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Change of script ‘right’ for Highbury Grove film school

Brainchild of award-winning industry figures is set to welcome its first applications, as producer backs decision to switch from secondary school to a sixth-form college

12 October, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Lisa Bryer and Jane Frazer have helped set up The London Screen Academy, which will open in September next year

A LEADING producer who is one of the founders of a new film academy in Islington has insisted they were right to scale back plans from a secondary school to a sixth-form college.

The London Screen Academy, in Highbury Grove, opened for applications from 16 to 19-year-olds in the capital this week. The teenagers will become their first 300-strong intake when the free school opens its doors in September next year.

It is the brainchild of award-winning industry figures who worked on huge films including James Bond, Harry Potter and Love Actually. They say it will address a skills shortage and create more workforce diversity.

But an initial plan to open a secondary school in Ladbroke House, a former university building, faced a bumpy start with resistance from Islington Council, nearby schools and teaching unions as there is not a shortage of places in that area.

The Department for Education then only approved a sixth-form college.

Lisa Bryer, who produced box office hit The Last King of Scotland, told the Tribune they had a “tough” meeting with senior councillors over the original plans but said the Town Hall was “absolutely right”.

An illustration of how the new college will look

She added: “And we went away and we did more research and asked more questions. What you’re teaching a 11-year-old is very different to what you are teaching 16 to 19-year-olds, and it gives us a lot more freedom.”

The academy’s high-profile sponsors, Working Title Films, Heyday Films, Eon Productions and Ms Bryer, have been working with education experts including Sir Nick Williams, a former principal of the BRIT school, on the curriculum.

Students will have “unique” access to the film and television industries, including going onto film sets.

The application process will be “basic”, said screen industry adviser Jane Frazer. Students need a minimum of five GCSEs grade 4 to 9, although exceptions could be made.

Each prospective student will have a one-to-one interview and take part in a workshop, before being selected.

“We will be catering for everyone and anyone who shows a passion for what we do and is ready to commit 150 per cent,” said Ms Bryer.

“[The industry has] always been about who you know and it just needs to be a lot more representative than the London we live in.”

She said the school, which will be funded by the government, had already received offers from the industry to supply equipment and teach children.

The sponsors had originally planned to work with the Meller Educational Trust, founded by Tory party donor and property developer David Meller, but the relationship ended earlier this year. The London Screen Academy – which will grow to take in up to 1,000 students and be led by principal Nick Watkiss – has partnered up with the “outstanding”-rated East London Arts and Music (ELAM) college to form a new academy trust, called Day One Trust.

Islington education chief, Councillor Joe Calouri, praised the plans and added: “Ideally, the government would not have changed the law so that only free schools or academies could open. But, given that’s the case, I would much rather real experts from the industry come in and offer something new, rather than chains who don’t know anything about the local area.”

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