Nestled on the serene Kent coast, St Lawrence College has been cultivating a vibrant community of learners since 1879. Guided by Christian values, this medium-sized private school is a nurturing haven for students aged three to 18, home to 625 day and boarding students from over 25 countries and across the UK. The college is one of the founding schools to hold the coveted accolade of “World Class High Performance Learning School.”
At the heart of St Lawrence’s success is its commitment to developing artistic talent. The school’s Creative Arts programme has evolved into a vibrant hub for creativity. It has a unique and supportive atmosphere that empowers students from Years 7 to 9 to explore a spectrum of photography, recording and drawing styles while developing and realising new ideas. Experimentation is encouraged, with each student motivated to find their distinctive approach to their craft.
From Year 10 (Fourth Form), pupils can follow the AQA’s GCSE specification in Art and Design. After this two-year course, students can choose to pursue Art & Design or Photography at A level. “I strongly encourage students, particularly in the upper six, to delve into social issues and actively engage with the world. Last year, one of my pupils, Phoebe, focused on feminism,” says Caroline Dyal, an Art and Photography teacher. “We collaborated with the Design and Technology department, gathering materials and had a fantastic time in the studio.”
Whichever level they’re in, St Lawrence students learn by doing. They go on frequent trips to renowned galleries in London and take part in location visits and immersive workshops. Recent excursions have gone to Stour Valley Arts, Dungeness, St Margaret’s Bay, and The Pallant Gallery. These experiences deepen the students’ understanding of artists and craftsmen and provide extended periods for honing technical skills.
If a student has an idea, they are encouraged to explore it in both 2D and 3D dimensions and trust their creative instincts. There’s no limit to influences, mediums or processes. By taking this expansive approach, the college makes its Art and Design and Photography courses experiential — and, in turn, engages other forms of intelligence such as kinaesthetic, spatial, interpersonal (relationships with others) and intra-personal (knowledge and understanding of the self).
This year, four students achieved A* for their A Levels: Phoebe Smallbone for Photography, and Poppy Heming, Summer Leu-Wilson and Grace Patterson for Art. This meant every single student who took Art and Design or Photography for A Level in 2023 achieved an A*. “Our curriculum is thoughtfully designed to build foundational skills progressively, ensuring that by the time our students reach A Levels, they are not just confident but also deeply passionate and ambitious about their art,” says Nicky Hodge, Head of the Arts department.
GCSE students did well too. “GCSE Art remains a sought-after subject among our students, and our outcomes consistently reflect the strength of our programme,” Hodge says. “Over several years, we’ve maintained a 100% pass rate, with students achieving grades five to nine, equivalent to the old A* to C range. This year, an impressive 65% achieved the equivalent of A or A*, demonstrating sustained excellence.”
Graduates go on to prestigious institutions such as LIPO – The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, Goldsmiths, University of the Arts London, UCA, UCL, Camberwell Art College, and Brunel, setting the stage for flourishing careers in various creative fields.
These are outstanding outcomes. To Dyal, they’re a testament to the college’s energetic approach and facilities. Spacious rooms, each equipped with a balcony and flooded with natural light, provide an ideal setting for budding artists. “We’ve strategically designed our space to evoke that awe, featuring a dedicated gallery space at the top of the stairs that proudly showcases our best A Level work,” says Hodge.
The Kent area, particularly Margate and Ramsgate, has a thriving art scene that provides more inspiration and opportunities. Outreach projects, theatre workshops, and community involvement take place all year long. “We often refer our students to different communities and events, connecting them to various artists and groups,” says Dyal. “There’s a notable celebration of movements like Black Lives Matter, which has a meaningful impact on our pupils.”
Every year, local schools participate in a competition with the Turner Contemporary. This year, the theme was “Rising” and focused on environmental issues and protest movements. Four artworks from the college were selected to be part of the exhibition. “The pupils are invited to a private viewing, creating a fantastic experience,” says Dyal. “Additionally, our scholars often get selected in local arts community groups, earning recognition for their exceptional work in painting and other artistic endeavours. The array of platforms and connections in the local arts scene contribute to a well-linked and connected network.”