Westfield Arts College, Dorset

Westfield Arts College is a large foundation special school in Dorset with 184 pupils aged 4 – 19 years. The primary needs of our pupils are moderate/complex learning difficulties. Nearly half our pupils have an additional diagnosis of ASD and over half have at least one additional need alongside. Pupils do not work within age related expectations and are taught in mixed aged groups.

We became a specialist Visual and Performing Arts College in 2010 and have retained this status despite the loss of specialism funding.

We have been an Artsmark school since 2003 when we first applied for Silver accreditation. We have since been awarded Gold Artsmark in 2006, 2009 and 2013. We initially applied for Artsmark as recognition of our pupils' achievements and as a model for auditing our arts provision.

Becoming an Artsmark school initially raised the profile of the arts both in school and in the wider community and allowed us to identify areas that we needed to develop.Over time we have raised the stakes, becoming a Gold Artsmark school on three consecutive occasions and changing our status to arts specialism. Our Artsmark is now a way of sharing excellence and ensuring that the arts maintain a high status both within the school and the wider community.

We work with various local artists and have forged excellent working relationships with DepARTure Arts, Dorset County Council’s Arts in Education agency. As a school we initiate projects and become involved in projects with a range of communities.

  • Local Primary School - carnival
  • Wider Community - Big Weave project
  • RSPB - decorating viewing shelters
  • Music – Attending local Music Festival
  • Dorset Music Service – Dorset's Movie Mash up
  • Media - AIR107.2 Our school and community FM radio station
  • We offer parent arts workshops, staff workshops and provide CPD for other schools.

    Our strengths lie in our staff team and leadership. Staff are highly ambitious for everyone in the school community to do as well as possible.

    Despite the various special needs of our pupils we strongly feel that they can succeed in the arts whether it’s through visual arts, media or performing arts. We feel that it is our role to offer the very best of opportunities for our young people, giving them the chance to shine, to do well and to subsequently gain self-confidence and to gain pleasure in the arts.

    Our pupils are timetabled for arts lessons but many subject specific lessons are taught imaginatively with inspirational teaching. For example, in science pupils construct model lungs to help understand how they work, they use drama to explain scientific theory and make paint and paper to understand dissolving solvents and recycling processes. This is happening throughout the school with our pupils accessing the wider curriculum, sometimes without even realising it. We have an excellent ICT department and our pupils use skills learnt in one area to enhance their work in others.

    We have recently been developing the use of iPads in the Arts Department and more recently across the whole school. Our pupils are currently using them for filming, creating movie soundtracks, supporting performing arts with music and visuals and using a number of different applications creatively across the curriculum. We feel that being exposed to the iPad in the school experience will give students an edge in the ‘wider world’.

    Even though our pupils are taxied into school from around the county we manage to run after school clubs, theatre trips and weekend sessions. We teach a fully inclusive curriculum meeting the needs of individuals with many pupils on personalised learning programmes. We also offer various extra-curricular experiences such as Arts Weeks, themed days, talent shows and similar. Much of this is down to our dedicated staff team. We are funded by the local authority but access other monies through grants and whatever is available!

    Tell us your story:

    In teaching the arts at Westfield we use a mixture of both pupil-centred approaches, steering learning to our pupils' interests, and teacher-directed learning. We like to introduce new ideas to the existing curriculum, often linking to other curricular areas. We recognise the need for teacher-directed learning to give our young people the skills and breadth of knowledge to branch out with their own creativity.

    Achieving the Arts Award has had a significant impact on the school. It has encouraged us to widen the range of opportunities on offer to our pupils, increased staff confidence in delivering the arts and supported them to take on new roles and relationships with professional artists. The visual and performing arts are totally embedded in the curriculum and culture at Westfield and the recognition achieved through the Arts Award has been instrumental in securing this. Our mission statement at Westfield is ‘Broadening Horizons’ and it has been a pleasure to share with you just some of the ways in which we are able to do this for our pupils through our very high quality Arts provision.

    "Really impressive work – knocks spots off many ‘professional’ shows and there are pieces I’d happily buy! Well done all!"

    "Very good exhibition – I loved seeing my son's work displayed in the community."

    "The staff at Westfield always seem to go the extra mile for their pupils."