New Wac Arts free school for excluded pupils in Belsize Park will teach mathematics through baking

Headteacher James Fornara. Picture: Polly Hancock

Headteacher James Fornara. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The country’s first free school to teach maths and English through drama and dance to pupils excluded from mainstream schools is to open its doors next week in Belsize Park.

The Wac Arts College will welcome its first 36 students into the Old Hampstead Town Hall in Haverstock Hill on Wednesday, where traditional academic subjects have been abandoned in favour of lessons in media and the creative arts.

The school aims to provide an alternative to mainstream education for 14 to 19-year-olds who have been excluded, are at risk of exclusion, or who have left school with few or no qualifications.

Headteacher James Fornara, 40, said: “We didn’t want a traditional Thomas Gradgrind telling-of-facts approach. There is a place for that, but definitely not for our kids.

“It is obviously hard to teach algebra through the medium of dance but there are different ways of approaching things in any curriculum.

“A good example would be if we are teaching someone about ratios, we can get them to bake so they’re learning about ratios but doing it in a practical way.”

The full-time school is run by charity Wac Arts, which already runs courses in the arts for young people aged between 16 and 25 from its Old Hampstead Town Hall base.

Most Read

Wac Arts was founded 36 years ago and counts pop star Ms Dynamite, world famous jazz musicians Courtney Pine and Julian Joseph and actor Sophie Okenedo among its alumni.

Pupils aged between 14 and 16 at its new free school will study for five GCSEs including English and mathematics alongside courses in art, dance, design, film, music and drama.

While they will have a handful of conventional lessons in the humanities or in maths, they will mostly study for their GCSEs in their creative lessons.

Students have to be referred to the college by their school or their local council if they are under 16, while priority for places is given to over-16s who are ex-offenders, homeless, have a young family, young carers, or refugees.

Over-16s can study for a range of qualifications in creative arts subjects, including A-levels.

The school, which had two applications for every place this year, will double its cohort to 60 next year.

Mr Fornara, a former music producer and DJ, of Willesden Green, explained the school’s radical approach to learning: “In parts of our education system, I think we’ve lost a sense of what makes learning fun.

“If you don’t have that, you get lots of kids who are disengaged, stroppy and bored. Then when they kick off, we say they’ve got ADHD. It makes my blood boil.

“Schools should be fun. Instead of a teacher standing at the front pontificating, we set up situations where kids discover and start learning and they want to do it.”

The school will share its Old Hampstead Town Hall base with several creative organisations.

Students will regularly rub shoulders with West End stars rehearsing in the building’s performance studios, which this year have welcomed Hollywood actor Martin Freeman whilst he prepared for his role as Shakespeare’s Richard III, and Queen legend Brian May with the cast of musical We Will Rock You.