ELAM is London’s coolest college

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In mid-May I visit East London Arts and Music (ELAM), a free academy for 16-19 year olds that offers music, film and game courses. The breakout area and the cafeteria, where the students usually work, are mostly quiet. Instead, the sound from the theater pours into the empty corridors where music students rehearse. Look into a games classroom and the trainees will build different worlds for their video games. In film halls, music videos, short films and documentaries are tweaked ready for marking.

The students (or “trainees” as they are called here) are in full swing finishing their final projects for their annual showcase Unseen, Unplayed, Unheard next month. Creative industry executives who have partnered with ELAM – including Universal Music, Playstation and VICE – will participate and hopefully enable trainees to take their first step into the industry.

A large gray building looming over the A12 across from Bromley-by-Bow station in East London is an unusual home for the next generation of British talent. But ELAM is unlike any other traditional high school and the trainees have full control over their training, taking over entire recording studios and setting up and designing their own performance rooms.

The aim is that after two years all trainees are equipped with the skills, knowledge and self-confidence to bypass the university and get straight into the creative arts. This is particularly important to Ayesha Allen, Deputy Head of Industry Readiness at ELAM. “Universities are starting to look like a three-year barrier,” she says. “Students come here, love it, go to university and then feel like [they’re] just create more distance between yourself and what you want to do. “

Will Kennard, co-founder, governor and one-half of ELAM’s electronic duo Chase & Status, says his own experiences as a teacher at a similar school in Manchester were the inspiration for the free school to start in 2014.

“I met these incredible young people at a school that offers the same courses as [ELAM]but in a poorly equipped state school, like many state media schools across the country, ”he told VICE. “The kids I met were amazing, incredibly talented, passionate, and great, but the facilities and opportunities that school offered them weren’t great. None of these children managed to really reach their potential. “

Kennard quit teaching and moved back to London to pursue his dream of becoming a music producer. “But it really bothered me why these kids weren’t successful,” he says. “I went to a private school with much better facilities and opportunities. What I was left with was the wasted potential of the talents there. “

It is not surprising that the privately educated Kennard made it, but his old students did not. According to the Elitist Britain 2019 report, only 12 percent of those in film, television and radio and 18 percent in music, the performing and visual arts have working-class roots.

According to the same report, twenty percent of pop stars have a private education, “almost three times the proportion of the total population who went to paid school”. Research by the Creative Industries Federation found that 11 percent of jobs in the creative industries are filled by BAME employees, but it should be nearly 18 percent to reflect the population as a whole.

ELAM would like to level the playing field. Participation in the academy is free and the trainees receive a free school lunch and travel assistance. When the pandemic broke out, the college’s laptops were loaned to students who didn’t have an exclusive computer at home, and the school used a Vodafone SIM card system to support distance learning for those without adequate internet connections.

Despite the commitment of the employees, in the creative industry they can only go as far as they change. “We know that we have this very diverse talent pool, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t had the effect we wanted on the creative industries,” says Allen. “We work with companies on recruiting. I’m trying to improve processes and right now they are not kind to our students. They don’t really welcome our students the way I want them to.

“But in order to explain that, I have to understand it myself. We have to do a lot of work at the moment to really tackle this and realign our entire strategy, because it won’t happen overnight. ”

It’s not just the industry that needs an overhaul. The education sector itself is often hostile to ethnic minority students. Department of Education data from 2018-19 showed that black students with a Caribbean background were almost twice the national average for short-term disqualifications, at 10.37 percent. With 57.5 percent of trainees from an ethnic minority group, ELAM’s new headmaster Matt Sheldon is working to ensure that they have a different experience when they arrive.

“The culture is very important,” he says. “When you get to a place where the explicit message is, ‘You are valued,’ I think that removes so many frustrations that people feel they cannot express – and build a caring pastoral model and listens, but also expects people to take responsibility for themselves. Not according to the motto “You are on your own”, but rather says that you have the ability to rethink your future. If we get this right, we can remove some obstacles. “

Most of the apprentices tell me that they didn’t think a career in the creative industries was possible and that their experiences helped them shape their future anew. Nia, a music student and last year singer / songwriter, attended a performing and creative arts school before joining ELAM, but believes the past two years have seen her improve her craft. “If I were to send you songs from the beginning of ELAM to now,” she says, “the progress is probably a little crazy.”

Film interns Deborah, Ella and Karen last year show me their graduation project – a beautifully filmed, moving documentary about black women and hair called Halo. It’s hard to believe that less than two years ago they didn’t know where to start putting something like this together. Karen had no idea how to use the software she used to design her logo and only used her camera on weekends. Deborah had never tried to be creative.

“When I got here, I was just lost, as if I didn’t even know how to use a computer properly,” she says. “May be [over the] In the past six months, ELAM has really helped me overcome certain barriers. When I came here, I was interested in the creative industry, but I didn’t know how to be in it. Everything I want to do in life is in the creative industries. ”

Salman, another film student last year, previously attended boys’ secondary school and says the experience was the exact opposite of what he has at ELAM. “We didn’t have any creative subjects, just media studies,” he says. “It was an experience to come to a mixed school. I came to ELAM and was trained in so many things. Coming to this school taught me to involve everyone. “

In addition to the professional courses, ELAM offers math and English as standard, but they are tailored for students entering the industry straight, including tax filing and invoicing. His unconventional approach pays off -. Even during the pandemic, distance learning participation was 80 percent. “Anecdotal [for post-16 education], we heard that [other] Colleges have had big problems with attendance, especially with synchronized lessons like the one we chose, ”explains Allen.

When I ask trainees if their experiences are any different from their friends who go to high school, they laugh. Graduating student Gabriel, singer in a rock band, is particularly impressed by the freedom of expression he is entitled to.

“I’m a very political person in every way, and at the time of my first show, I was also researching the Windrush scandal,” he says. “It was pretty impulsive, but I just thought ‘Fuck Boris’ on stage. I thought, ‘I’m getting kicked out,’ but there was no impact because we are respected for our opinions. I am sure that we would not have this respect if we were in mainstream school. “

“At their old schools they were maybe just the oddball, like those who only draw anime,” says film director Tim Cubbit about the trainees. “Then you put them together in a room and suddenly they are [are] empowered only by their similar interests. What we’re doing here is really different. [We’re] Bringing together all of these people who are valued and able to have the conversations they want to have. “

If the goal is to instill confidence in the next generation of UK creatives, it seems to be working. Laila, a games trainee last year, says she looks forward to leaving college this summer and pursuing a career in animation. “Maybe what we said sounds arrogant, but we all know that we work so hard and work so hard that our skills are way above anyone else in our age group. We are among the best. “

@nanasbaah / @ liam.hart