Birmingham’s “Fame Academy” has had to take drastic action after being plunged into a funding crisis.
Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA) principal Gaynor Cheshire said realising the school was heading for financial trouble led to a big push to find new revenue sources.
Increasing pupil numbers, and therefore income, as well as forging links with overseas filmmakers has been crucial in turning round the financial picture, Ms Cheshire revealed.
Cuts have seen this financial year’s spending on further and higher education across England slashed by £450 million.
Even more is set to be slashed by the new Tory Government in July.
The school – dubbed Birmingham’s Fame Academy – is home to 1,040 teenagers aged 14 to 19 who are hoping for a career in the arts.
From budding pop stars to musical theatre stars, the Birmingham facility was opened just four years ago and has quickly grown a reputation as a serious rival to London-based prestigious competitors such as the Sylvia Young Theatre School, which has spawned the likes of singer Rita Ora and actress Lacey Turner.
But Ms Cheshire has revealed the school has had to take radical steps to safeguard its future after the funding crisis placed it in danger.
Ms Gaynor has predicted the school will see its budget slashed by 4.5 per cent in the 2015/16 academic year, in which it also faces a £300,000 wage bill hike due to increases in National Insurance and pension contributions for teachers.
“Twelve months ago we could have said ‘the wheels are coming off’, let’s cut an entire department’, ” said Ms Cheshire. “But instead of that we have been thinking outside of the box and looked for other ways to bring in funding.”
It has seen the school taking on a further 100 pupils this year – which should see its Department for Education funding increase.
The school, only built to accommodate 950 pupils, is also making full use of the talent on its own doorstep.
It has successfully won a number of lucrative contracts, including one working with the Maltese Film Commission.
“A lot of movies are made in Malta, including films like Thor and Popeye, which see major production companies bringing their own crews over from the US,” explained Ms Cheshire. “Malta saw this as an opportunity to skill up its local people so that they could benefit from job opportunities.
“So we sent our staff out there to train people on prop-making, costume and set design and even helped to spend time finding potential filming locations.”
The school has also won the contract to run the city’s Old Rep Theatre on behalf of Birmingham City Council – running it as not only a place for its own pupils to learn and work but also as a community and professional facility.
It is currently auditioning professional performers to take part in its Christmas production Treasure Island, set to be staged between November 20 and January 3.
The show, aimed at four to 11 year olds, will see the professional actors working with a rotating cast of BOA pupils – with the entire production from set design to costumes produced by students.
And it’s not just about performing arts. Digital students will also be involved with everything from marketing the production to producing an online game for its audience to use ahead of the show.
Ms Cheshire, a former dancer who starred alongside Hollywood star Richard Gere in the film Yanks, said she was confident BOA faced a bright future.
The school in Eastside, rated ‘good’ in its first and only inspection by watchdog Ofsted in 2013, is massively oversubscribed, with eight applications to every one of its available places.
“Like so many other institutions in this sector we face post-16 funding that is being constantly reduced, while funding for five to 16-year-olds is being ring-fenced,” she said.
“This means we do have to be innovative, but thinking outside of the box has already paved the way for some amazing opportunities for our pupils and staff alike.
“I’m really hoping to see us grow on our success, being rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted and potentially even expanding if we can find a suitable industry partner.”
And the school has already seen fame for some of its talented pupils who have won roles in smash TV series Peaky Blinders, as well as a myriad other projects.
“It is obviously early days for us, as our first cohort of pupils have only just left,” she said. “But we have something really special here and I feel tremendously privileged to be a part of it.”