Forever Changes

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Everything you always wanted to know about Curriculum Development but were afraid to ask…

If there is one current issue that would probably unite most teachers it’s that there’s too much change happening in education. There should, of course, be change in education, and it should be rapid and discontinuous, just as it is in the rest of the world: the problem is that at present it’s the wrong sort of change, and one that looks backwards to the distant past rather than forwards to the future.

Now All Change Please! has never featured a book review before, but, always keen to make changes, it is about to do so. And it just so happens that the book is about change in education, or at least about change as it used to be in the 1970s and 80s. If the government is determined to go backwards, perhaps this is where it should be looking and starting from?

All Change Please! first encountered Eileen Adams in 1980, and having kept in touch over the millennia was delighted when it was asked to write something about her work. Although her text primarily covers work Art, Design and Environmental Education the underlying theme is about how once upon a time positive change and progress was and can be achieved, and all without government interference. Here’s the review…

Change in education is notoriously difficult to achieve. The administrative structures, the numbers of teachers and managers, the range of agencies and political and economic pressures involved, not to mention the need to please Ofsted and achieve a high rank in different aspects of school league tables, means it’s usually easiest and wisest to leave things much as they are. Instead the focus is on the only thing that seems to matter these days, which is achieving the maximum number of children getting the highest possible grades in formal, and very traditional, academic public examinations that succeed only in revealing the true abilities of a minority of children.

But things were different in the 1970s and early 1980s, when teachers were encouraged to become involved in curriculum development in order to explore new and more effective ways of teaching and learning. Back then, ask almost any teacher of Art & Design or Geography what the leading curriculum development work in their subject was and they would have referred you to the Art and the Built Environment Project, run initially by the much-missed Schools Council and then by the Design Education Unit of the Royal College of Art, and powered by the inexhaustible Eileen Adams who toured the country – and indeed the world – running workshops and speaking at conferences. The premise was that architects and town-planners would work alongside teachers and children, but with the unspoken and delightfully subversive intention that it was not so much the professionals informing the educationalists, but the children informing the professionals by revealing to them the way they saw and experienced their world. The project also provided the basis for a successful model of curriculum development based on a ‘ground-up’ network that, with the advent of the ‘top-down’ National Curriculum, has yet to be explored further.

Since then Eileen Adams has worked on an extraordinary variety of major initiatives and commissions, most notably Learning Through Landscapes, which focused on the use and design of school grounds to promote learning outside the classroom, and more recently The Campaign for Drawing with its Big Draw – the month long nationwide festival, which is the world’s largest drawing festival.

Eileen’s book provides a detailed account of the wide variety of strategies she has adopted in her attempt to persuade teachers, lecturers and organisations and institutions to think and act differently, primarily through action research. At the same time the text documents the various financial and bureaucratic difficulties and frustrations she encountered. While essentially autobiographical it draws on her direct experiences of the successes and failures of initiating change in both a visionary and down-to-earth manner.

From a purely historical perspective ‘Agent of Change’ is a fascinating account of the way in which curriculum development was starting to work before the politicians decided in the late 1980s that they should be the ones who decided what should be taught in our schools. It also contradicts the current propaganda that the ideas of so-called ‘progressive’ educationalists of the time simply advocated a ‘do what you like’ approach, revealing the detailed and careful orchestration that scaffolded the learning experience.

This is a ‘must-read’ book for all those involved in art, design and environmental education, and particularly, and indeed ideally, those responsible for determining national educational policy.

There is further information about Eileen Adams: Agent of Change here, and it can be purchased here and here, and of course from all good bookshops…

Pass Notes: Art Attack!

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What? Has someone had a Heart Attack? Quickly. Call an ambulance!

No, no, no! Though you might have one after you’ve read the latest NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design) survey. You can download a pdf copy here. It’s the teaching of Art & Design in our schools that’s in critical danger and may not survive much longer.

Ah. But I keep reading that the Department for Education say that the numbers taking Art GCSE have risen by as much as 1%, so all this whining about children not being allowed to take creative subjects at GCSE is really just a lot of fuss about nothing. 

Well, for a start you shouldn’t believe DfE political propaganda statements, just as you’d be advised not to take a headline in the Daily Mail at face value. The problem is that the DfE’s figures don’t include the large numbers of students who previously took BTEC courses in Art & Design, but that now do GCSE instead. When they are added in it’s clear that the overall figure has fallen by thousands, and will continue to do so for many years to come as more and more children are forced to take all the EBacc subjects. And meanwhile entries in all other Arts-based subjects, such as Music, Drama and Dance, have fallen over the past five years.

Oh well, at least children still get plenty of time in primary school to get develop some good skills in drawing and painting.

Not according to the NSEAD survey they don’t. Apparently primary schools are substantially cutting back on Art to spend more time preparing for the National Key Stage 2 tests. And that means children are less well prepared for the standards they are expected to achieve at KS3 when they get to secondary school.

OK, but then there’s three years of regular lessons when they get to Key Stage 3 in Secondary School – a double period a week as I recall.

Ah, those were the days! The survey reveals that in many schools there is much less time allocated for Art at KS3, and in some it’s been made part of a rotational system where it’s only studied for a term each year. And many schools now start their GCSE options in Year 9, so KS3 only lasts for two years. Meanwhile new teacher recruitment is down, so there is evidence of more classes being taught by non-specialists.

I remember when I was at school art was dead good – we used to go on lots of trips to local galleries and museums, and a real-life designer came into school to make things with us. 

Hmm. You didn’t go to an independent school by any chance did you? Because if you did you’re far more likely to have been on trips and had visits from practitioners than if you went to a free-school. And yes, it’s all in the NSEAD survey.

