Tilting at Wind Turbines

Arts and Media students to keep our wind turbines turning?

You can’t be serious? For those of you assuming that the idea of Arts and Media students maintaining wind turbines is just another one of All Change Please!‘s weirder satirical fantasies, then you’d be wrong – this time it’s for real….

Last week in her Annual Report, Ofsted’s very own Amanda Spielman spoke of her concern about colleges:

“flooding a local job market with young people with say low-level arts and media qualifications when the big growth in demand is for green energy workers, will result in too many under-employed and dissatisfied young people and wind turbines left idle.”

As such she continued to reveal her considerable lack of understanding of the way things really are in schools and colleges, and at the same time managed to perpetuate and reinforce the mistaken populist opinion that all “superficially attractive” courses in Arts and Media are a waste of time. And All Change Please! can’t help wonder why those who show an aptitude for Arts and Media courses should be singled out as being particularly ideal candidates for maintaining wind turbines? Surely there must be other just as low-level, worthless courses offered in other subjects too?

At one level Ms Spielman’s suggestion that more students should perhaps be encouraged to consider becoming ‘green energy workers’ is fair enough, but just saying so isn’t going to make it happen, because things don’t work like that. And, beyond the ‘Ofsted blasts ‘low-level arts and media courses‘ sensationalist headlines (which is as far as most readers get), she does admit that “This doesn’t mean that the courses the young people are taking are completely worthless”, and that her target is “the small minority of our colleges that have under-performed or been stuck for years”. But by then, it’s too late, and the damage to public opinion has been done.

While it is true to say that many post 16 students take courses in Arts and Media, Ms Spielman’s makes no attempt to consider why, and what needs to be done to encourage them, and others, to take more ‘technical’ courses instead. It’s also a shame she does not define exactly what she means by ‘worthless’ courses, thus tarring all such courses with the same brush.

So why do so many students opt for Arts and Media courses? Is it the fault of FE colleges engaging in ‘market push’, as Ms Spielman suggests, or more a case of ‘market pull’ in which students are asking for them? When it comes to what is now quite a restricted choice in selecting which GCSE subjects to study, children who are considered to be the disaffected ‘less-academic’ are often steered towards Arts and Media subjects, mistakenly thought of as ‘being easier’ rather than that they are more appropriate to developing their potential skills and abilities. Such children are likely to be struggling with theoretical science and maths subjects (surely important for green energy workers?), and the more traditionally ‘academic’ subject teachers tend not to want them in their classes anyway as they are considered to be more likely to drag down their final departmental examination results and be more ‘challenging’ to have in the classroom.

Thus two or three years later when it comes to post-16 choices, the only non-academic subjects such students have encountered tend to be in the Arts and Media, where they have at least found some confidence and success, and quite probably achieved their highest GCSE grades. As a result, it’s hardly surprising that these are subjects they want to study at college. Unfortunately simply offering FE courses in Green Energy is unlikely to attract many takers, and it might also be anticipated that the content of such courses is likely to be educationally and technically quite narrow.

Ms Spielman admirably says that we need to “radically improve the quality of vocational and skills education in our towns“, but if she is serious about recruiting green energy, and other, workers, then she needs to be doing is to promote the introduction of more practically-orientated technical and vocational equivalent GCSE courses that have parity in the league tables and with EBacc and Progress 8 measurements. Waiting until teenagers are 16 or even older is too late. This is exactly what successive governments and university-feeder schools have completely failed to do over the past fifty years.

Part of Ms Spielman’s argument is that there is an over-supply of Arts and Media students for the employment market. As usual there’s surely a contradiction at work here? A level English students are not all expected to become award-winning novelists. Very few History students will end up working in museums. Physics students will not all end up working as theoretical Physicists. So why should it be assumed that all Arts and Media students will end up working in the Arts and Media professions? Indeed, more than any other subject, Arts and Media courses are under-pinned by the highly transferable so-called ‘soft-skills’ that employers are so keen to recruit at present. Amongst other things they require students to learn how to ask questions, find information out for themselves, work to briefs, produce specifications, develop ideas, plan their time, organise resources, collaborate, present themselves well and to be able to communicate appropriately according to purpose and audience. Not to mention the general intellectual, emotional, cultural and social development such courses provide, as discussed here.

In reality the value and ‘worth’ of these Arts and Media courses depends primarily on how well they are taught and the extent to which they develop and prepare students for professional practice and for life in general. And, like all courses, future success depends on how well students are suited to them and how hard they work at them. For the successful there are plenty of employment opportunities in the Arts and Media, and indeed anyone with good basic skills in computer-aided design (e.g., Desk-top publishing, photo manipulation, video editing, web design, game design) is much in demand.

It’s unhelpful of Ms Spielman to unnecessarily use Arts and Media courses as scapegoats. Perhaps she would be better employed sticking to inspecting what schools do, rather than giving ill-informed careers advice and fighting imaginary enemies, Don Quixote style?

 

 

 

 

Gustave Dore’s illustration of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote attacking windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.

 

 

3 comments on “Tilting at Wind Turbines

  1. A well aimed salvo, contextualised by accurate analysis. How can we better educate our politicians and those in positions to influence our education policies? Influential individuals in the Creative Industries and our strongest HE institutions need to be more active in providing evidence to clarify the reality.

  2. Someone posted a Fake-book meme that summed this up much more succinctly then I will but Fake-book’s search tools are so bad I can’t find it again to share…

    It went something like,

    You study:
    – art to open your eyes and your mind to creative possibilities, not to paint by numbers
    – drama to role play and understand how other people feel and behave, not to learn to quote Shakespeare
    – music to enhance your mood and share it with others, not to practice scales
    – dance to understand and explore your body and how it fits in with others in different environments, not to perfect a pirouette
    – media to confront the way in which powerful people manipulate and control others, not to avoid more vocational academic subjects….

    Whilst ever the executive so willfully misunderstand teaching and learning and misrepresent young people and teachers what chance is there for any of us?

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