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Insights into inspirational arts practices in schools: Raising the profile of dance at Princes Risborough School

Written By: Vikki Woodley
6 min read
Raising the profile of dance at Princes Risborough School

Princes Risborough School (PRS) is an academy with 1000 pupils on roll and 7 per cent pupil premium. The school is located in Buckinghamshire, a grammar school county. In the academic year 2018/19, the school became part of a MAT Insignis with a grammar school. The department has one full-time member of staff who is head of department and teaches five lessons of PE and PSHE on timetable, and 15 lessons of dance across all Key Stages.


Dance at PRS was an option subject at Key Stage 4, following the BTEC First Certificate in Performing Arts. Students who chose dance believed there was no written work and that they would just choreograph their own dances in lessons. There were six students in Year 11, 10 in Year 10 and 16 in Year 9.

I was employed part time to teach the Key Stage 4 students. At this stage, the value placed on the subject and the contribution that the students made to raising the profile of dance in the school and local community was minimal. There wasn’t any dance at Key Stage 3 nor any extracurricular activities, so students only opted for the subject if they had experienced dance outside of school.
I wanted to build up the provision of dance within the school to make full use of the new dance studio that was being built within the community sports centre. This meant including dance at Key Stage 3 to increase uptake at Key Stage 4, eventually leading onto Key Stage 5 provision.

5 year plan:

The first stage was to become a full-time member of staff to ensure my full immersion into life at PRS, and my ability to offer extra-curricular opportunities to the students. By November of my first year I had become full time at the school by offering to teach Key Stage 3 PE lessons, so that I could deliver some dance provision to the students. However, this was only in 50% of the lessons due to timetabling constraints.

Once the new studio was built, I was placed in the PE department and all Key Stage 3 students were receiving dance lessons on a rotation basis as part of their PE lessons. All students received two blocks of dance (six to eight lessons) and the girl groups received an additional choreography block in the summer term. Rightly or wrongly, it is the case that girls are the students who are most likely to choose dance as an option, which is why they receive the additional block focusing on choreography skills.

Being able to plan appropriate schemes of work for the Key Stage 3 provision was integral, as I needed to ensure that the students were developing skills appropriate for the BTEC course they would be undertaking. The skills required for Key Stage 4 centre on writing about professional works; focusing on the role of the choreographer, dancer, lighting and costume designer, and the interrelationships of the roles. Students will practise reproducing ‘real’ choreography from a show or video and developing their technique needed for the repertoire. Their final exam involves choreographing in response to a stimulus and brief to create a seven minute group piece for performance.

The first block in Year 7 introduces all students to dance, as the provision varies in primary schools. The subsequent blocks continue to develop the skills required at Key Stage 4. Working on these blocks gives the students an insight into the course at Key Stage 4, and within 2 years the numbers at Key Stage 4 have started to increase. I now have 20 students in each year at Key Stage 4. This September is the first year that a Key Stage 5 dance course has run at the school which is very exciting. Delivering the Key Stage 3 curriculum allows me to highlight students who have dance training outside of school and those who show a particular interest in the subject, to ensure that I am able to stretch and challenge these students both in classes and through extra curricular opportunities. These students usually love performance opportunities as well as choreographing their own routines and taking more of a lead role in the group activities. All students, once they have finished the second block of Year 8, are able to choose dance at Key Stage 4.

The Year 8 styles were chosen with the students’ interests in mind, to ensure that all students are engaged and have a positive experience within the studio environment. Using videos to which the students can relate, and those which demonstrate what they can aspire to, is key.

(Chammak Challo – used for Bollywood/Bhangra, block 1 of Year 8) Lots of the students know this song and have watched the full movie.

(Capoeria – used for block 2 of Year 8) The boys aspire to the strength demonstrated in the video of the headstand to handstand.
(Emancipation of Expressionism – used for ASDR, block 2 of Year 7) This is also a piece that is studied at Key Stage 4 for component 1.

Over the past five years, I have developed links with the Royal Academy of Dance, and we host a PGCE trainee each year for one of their placements. This allows the students to experience different dance teachers and gain skills in different styles, especially at Key Stage 4. We are also hosting the pilot of the new Rambert contemporary grades syllabus starting this year. This will be trialled within the Key Stage 3 curriculum and in Year 9 to develop their technique. Being linked to the leading contemporary dance company in the UK and the biggest dance society in the world helps to make the parents and other members of the community realise the value of dance as an academic subject and the other life skills that it can provide. Self confidence is developed through performing as part of a team. And reliability, time-keeping and accountability are all developed through team performances and trips. Problem solving is developed through classwork, choreographing, and organising the team at festival performances.

An additional factor in raising the profile of dance at PRS has been the extra-curricular opportunities that the Key Stage 4 dance students are provided with. Each year group has their own trip which they discuss throughout the preceding year, thus building the excitement for when they reach that trip.

Year 9 – Royal Academy of Dance and Royal Ballet School

The trip to the RAD is a day of workshops based on professional works, delivered by teachers of the RAD to the students. The Royal Ballet School trip consists of a demonstration class by students of the upper school, and a tour of the upper school site on Floral Street, next to the Royal Opera House. Both trips enable the students to experience London and world class facilities, whilst the Royal Ballet trip introduces students to classical ballet.

Year 10 – dance residential trip and Pineapple studios

This trip consists of a backstage tour of the National Theatre, linking the students’ component 1 report to a working environment, and a visit to a West End show. This year we watched Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. On the second day there is a dance class with either a member of the Pineapple studios faculty or, as was this year, a member of the cast from Joseph.

These opportunities provide amazing experiences for the students. Some have never been to London before and some have never been on a train.

PRS also performs at the qualifying day of the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone. We have a competition team and perform at local events and festivals as well as at our own annual dance show and house dance competition. The students also usually attend two theatre performances per year to see the dance works they are studying, in order to deepen their understanding.

One element that I still need to address is the male participation rate of dance at PRS. Currently we have one male student in Key Stage 4 dance. I am starting a male-only competition team this year alongside the other team, in the hope that this experience will start to break the stigma attached to dance for some male students.

A great deal of time has been spent in building the department and profile of the subject over the past 5 years. However, the satisfaction far outweighs the tiredness. When students with challenging behaviour perform at the Formula 1 Grand Prix; make history by performing the largest ever mass dance performance; look after the younger students for the rest of the day and then organise the backstage running of the show, it makes all the late nights worth it.


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