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Performing Arts at Hayesfield go from strength to strength during COVID

Hayesfield Girls’ School and Mixed Sixth Form in Bath is a vibrant and high-achieving comprehensive school of approximately 1500 students. The Performing Arts and Sport have always been a strength alongside the academic and an area of school life that has involved large numbers of students actively participating. “In many ways we’ve always bucked the national trend,” said Catherine Trueman, Assistant Headteacher. “Whilst other schools have seen their arts and performance curriculum under pressure in recent years we’ve worked hard to protect and grow both the curriculum and extra-curricular offer.” Roy Page, Head of Performing Arts said “It’s not unusual for 300 students to participate in one of our musical concerts and have hundreds involved in sports teams and art competitions. We have a high profile not just in the school but also the local community. For example, our Art and Photography department have a dedicated gallery space that students can enjoy on a daily basis and frequently set up art installations around the school grounds.”

So the challenge of maintaining this during COVID was immense, trying to maintain participation whilst communal gatherings, contact sports and singing are banned. However, a mix of innovation, teamwork and determination has seen the faculty’s offer for students grow.

Initially, during the first Lockdown, as well as teaching online, staff experimented with virtual choirs and solo performances, recorded and shared on the school’s YouTube channel. By the end of the Summer term, events had moved up a gear. The PE Team devised an innovative whole school virtual Sports Day with sporting events that could be completed in student’s own garden or local park. Events were time-specific and students submitted their scores online for a livestream prize-giving that afternoon.

Every year, the school holds a Gala evening at the end of the Summer term with performances in Dance and Drama, musical groups and individuals and a large art and photography exhibition. Undaunted this went ahead online with a two-hour pre-recorded programme of individual and socially distant group performances that hundreds of school families could enjoy.

Roy Page added “The real test was returning to school in September. It would have been easy to just let our calendar of performance fall by the wayside but we knew we’d set expectations high in Lockdown and wanted to continue to provide opportunities for as many students as possible.” So far, this academic year there have been a virtual piano recital, Autumn music showcase, Dance Showcase, Year 7 Celebration of the work the school’s new students have completed and we’re building up to the Christmas Celebration next week with 200+ performers. Performers have had to work in smaller groups than usual but that hasn’t diminished their enthusiasm. Other staff have joined in as well with virtual performances of “My Favourite Things” and for Christmas “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.

Christmas celebrations are also being approached from a different perspective. Catherine Trueman explained, “Normally, we would have a staff panto performed live to the whole school on the last day of term, but instead of abandoning it we ‘re pre-recording and playing it to tutor rooms on the last morning. On that day we’d also do some communal whole school carol singing so instead we will all be “singing” Silent Night with Makaton signs rather than our voices.” The Art department are also innovating with Christmas cards students have designed and written for residents of local care homes. These will be sent once they have been suitably quarantined.

Roy Page said “Whilst we can’t wait to be back to performing in front of live audiences, the virtual concerts have enabled a far wider audience to engage with the work of the students. Our Autumn Showcase normally has 100 in the audience, yet has already been viewed over 1,000 times!  Students are able to share the event with their wider family and not just their parents on the night.” Year 12 Student Ethan Willis said “It was heart-warming to be able to perform something, even if we weren’t in front of an audience”.

From a curriculum perspective there have been adaptations as well. Team sports have been significantly reduced due to COVID restrictions so Yoga is now particularly popular with older students. Individual musical instrument tuition has also continued albeit via Zoom to reduce the number of people on site.

Emma Yates, Headteacher, summed up the school’s approach by saying “We have always recognised the contribution that the Performing Arts and Sport make to a well-rounded education, both in terms of skills and wellbeing. We are taking all precautions to reduce the COVID risk but the staff have gone the extra mile to keep this highly successful side of school life going through the pandemic. “