In February, Day School & Sixth Form Head, Matthew Bulmer was interviewed by Bridget Osbourne for The Chiswick Calendar.
Here’s the interview in full:
ArtsEd day school and sixth form has a new head teacher, Matthew Bulmer, who took up the post in January. He spoke to The Chiswick Calendar about his ambitions for the school.
ArtsEd is about as good as it gets if your child enjoys performing. It is one of the top schools in the country for the performing arts, rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted in its last report, achieving 89% A*-B at A level.
Out of last year’s cohort of school leavers one student, Karen is now studying maths at Oxford University, another, Isabella Pappas, is in Hollywood filming the lead role in Meet the Mayhems for Disney Plus, to be released this summer.
“The metric that I am most proud of” says Matthew Bulmer, “is that it is in the top 1% for ‘value added’ (achievement on leaving the school above that expected by nationally standardised testing at a younger age) “that’s a more meaningful statistic. It means our children almost always reach their potential.”
ArtsEd benefits from small class sizes (maximum 24), teachers who are experts in their field and “outstanding” pastoral care.
“People are here because they love what they’re doing” says Matthew “and that helps them with all their lessons across the board.”
The school also has tremendous resources, with access to the Andrew Lloyd Webber theatre to stage productions and teachers who are writers, directors and producers themselves, with contacts in the industry.
But, says Matthew, it is not well enough known in its own area.
“I want to start reaching out to the community, to engage more with the Bedford Park Festival, to open our doors to young people.”
The school is involved in a national outreach programme running workshops with teachers, students and ex-students and Matthew is looking to start new outreach initiatives this summer.
“ArtsEd is the best of its kind in the country anyway and I would like more people to know about it.”
The school also has a bursary and scholarship programme which he would like to expand and he wants to get more children and young people through the doors to take part in the ArtsEd Extra programme of short courses and classes available to the general public.
Matthew himself has extensive experience in both the independent education sector, and a background in theatre. He was most recently the Director of Performing Arts and a member of the Senior Leadership Team at Brentwood independent day school, having previously been an English and Drama teacher and Head of Department at independent schools in London and on the south coast.
He studied at Cambridge University, and following a long tradition of successful thespians, cut his teeth as an actor, producer, technical manager and director with the Cambridge Footlights. When he left university he co-founded a theatre company, which is still going strong, though he himself is no longer directly involved.
Matthew joins ArtsEd at a period of expansion for the school, which recently took ownership of brand-new studios, classrooms, and communal spaces as part of a major refurbishment. But he also joins with the shadow of the resignation of principal Chris Hocking over the organisation, over the finding by an independent inquiry that there had been an “overly sexualised environment” in the degree school of musical theatre.
The report, by Rebecca Tuck QC on behalf of the Board of Trustees, described a “sexualised environment, staff-student ‘relationships’, socialising and drug taking” which stemmed from “a misguided culture” which was made worse by a failure in leadership.
Addressing the elephant in the room, I asked Matthew what he would say to parents who were concerned about the report.
“It had nothing to do with the day school” he said.
ArtsEd is complicated because Cone Ripman House on Bath Rd is home to a Conservatoire Drama School offering degrees in musical theatre, and training in acting for stage, film, television and audio as well as the day school and sixth form. ArtsEd also offers short courses and part time tuition to the public, through ArtsEd Extra.
The allegations of an overly sexualised environment were only made about the three year musical theatre degree course. The Principal, currently Dr Julie Spencer for an interim period, who has been with the degree school since 2019 as Director of the School of Acting, overseas all the schools. She and her senior team are now working through the recommendations made in the report to change the culture.
The day school has its own separate part of the building and staff and students have lanyards with passes which only give them access to where they are meant to be.
As ArtsEd applied to take more students when the building refurbishment was completed, they went through an inspection by the Independent Schools Inspectorate in 2021, while the allegations into the musical theatre degree course were uppermost in everyone’s minds.
The ISI report, published in October, (the same month as Rebecca Tuck’s report) found that:
‘The safeguarding policy is effectively implemented at all levels in each section of the school.
‘Suitable arrangements exist to ensure that the higher education establishment operating in the same building as the school is separate both physically and in terms of social or other contact between pupils at the school and HE staff and students.’
It concluded the leadership and management ‘actively promote the well-being of the pupils’ as well as preparing them for the world of the performing arts, further education or employment.
I met Matthew on a day when the school was holding auditions for the coming year. From the busy schedule of children bustling about, excitedly presenting their audition pieces and sitting English and maths tests, the school has no shortage of takers.
Matthew Bulmer would like people in Chiswick to be more involved.