% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive for SEND)
Number of Emirati children: 18% (Above 10% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive to the local population)