ACS Hillingdon’s new Digital Arts IBCP programme gives students practical skills and career-ready training at hallowed Pinewood Studios

ACS Hillingdon has a couple of firsts with its IBCP option in Digital Arts. One is its championship of this lesser-known cousin of the IB Diploma, the Career-related Programme. The other involves delivery – its training has a real-world industry location for some of the time at hallowed Pinewood Studios.

Andy Groark, Head of Creative Arts and CP Digital Arts Leader at ACS Hillingdon, is justifiably delighted with this superb industry location, and what the course is offering to students – skills that capitalise on local needs. “We saw it as an ideal niche,” he says. “It seems like the biggest demand and the most logical choice is to have something industry facing that is local to our community.”

Camera, action! at ACS Hillingdon
ACS Hillingdon’s Digital Arts programme enables students to gain practical skills relevant to film, animation and games design

While we have long had a world-class film industry in the UK when it comes to technical and creative expertise, anyone who keeps an eye on the sector will be aware of the exponential growth of studio facilities. There’s one at Shepperton in association with Netflix, the Sunset Studios scheme in Broxbourne, plus additional creative spaces in the works for Barking and Borehamwood.

This creative ring around London is one reason for such an industry-facing course. It runs alongside another recently introduced IBCP at Hillingdon in Expressive Arts, covering the performance side via LAMDA qualifications alongside areas such as set design and prosthetics. Again, some of this training happens at Pinewood.

A C S Pinewood
The course gives students a headstart by delivering practical training for university, or potential entry-level roles at the many studio facilities springing up around London

With Digital Arts, the content is distinctively cutting edge, incorporating animation, 3D modelling, game design, visual effects (VFX) and computer programming. All are incredibly relevant to film making – but also to the video games industry. As Andy Groark notes, the two industries are increasingly interlinked. “Video games like The Last of Us have been converted into TV shows,” he says. “They are on a similar budget to film, and with a similar spread of audience. The biggest selling media product in history isn’t Gone with the Wind, it’s Grand Theft Auto V.”

“At Pinewood, ACS Hillingdon students benefit from collaborations with industry specialists and mentorship throughout the two-year IBCP programme”

Andy Groark has a specialist expertise in film, having worked in different contexts across the industry. While he was teaching an IB in Film in Shanghai he worked within the film industry part time. That’s when he met the producer of Cities of Love and a collaboration emerged that saw some 20 local schools producing 15 films. The practical education in film idea stuck, which is why, when he started as Head of Creative Arts at ACS Hillingdon, he began ringing round locally to speak to organisations that offer training.  “Some of the most prestigious, like Pinewood, had the doors thrown open for us.”

Camera, action! at ACS Hillingdon
At Pinewood Studios, ACS Hillingdon students work with revered industry figures such as Terry Ackland-Snow

It’s wonderful to see industry stepping up, and also a mark of the need for the next generation of trained talent. “That’s why we decided to lean into it,” says Andy Groark. “There are so many jobs in DFX or games design, or in a situation between the two, so certainly for our students there’s a massive advantage in having a head start by taking courses like this at high-school level.” For students on the Digital Arts course, there are opportunities at Pinewood to develop screenwriting and film production skills along more technical training, and they benefit from collaborations with industry specialists and mentorship throughout the two-year course.

The IBCP retains key elements of the IB framework. This means, for example, that there’s a reflective independent project related to ethical and practical issues for the industry. For instance, students might focus on representation of different groups and communities in media or the work/life balance issues within such a deadline-focused environment. Andy Groark likes this aspect. “It’s formative,” he says. “They are looking at bigger strategic challenges that equip them for leading that industry further down the road.”

A C S Pinewood
This IBCP includes key elements such as a reflective project, and the two-elective structure enables students to maintain their other IB Diploma studies

The IBCP doesn’t specialise at the expense of broader skills and knowledge. Digital Arts and Expressive Arts choices each represent two blocks from the IB electives, so a traditional core of subjects within the IB framework remain. There is a very specific add-on within PPS (personal professional skills), where students on the IBCP look at how to get that all important first break. There is a somewhat different set of tactics to many industries – being persistent, pushy even, can pay off.

Eligibility for the course is a matter of looking at young people’s orientation and aptitude. Those already at ACS Hillingdon have already been introduced to film and digital through earlier courses and tasters, but the Digital Arts programme is drawing in keen students from beyond the school. The first cohort graduates this summer, and half were fresh starters in the Sixth Form. Half again (so, a quarter) had enrolled specifically for this study pathway.

“There are so many jobs – there’s a massive advantage in having a head start by taking courses like this at high-school level”

Interest is already high for next school year, and ACS Hillingdon is considering how it might grow facilities on campus in the future. This career-focused programme still keeps post-school options open. “They could go straight to industry from here or choose further education and go on to college or university and build their networks, improve their skills and their portfolios and certainly be ready at 21 to go straight into a junior job.” The skills they are taught have relevance to many industries too – for instance, architecture, engineering or advertising and marketing.

A C S Pinewood
Skills taught are relevant to a wide range of careers – from engineering and architecture to marketing and advertising

Andy Groark enjoys the ‘real world’ atmosphere of the IBCP. He recounts how, while shooting a film noir with a group in the school library, the camera started rolling and a couple of students carried on talking. He simply pointed out that on a professional film set they would be fired – information that hit home and no hard feelings. “How often do you have the opportunity to deal with behaviour management where it’s so easy to have those conversations? It’s not me saying ‘you’re annoying me’, but ‘this is how it’s done – you have to follow the protocols of the industry’.”

ACS Hillingdon

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