School arts facilities reflect the importance of the arts to a school’s balanced curriculum.
In this post I’ll expand on the Typical Facilities in UK Schools post to focus on school arts facilities. What arts facilities schools offer and how you might differentiate between schools.
The multi-purpose school hall
The most basic school arts facility is the multi-purpose hall. The school hall, home to assemblies and performances (as well as PE lessons). In many primary schools it’s the only arts facility; it’s where drama, dance and music lessons take place too.
Moving up a notch, the basic school hall can facilitate a better arts experience with the addition of a stage, a lighting and sound rig, control desks and tiered seating (bleacher or otherwise).
School halls aren’t necessarily small. Not in senior schools. Typically, these halls, often over 100 years old, weren’t designed with today’s acoustic sensibilities in mind. But new builds are. That’s why performance spaces, built over the last 20 years or so, will be called an “auditorium”, “concert hall”, “performance hall”, “theatre” or “performing arts hall”. Some new-build (senior) schools eschew the school hall completely for a (performance) atrium. Rather than have a separate room, the atrium puts performance right at the heart of the school.
These new build arts performance spaces are expensive to build. Acoustics, lighting, sound proofing, amplification, recording and a large number of seats don’t come cheap. And they enable teaching about lighting, sound and the technical aspects of theatre. At the richest schools, the performing arts centre can be the most prized facility.
In many cases, drama is taught in a classroom and performed in a school hall. About 5% of prep schools, very few primary and 40% of senior schools have a secondary performance space. The “black box” or “studio” theatre is typically much smaller than the school’s main performance space. And it stages more experimental, less mainstream, productions and possibly more frequently. Full scale and musical productions are usually staged in the main school hall. The studio theatre is a sign of a wider, richer, drama curriculum.
Loosely allied to drama are film and media studies. Here technology is the important differentiator. Some 6th form colleges have TV studios, green screens and digital video editing suites.
Unless the school is a specialist dance school it’s unusual for dance to have a dedicated performance space. As for teaching, the majority of schools teach dance in the school gym. But a school with good dance facilities will have a dedicated room, with a mirrored wall and ballet barre. Most importantly, the dance room will have a sprung floor, and there are many different types to match the standard and type of dance taught.
A typical prep/primary music room is a large classroom with a keyboard, and a repository for various musical instruments. Schools with better arts facilities will have more keyboards for teaching and composition work. And more practice rooms for individual instrument teaching.
At senior school the music classrooms have more equipment. If the school is serious about classical music, the number of teaching and practice rooms increases. There may be specialist practice rooms such as ensemble or drum rooms. Look for a musical score library. Performance spaces will be more acoustically suited to musical recitals. At the larger end of the scale the school may have an auditorium, or a chapel.
Music technology also takes a step up in senior school. Starting with composition and editing software on computers and keyboards and including the audio recording studio. There may be an ensemble room with recording equipment, or a “live” studio.
After the multi-purpose hall, the most common facility for a primary or prep school is an art room. It usually doubles up with Design Technology as an art/DT room. Better equipped primaries and preps may have specialist spaces for painting, ceramics, modelling or even photography.
Facilities at senior schools expand with the number of arts disciplines taught. Art rooms become art blocks and they are designed to take advantage of natural light. So, expect large windows and roof lights. There may be separate rooms and spaces for fine art, drawing, ceramics, sculpture, printing, photography and textiles/fashion. There is likely to be a kiln and a dark room. And on the IT side, there may be a media suite for digital photography editing software and graphic design. Most schools will have exhibition spaces in communal areas, but some have a dedicated art gallery and an art library.
When parents tour a school’s facilities it’s the sports facilities they have traditionally focussed on. Excuse the pun, but school arts facilities have played second fiddle to sports facilities in terms of investment too. In recent years that balance has started to redress; the balance towards the arts in a balanced curriculum. Perhaps it’s the momentum of conversations about promoting creativity in the curriculum.