Taking me on a tour of the school it was quickly apparent that Edward (Ed) is my kind of teacher.
Warm, welcoming and with an infectious enthusiasm for his subject, he told me how he joined Westbourne House in 2006 to launch curriculum drama. Leaving five years later to launch the theatre at a new college in the Middle East, he and his wife returned to the Chichester-based independent school as house parents, and for Ed to continue developing the drama department.
“I was passionate about drama from a very young age. I had very inspirational teachers and later I chose Newcastle University because it had one of the biggest drama societies in the country. I was fortunate enough to be cast in the title role of An Inspector Calls in my first term, which we performed in the Playhouse and was wonderful,” he recalled, smiling broadly.
Explaining how drama translates across many areas of school life and helps shyer children to build confidence and social skills, Ed continued: “It also helps with communication and negotiation skills; teaching children to donate creative ideas, but also to listen. We really encourage children to try things – finding out what makes you tick is an ethos here – and they have a weekly drama lesson and take part in productions. Years 6 & 8 audition for roles in a musical, but in years 5 – 7 every child has an equal speaking part. We have just done an adaptation of Fawlty Towers, which was a colossal undertaking. Even the children who thought acting wasn’t for them loved it,” said Ed, who believes the strategy of horizontal and vertical casting caters for children who are naturally gifted as well as those who benefit from the experience itself.
“And one of the most heart-warming elements of the job is seeing a child discover a talent. I’d hate to have a child that wasn’t aware of their capacity for creativity for the lack of opportunity.
“Working backstage also provides a platform for leaders to emerge; the complex logistics of staging a production gives children fantastic organisational skills. Our next show is Mary Poppins. Musicals are hugely ambitious, but we ask the children to come up with two solutions before they come to the director with a problem. Every aspect of Westbourne life is geared towards inspiring pupils,” he said, showing me into the school’s beautiful theatre.
Providing an excellent all-round education, the school is also part of the wider community, integrating through projects such as an up-coming charity production and performances in local care homes.
“It’s a busy life,” he admitted, “but it’s the sort of busy you thrive on. As house parents we have twelve children living with us, as well as our own child and a dog!”
And for parents who assume they can’t afford an independent education for their children, Ed’s advice is to explore the options.
“There are opportunities for bursaries and scholarships. Don’t be afraid of having a tour and asking questions,” he urged.
Further information: www.westbournehouse.org