A reflection on delivering UAL Performing and Production Arts qualifications
Edward Pinner is responsible for the overall management of the acting pathway at LIPA Sixth Form College, where students are working towards the UAL Diploma and Extended Diploma in Performing and Production Arts. Read on to find out more about his experience of delivering this qualification, and how it benefits students at LIPA Sixth Form College.
“Having been in this role for several years now I am reasonably confident in my ability (with the support, challenge and dedication of my wonderful colleagues) to construct and deliver a programme in which the requirements of these qualifications can be met in such a way that promotes engagement, provides exciting and challenging assessment opportunities and enables students to progress into higher-level training and education or, in a small number of cases, directly into employment.”
“When thinking about the key components of our acting programme and the factors that influence our decisions the following come to mind – in no particular order:”
Projects & UAL Units
As I recall from my UAL training – ‘the project is everything!’. At LIPA Sixth Form College we vary the size and scope of our projects with some projects covering several units and some projects covering a single unit.
We start the first years off with a small research project based upon their practical ‘practitioner’ workshops. Out of the four exemplification criteria for the Diploma, this ‘Practitioners’ project is intended to only address ‘Research’ and could in some ways be described as a diagnostic project as it provides an opportunity for us to identify very early on if a student has not been able to meet a deadline or if we need to put in place some additional support. Later in the programme another project ‘Practitioners in Practice’ addresses the remaining three exemplification criteria for the Diploma.
In year two, Unit 9 is covered in an ‘Acting Auditions’ project where students prepare to perform to an auditions panel. They are required to perform a contemporary speech, a classical speech, a devised piece and a song. At their audition, they must submit annotated scripts, several entries from their Reflective Journal, and a copy of their actor’s cv in a format similar to ‘Spotlight’.
An individual approach
For each project we produce a project handbook* in which all information related to the project is included – overview/background, tasks, submission deadlines, grading criteria etc. This is where we also outline the formats in which a student’s work can be submitted.
Most of our projects have a practical performance outcome but we encourage students to be creative when submitting their research, or what traditionally might be considered as the ‘written elements’ of their assessment. We suggest presenting research as a podcast, a digital scrapbook, a film etc. and if students have their own ideas about how they would like to submit their research, we will always consider them if we felt they would not inadvertently disadvantage themselves in some way.
Within the context of every project, we encourage students to discover and explore areas that are of particular interest to them. This reduces the amount of generic material that students submit and is so much more rewarding to mark!
(* see Reflection, evaluation, and evolution – students have told us that they really appreciate being given a project handbook.)
All students are encouraged to keep a Reflective Journal throughout their two years at the college in which they can make a record of the activities they are engaged in, and alongside this, their reflections on their learning and experiences. Whilst we do not mark or assess the student’s Reflective Journals (so yes, some students may choose not to create one!) with many of our projects we will ask students for several of their Reflective Journal entries to be included along with their final submission. This is where we can see evidence of their process, progress, and their ability to reflect and evaluate.
LIPA (HE) and LIPA Sixth Form College takes every opportunity to promote and celebrate collaboration. As a specialist performing arts college acting students at LIPA Sixth Form College benefit from having the opportunity to frequently collaborate with staff and students from other performing arts disciplines. A dance lecturer may come and work with actors on a dance piece to be included in a project. A music student may compose a score for a piece of theatre and technical theatre and design for performance students are heavily involved in our productions, from the very start, attending rehearsals and working closely alongside staff and students towards a shared vision for a performance.
For many young people the performing arts industry is very complicated and confusing, and they often arrive at college with no real understanding of progression routes into employment. Through our weekly ‘Industry’ sessions we facilitate an open and honest exchange between our second-year students and industry professionals: actors; directors; theatre makers; writers; etc. In these sessions our students find out about how others have negotiated their way from being young people with an ambition, like them, to professional practitioners working in the performing arts.
These sessions frequently take the format of ’an audience with’ and when possible, take place on-site, however, some very successful remote sessions have been conducted via ‘Teams’. Importantly, towards the end of each ‘Industry’ session students are given the opportunity to ask questions.
When time and finances allow, we also invite professional practitioners into college to run workshops or contribute to a rehearsal process. In this way students get to see industry professionals ‘in action’ and will experience for themselves what ‘being professional’ means.
Skills, Options and non-assessed sessions
I believe that within a study programme delivering these UAL qualifications it is possible to include sessions that don’t necessarily lead directly to assessment, although any content can be specifically chosen to compliment and inform what is being delivered and assessed elsewhere.
Having returned from their summer holidays our second-year students face their most challenging term, what with UCAS, personal statements, audition preparations etc. After Christmas second-year students may have to attend auditions, but as they begin in a small way to work towards their final, Unit 12 project we offer them a range of ‘Options’ to study. Typically, ‘Options’ include subjects such as Clowning and Mask, Musical Theatre, Scriptwriting, Directing and Voice Acting and they are delivered over ten/twelve weeks up until Easter. None of these sessions lead directly to an assessment but we know it is likely that many of the skills they learn in these sessions will be put to good use in their final project.
Reflection, evaluation and evolution
Finding opportunities for reflection and evaluation is incredibly important. It is very easy to stick with what you think is working, but could things be done differently? Better? Equally, if you honestly reflect on what you are doing you will also know what really is working and doesn’t need to be changed (As the old saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it’ but how do you know that ‘it ain’t broke’?).
At weekly meetings, we discuss student issues but also give time to reflect on how things are going. I keep a log (fluorescent coloured post-it notes in a wallet!) of any discussions or suggestions made about the content and structure of the programme throughout the year and these are brought out at our ‘review of the year’. Importantly this is held as a separate meeting to our planning meeting for the year ahead. I believe that it is essential to encourage a culture of reflection in order to continue to refine, improve, develop and evolve.
Student views, the ‘student voice’, must also be sought out and listened to, and any suggestions recorded and carefully considered. Students are always welcome to discuss aspects of the programme in their tutorials or with me, as the manager of the programme, but I also hold a more formal mid-point programme review with student representatives from each tutor group. As a direct result of these meetings, we have made several changes to the programme over recent years and I am immensely grateful to all the students who have contributed to the improvements of the programme for the benefit of future students.
In addition to discussing the programme with students, I also try and imagine myself in the position of a student and consider how they might experience each session, each project and how the programme shifts from term to term. Is there enough variety and challenge? When is the programme exciting? What are the dull bits? Do certain sessions work better next to each other or when separated? Taking the ‘pulse’ of the programme can be very eye-opening. I try to identify when students might find the programme more challenging (submission deadlines, assessments and performances etc.) and when students will be less challenged. Spreading ‘pressure points’ out throughout the programme has been very beneficial for students and staff.