Birmingham Ormiston Academy offers alternative grounding in broadcasting skills

It might not sound like a traditional learning environment but an academy in the Midlands is proving that traditional academic achievement can be combined with an alternative grounding in broadcasting skills. Richard Garner tunes in

In the age of 24-hour broadcasting, a group of students is getting the best grounding possible – and they don't even need to stay up past their bedtimes to do it.

A radio station operates around the clock at Birmingham Ormiston Academy, manned entirely by the pupils themselves, with live programming from 8am to 6pm, and pre-recorded shows filling the rest of the timetable.

On the day I visit, student Rosie Mason is presenting the 11am to 1pm slot on B2 Radio, as the station is called. She hasn't decided what she wants to do when she leaves the academy, but is considering a career in either television or advertising – she believes her presentational skills as a radio host will be valuable assets.

"It's brilliant here," she enthuses. "There are a lot more opportunities than I thought. I thought it was all talk when they were telling us what we could get into – but it wasn't. I'm big into music, so listening to and going into the new music is just great for me."

The formula for the station is slick and professional, the first hour dedicated to music and reviews before moving on to film releases and general entertainment. At other times, it mirrors what is offered on successful commercial radio stations, with a drive-time show in the afternoon and two sports segments, "The Kick Off", during the week. The young sports show presenters have even negotiated a press pass to cover Birmingham City football club.

It may not sound or look like a traditional learning environment but these students, aged from 14 to 19, are learning the kinds of skills, such as presenting and technical know-how, that they hope will enable them to go straight into a job after leaving the academy without having to take up a university place.

Nicholas Bailey taking a class Nicholas Bailey taking a class (Andrew Fox)
Dan Guest, who is employed by the college as an engineer and makes sure everything is ticking over at the station, learnt his skills when he was a student at the college; now aged 19, he has a full-time job there.

He says of the opportunities: "Most students come in and say 'We want to do front of house'. I'm not very academically inclined, and this is one thing I thought I could be very good at."

Birmingham Ormiston Academy, which opened four years ago, is a specialist performing arts college which emerged out of Labour's academies programme – under which sponsors had to find a certain percentage of the funding (in this case £1.5m) to run an academy.

The academy has a multitude of supporters – including the Maverick TV channel and the lighting company PRG, which has supplied lighting for the London Olympics and The X Factor show and now provides lighting for the college. The academy's main backer is the Ormiston Trust charity, which supports a number of academies throughout the country. Maverick Television's boss, Jonnie Turpie, sits on the governing body.

The academy mixes the performing arts with a traditional academic curriculum – all pupils study double English (language and literature), two sciences and two maths subjects (maths and statistics) at GCSE. There is also the opportunity to study a language and a humanities subject (such as history) so pupils can qualify for Education Secretary Michael Gove's new English Baccalaureate – available to those who get five A* to C grades in these subject areas.

On top of this, though, the students have their own performing arts pathway – their own study area taken from one of the nine specialisms offered by the academy. These cover the creative, digital and performing arts – including dance, acting, musical theatre, music and music technology, broadcasting and television.

It takes pupils from a wide catchment area – Birmingham, the Black Country, Coventry, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. One pupil even came from distant Manchester and stayed in student accommodation while at the academy.

Not surprisingly, the academy is oversubscribed, with 1,000 applications last year. It has 950 pupils in total, recruiting 150 14-year-olds in the first year and 175 pupils post-16.

The academy's principal is Gaynor Cheshire, whose background is from the world of dance and who was head of a secondary school specialising in the arts in Cheltenham before coming to Birmingham Ormiston.

Ms Cheshire has just returned from a trip to New York with about 60 students from the academy, where they had the opportunity to work with some of the stars of the Broadway musical Kinky Boots. The principal has also just clinched a deal for her pupils to make a short film for the Maltese Tourist Board, aimed at making Malta a tourist attraction all year round rather than just in the summer. As a result, 30 students will be going to Malta to shoot the film.

The college is also undertaking to train Maltese people in areas such as production, costume and set design, so they can help with the film. A longer-term aim is to start up Malta's own college for the performing arts.

The principal of the academy, Gaynor Cheshire The principal of the academy, Gaynor Cheshire (Andrew Fox)
On arrival at the college, details of the impressive range of productions in which the students are involved flash up on a large screen. The college has just acquired its own theatre, too, as it has made a successful bid to take over Birmingham's Old Repertory Theatre.

At a time when controversy is raging over whether all teachers in state schools should be qualified (Labour says "yes"; Mr Gove says "no"), the college has an eclectic mix of trained teachers delivering the academic curriculum, and people from the arts world communicating their specialisms. Nicholas Bailey, an actor on Coronation Street and EastEnders, is giving acting classes; and Phil Upton, a West Midlands DJ, offers training for the radio station one day a week.

Nathan Dodzo, who heads the B2 radio station, is a former political journalist who worked for the BBC and Sky when he was based in South Africa.

"We're willing to take these gambles [in allowing the students to take over the airways]," he says. "People have to come and pitch their show ideas. You build on what they say and then it is often a question of just scheduling it at the right time."

Debate has been raging over whether Mr Gove's drive for a more traditional academic curriculum is stifling the arts. Birmingham Ormiston Academy has managed to set up a comprehensive blend of the performing arts and a curriculum suited to the new English Baccalaureate. It is showing it does not need to be an "either, or" situation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Guru Careers: Product Training Specialist / Software Trainer

£25 - 32,500K (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Produ...

Recruitment Genius: Unqualified NVQ Assessors - Health, Social Care & Management

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence