Arts and media school celebrates first year in new home with Ofsted award and visit from Stormzy

The ‘Skepta Shrine’ at ELAM Pic: Sam Hancock

Words and Images by Sam Hancock, Video by Zoe Ettinger

The free school sixth form co-founded by brothers Charlie and Will “Status” Kennard –  one half of electric music duo Chase & Status – has celebrated its first anniversary at its now permanent home in Tower Hamlets.

The  East London Arts & Music school, which calls its students “trainees” and focuses in music, TV, film and games, relocated to Bromley-by-Bow from its temporary accommodation at School 21, in Stratford, last year and was awarded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted shortly after.

Charlie Kennard, 33, who became the school’s head teacher at 29 and describes himself as its “proud hype man”, said the past year at ELAM “was a hugely powerful moment for us.”

He said: “We spent no money on advertising and this year alone our music course was between 8-10 times oversubscribed. It was a hugely powerful moment for us – more so than Ofsted’s recognition. It was young people saying: ‘Yes, we want to come here.’ Word of mouth is the purest form of feedback and it’s clearly working.”

ELAM free school sixth form in Bromley-by-Bow Pic: Sam Hancock

The school offers three key A levels: Music, Film & TV and Games Design, which  take up “80 percent of a trainee’s timetable.” The other 20 percent is used for A Level maths and English, which the school makes compulsory for all of its trainees and are studied alongside their chosen industry specific course.

Kennard recognised Ofsted’s award as a major achievement but said success lies outside of academic excellence for ELAM. The former secondary school history teacher said: “What makes us different are our industry partnerships, which we have with places like Universal and YouTube. If you go to Sony and say you have a Triple A* in your BTEC, they’ll ask to see your practical work. It’s great that our teaching is good, but to us what’s important is creating industry-standard work.”

Although standout, the past year has not always been smooth sailing for the school. Kennard said: “Dealing with big changes like Ofsted coming in, moving into this purpose-built building, launching a new media course and the transition period of a new deputy head all very quickly was tough.”

But despite these teething issues, the school continues to produce diverse and industry standard artists, like Ama Lou and JVCK JAMES who both completed their two-year courses at the school in 2017 and have gone on to achieve chart success.

Kennard said there is “always a lot going on and we’re very fortunate.” Trainees enjoy one masterclass every week, which are delivered by industry specialists and more often than not for music students, global superstars.

Record collection at ELAM’s reception Pic: Sam Hancock

The head teacher said: “This term alone, we’ve had David Rodigan, Stefflon Don and Kano come in – Stormzy was here last week. The Secretary of State for Education was also here looking at the way innovation projects are working in schools.”

The school’s trainees remain at the forefront of everything it does. Kennard said this made day-to-day life “pretty awesome” because “there’s always something to celebrate when people are doing what they love”.

For him, ELAM’s education and training is what sets it apart: “Really, the best thing about us is the curriculum we’ve developed.”

Will Chapman and Taval Eze, both 18 and final year music students said the school offers opportunities “a regular sixth form can’t.”

Will Chapman and Taval Eze, both 18, are music students at ELAM Pic: Sam Hancock

Chapman said: “It’s more industry-focused and relevant than any other sixth form would be.” Eze agreed and said: “Since I’ve been at ELAM I’ve learned so many things. I hadn’t used a studio until I came here and now I’m just growing and developing as I go.”

Locally famous and nationally recognised, Kennard said the next step for ELAM is “to become a world class centre of excellence”.

In this video, Kennard speaks about ELAM’s beginnings and what sets it apart from other schools; trainees also showcase some of their work:

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