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In September we welcomed Arrow Vale RSA Academy in Redditch as the fourth member of the RSA Family of Academies. The school joins the RSA Academy in Tipton, Whitley Academy in Coventry, and Lilian Baylis in Lambeth. Work is on track for a fifth school, Ipsley CE Middle School also in Redditch, to join the Family in January 2013.

The aim of RSA Academies is to develop a mutually supportive family of schools which use innovative practice to raise standards and improve outcomes for all children. Given the RSA’s commitment to social justice, all of the schools we work with serve communities with above average levels of deprivation. And schools joining the family will place a particular emphasis on increasing social mobility by ensuring equality of opportunity, challenging discrimination, and narrowing the attainment gap to enable all children to realise their potential.

 

We hope to be able to make a real difference in the schools that we work with through our expertise, resources, and connections to our 27,000 Fellows.

As a direct result of becoming an RSA Academy, Arrow Vale received some DFE funding to invest in improving key areas of the building, which included the refurbishment of the school’s theatre. Last month I had the enormous pleasure of attending the opening ceremony.

The theatre has been named the Rhett Theatre after Rhett Butler, a much loved music teacher and former pupil who died earlier this year. Fittingly the theatre was formally opened by Vikki Heywood, previously Chief Executive of the Royal Shakespeare Company, as one of her first official duties as the RSA’s new Chairman.

It was through Vikki Heywood’s contacts from her previous role that a member of the RSC ensemble was invited to spend the afternoon running a Shakespeare workshop with a group of students, elements of which were performed as part of the opening ceremony. The Redditch teenagers were entirely convincing as their counterparts in Verona, “biting their thumbs” at one another with enthusiastic menace. The event also included a performance by a band of former students who had been encouraged to begin performing together with Rhett Butler.

The event as a whole was a powerful demonstration of two important ways in which young people’s education can be enriched: through the impact of one inspirational teacher; and through the partnership between the school and the RSA, which we hope will continue to create opportunities for meaningful and memorable experiences for pupils, staff and the community.

We are currently preparing for the next experience: a conference for members of the student councils of the four schools taking place here at John Adam Street in November. The students will hear from an inspirational Fellow, they will share information about the opportunities they have had to participate in student leadership, and they will be asked to identify the types of additional enrichment activities and experiences that would be most beneficial in meeting their higher education or employment goals. This is the difference that joining the RSA Family of Academies makes for schools: more opportunities for things such as enrichment activities; membership of a community within which schools innovate, collaborate and share best practice; and access to Fellows who can inspire students to achieve – hopefully in the same way that Rhett Butler did.

Alison Critchley

Executive Director, RSA Academies.

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