Walsall Studio School and Sixth Form is part of the Mercian Multi Academy Trust, which specialises in Business Social Enterprise and a broad range of Creative and Digital disciplines for 14–19-year olds. The school will also be among the first to offer the new T Level in Digital Production, Design and Development from September 2020. It has engaged with numerous aspects of the Education and Training Foundation’s T Level Professional Development offer. Principal, Darren Perry, explains Walsall’s journey so far.
Our Digital Production, Design and Development T Level is being developed ready for September 2020 as part of our new St Matthew’s Learning Campus and provides our students with even more opportunities to work closely with the creative and digital industry professionals as they prepare to meet the growing demand for higher level digital skills. We are delighted to be pioneering excellence in the field of technical education as we further develop qualifications that employers value, and real-world experiences for students that prepare them for their future careers.
Walsall Studio School has a track record of innovation and students working collaboratively with industry professionals. The digital economy in the West Midlands has created record levels of jobs and it is our job to ensure our local young people have the skills employers need. Through Walsall Studio School the Mercian Trust aims to be at the forefront of this digital revolution.
As a school rather than an FE College (which has tended to be the typical setting for T Level providers), we anticipated that it would require specialist support to enable the significantly enhanced level of industry and employer brokerage required to deliver and assure a successful destination for our T Level learners.
Once the guidance on the Digital Production, Design, and Development specification was provided by the ETF and Pearson, it became much clearer how great the gap would be compared to the school’s existing learning programmes. Identifying and sourcing an industry/employer brokerage partner, who could also support the integration of the 80% classroom and 20% industry format was an additional challenge.
The solution was found through WSS Founding Governor & Co-Founding Trustee of Mercian Trust Kevin Davis’s connection with Alex Cole, who had scaled an innovative digital consulting business – TIN Smart Social – out of his role as a senior leader at Capgemini. Alex developed the Digisheds smart skills engine model to provide ‘frictionless’ access to digital literacy and employability upskilling for low access (typically young girls or BAME) or disadvantaged groups.
We responded to the DfE and ETF offer of high-quality professional development support for teachers, trainers, and leaders delivering T Levels from 2020 onwards. The subsequent Teacher Regional Improvement Project (TRIP) we formed was developed with TIN Smart Social and additional regional partners as a sector-led collaborative action research project to focus specifically on a theory of change: upskilling teachers to sequence the digital curriculum and enable frictionless integration with industry.
The ETF TLPD offer enabled the quality-led teacher, trainer, and leaders upskilling elements. The work with TIN and their sector-leading industry partners – Capgemini, ServiceNow, FlyForm, Create Central, and the MTC – on the integration of the T Level curriculum with their employer-led Digisheds modules, enables students to access ‘frictionless’ pathways to jobs, apprenticeships or higher education.
The key upskilling elements of the TLPD offer that the school, stakeholders and partners have engaged with are:
Each has been of high quality in terms of the scope, content, and delivery which has provided support for teachers, trainers, and leaders to enable them to signpost learners, staff, and employers to the T Level with confidence, clarity, and capability.
The Walsall Studio School collaboration with TIN Smart Social has provided a sense of anticipation, confidence, and readiness for the Digital T Level delivery which would not have been possible without the quality, accessibility, and scale of the ETF TLPD offer.
The three core elements of our TRIP theory of change – ‘upskilling’ plus ‘sequencing’ to achieve ‘frictionless integration’ – will, we hope, provide a compelling experiential model that does three things: equips our students with the contextual and employability resilience that makes them hireable by our industry partners; gives parents confidence to support the new T Level; and creates the entry-level credits to encourage engagement at scale from higher education.