But come on now, be honest, let’s face it, taking an Arts subject isn’t going to help you get a job, is it? I mean, all those years starving in an attic, spending all your money on expensive oil paints. Well that’s what I was told, anyway. 

If that’s what you think, you’ve been badly mis-led! Last year the Creative Industries contributed 81 billion to the economy and employed 2.8 million people. Studying Art & Design doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up being an ‘artist’ – there are a wide range of other opportunities to work in creative areas that need good visual problem-solving and communication skills. And that’s got to be better than doing an over-subscribed academic degree and ending up working a coffee shop.

With the introduction of the EBacc it seems like the country is in the process of throwing away its established global reputation for the excellence in its work in the Creative Industries – something that China and many other countries are now investing heavily in.

Well I have to admit, taking Art GCSE raised my confidence and self-esteem and had a knock-on effect in improving my results in other subjects, and I feel I have had a much broader and richer education that many of my peers did. It gave me an opportunity to think and work in a completely different way, and I’ve been able to apply that to many of the things I do today. It certainly changed my life! Everyone should take Art at school!

Yes, many teachers would agree with you about that. It’s just a shame that in years to come it looks like most children won’t have the opportunity to have same experience you did.

You’re making it all sound rather depressing.

That’s because it is extremely depressing.

So what’s to be done? How can the patient be saved?

There’s one simple remedy – the DfE could back down on the use of using numbers of EBacc subject entries as a measure of school performance in league tables. Another treatment that’s not been tried before would be for headteachers to get together and refuse to administer the DfE’s medicine and just ignore it.

Meanwhile we also need the wider world outside the teaching profession to know that our children are being increasingly denied access to the world of the Creative Arts. Then they need to take action, such as writing to their MP – so please share this post with all your relatives, friends and neighbours (by email/twitter/facebook, etc), particularly if they happen work in the Creative Industries – their support is very important.

So why’s this happening? I thought Nicky Morgan was supposed to be teacher’s friend?

Generally speaking she is. It’s Nick Gibb who is causing the problem, as he’s in charge of curriculum surgery. He’s the one spreading all this EBaccteria nonsense and children will end up having to take subjects they don’t want to do, and being taught by teachers who are inexperienced and not properly qualified. If he’s not careful, Gibb will be the next DfE politician to be branded as being toxic and dumped in the waste disposal bin, as Michael Gove was.

Do say: Apparently Nick Gibb’s background was as a chartered accountant.

Don’t ask: Was painting by numbers Gibb’s favourite activity in Art lessons at school?

Alas Schools & Journos: Beginners Please!

alas-smith-and-jones2Once more, All Change Please! is privileged to eavesdrop on Mel Smith, as the man who thinks he knows everything, and Griff Rhys Jones, as the man who knows he knows nothing, as they discuss the latest developments in education.

As the scene opens, Mel Smith is reading his newspaper – the Evening Standard – and speaks in a posh voice:

Smith: “Ah have you seen, there’s a new Stoppard opening at the National, I must book”.

Jones: “A new what at the where?”

Smith:“It’s a new play by Tom Stoppard – you know he did ‘Jumpers’ and ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’.”

Jones: “No, I can’t say I do.”

Smith: Well there you go then, that proves Nick Glibly’s point, you haven’t had a proper education unless you can appreciate the sort of plays they put on at the National Theatre.

Jones: Oh, the National Theatre, I thought you meant the Grand National and there was a horse called Stoppard who was a good jumper, and there were two other horses they’d had to put down.

Smith: No No No! What old Nick Glibly said the other day was that studying English at GCSE was crucial to enable people to enjoy the theatre as adults.

“I think it’s hard to really appreciate a play at the Donmar [Warehouse] or the National Theatre if you haven’t studied English to GCSE…Studying English literature to the age of 16 helps you to understand a demanding play by David Mamet”.

And he also said that schools must teach pupils the “fundamental principles” of core subjects in a way that will enable them to read around the subject for leisure as adults.

“That’s the purpose of education in my judgement, in every subject. Can you read a geography book after you leave school, can you read further history books by famous historians after you leave school?

“The purpose of school is to provide that grounding to indulge and read around those subjects as you go through adult life.”

Jones: But I always thought the purpose of education was to learn useful things, get some qualifications and then a job serving coffee somewhere?

Smith: Well, not according to him. Apparently the core EBacc subjects are ‘the primary colours of an educated person’s palette’, which makes it a bit strange that they’re not including Art as one of the subjects.

Jones: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about does he?

Smith (losing the posh voice): No, you’re absolutely right, he’s obviously got no idea at all. In fact he’s stark, raving bonkers. The whole education policy is a complete farce, and he’s just an understudy behaving like a prima donna, trying to upstage Nicky Morgove to put himself into the limelight by making a scene. I wonder who prompted him to do it?

Jones: He’s really not thought this through, has he? I mean let’s face it, if everyone in the country wanted to go to see plays at the National or this Doner Kebab Warehouse place, they’d get booked up so far in advance it would be donkey’s years before anyone could possibly get a ticket. And anyway, as Drama isn’t included in the EBacc there won’t be any actors around to play the parts will there?

Smith: Still you can’t blame him for jockeying for position, even if he has fallen at every hurdle.

Jones: No I suppose not. Anyway, can’t hang round here chatting all day.

Smith: Where are you off to then?

Jones: I’ve got a ticket to see Warhorse run in the 19:45 at the National…

 

Blackout

Curtain

 

What, do you mean you’ve never been to the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden? Or never seen a play by David Mamet?