I have an irrational fear of school. No, schools. Plural. And so it was with some of that irrational fear that I climbed the fairly daunting steps to the very daunting front door of Cheadle Hulme School recently.
Once inside I signed in and stood for a few minutes waiting for the Head of Art & Design, Adam Hayley, to come to reception and collect me. Whilst waiting I really wanted to take some photographs of the boards inscribed with the names of previous head teachers, the ornate plaster work and carved wooden portico into the main school.
The ladies on reception were charming and I’m sure that they wouldn’t have minded me wielding my iPhone camera. But there was no way that I was going to risk it. It was lunchtime and so I was treated to a school dinner.
For the first time in a very, very long time I slalomed with my tray around pupils, desperate not to trip up and disgrace myself amongst young people. But we adjourned to Adam’s office a couple of floors up for a lunchtime chat.
So let’s step back a couple of weeks. I visited the Manchester Art Fair at Manchester Central with India, from Manchester’s Finest. We chatted with some artists previously featured on Manchester’s Finest and scouted for others that readers might be interested in.
On stand 373 was an eclectic display of painting, drawing, ceramics, textiles…no one ‘style’ as was evident on all the other stands. And all impressive. No less impressive when looking at the name board on the stand: Cheadle Hulme School.
We introduced ourselves to Adam and the next day swapped emails between Adam, myself and India. India’s first mail said, ‘Hi Mr. Hayley. I saw my high school art teacher yesterday and called her Miss. So I’m not sure I should address you by your first name.’ Not just me with irrational fear. Adam replied, of course, ‘Just call me Adam.’
So there I was, school dinner on a tray, chatting with Adam in his office. It’s testimony to Adam and his small team in the Art & Design Department of the school that they even enter the Manchester Art Fair. “It’s not to sell work,” Adam told me, “Just to raise the profile of the work that the school does. Mind you, we had one very serious art collector offering to buy a piece. That pupil and her parents are thinking about it!”
Adam had always wanted to teach art. Yes an artist himself – a necessity of course – but teaching was in his blood. A couple of years after sixth form college working, investigating benefit fraud to earn a living, gave him an insight into life at the tough end.
But then an arts course at Salford set him on course for his teaching ambitions. A stint at a school in what shall remain a nameless satellite town of Manchester was ‘tough going,’ but then a couple of postings on and he applied for the Head of Art & Design at Cheadle Hulme four years ago.
The previous Head of Art had been in post for thirty-five years and, it seems, chose his successor to continue a dynasty that he had established. After that succession Adam set about building and moulding his small team. I was introduced to them and, I’m sure, he wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t name check them.
Claire Bennett teaches textiles.
Rachel Baker teaches ceramics.
Claire Penkett teaches photography.
And Emily De Vere, Adam tells me, is Master of Creativity. Her actual title is Art & Design Technician.
So, with Adam at the helm, that’s the team and job descriptions. But they’re hardly accurate descriptions, because in my short time there it was obvious that they all throw their enthusiasm into whatever the students want to do. Yes there is a formal curriculum. Formal qualifications. But the essence is clearly on creativity and exploration. Lots of research, lots of personal investigation and yes, most vitally whatever the discipline, lots of drawing and sketch books. The end result is the quality of work by young students that drew us in to stand 373.
I visit art colleges regularly in different capacities. The quality and energy of work and environment at Cheadle Hulme School exceeds almost everything I’ve seen in Higher Education recently. As I’ve said, it was lunchtime and the studios were open, with students working on projects in their free time. The energy of the teaching team has, of course, rubbed off on the students.
Adam is ‘here to stay’ he told me. There was even a passing mention of a blue plaque for his predecessor and one that might one day say, ‘Adam Hayley. Head of Art & Design. Here for a very long time.’
But one last story. In the top floor studio – as impressive a working studio environment as I’ve seen – Adam told me that long ago it was the dormitory for boarders at Cheadle Hulme School. Boarders that were under the care and guidance of his late grandmother. Adam’s keeping things in the family.
Cheadle Hulme School, Claremont Rd, Cheadle Hulme, Cheadle SK8 6EF