The long, sad story of Jannet and Jo Blogs

Once upon a time in a parallel universe, similar to our own but not quite the same, young Jannet and Jo Blogs worked in a widget factory, making widgets, as everyone was obliged to for a period of at least 13 years. The factory made seven different types of widget, and employees were expected to move around, so they didn’t spend all day making the same widget. The problem was, Jannet and Jo were not very good at making any of the widgets. Theirs always came out being too big or small or just not quite the right shape, the parts didn’t connect together properly and they spent far too long working on each one.

Every day it was the same. They tried their best, but each of the manufacturing supervisors of the seven different widgets just sighed and pointed out to them in detail the various ways in which the work they had done was unsatisfactory, by exactly how much, and the extent to which they had missed their production targets yet again, and were letting the reputation of the factory down.

This went on for six long years. It didn’t make it any easier that each year the factory demanded that the widgets they made became more and more complicated, which meant that they got further and further behind. Eventually the factory manager informed them that they had come to the end of their contracts and that he had arranged for them to be transferred to a different factory, and shook their hands and wished them every success for the future.

Jannet and Jo looked forward to being able to make a fresh start in a new factory, but they were disappointed to discover that there they was still being asked to make exactly the same seven widgets, which had now become even more difficult to master. And so, for another five years, their supervisors spent their days informing them how sub-standard their work was and how important and absolutely essential it was for them to improve in order to meet their targets, even though the work was quite beyond them. Meanwhile the other more productive workers often made fun of them as they were so useless.

At the end of the five years many of their much more successful fellow workers had their contracts renewed for another two years, but Jannet and Jo were re-located to yet another place of work where they were expected to spend a lot of their time trying to remake all the faulty widgets they had previously created, but no matter how hard they worked, they still just couldn’t get them right.

When they weren’t at their factory Jannet and Jo spent as much time as they could following their passion for medieval history. They loved reading and researching and cataloging artefacts from the past, and worked together as volunteer managers of the local Archaeological Trust where they successfully organised displays and outings. But of course all this had been frowned upon by their boss at work, because it didn’t help them in any way to make better widgets, which apparently was all that really mattered in life.

After a total of thirteen long, miserable years of failed widget-making, Jannet and Jo felt they had had enough and decided they never wanted to see another widget again. Lifelong widget-making was definitely not for them. They had became very depressed and just lounged about all day, unable to get another job because, quite wrongly, they thought that widget making was all they knew anything about, and that wasn’t very much. If you couldn’t make widgets, what could you do to get on in the world?

 

Of course Jannet and Jo’s sad story would never have happened in our universe, would it?

But here though, just as sadly, too many Janet and Johns go through much the same experience as Jannet and Jo during their thirteen long years in school, except their widgets are academic national curriculum subjects. Their struggle is with having to memorise excessive amounts of what they see as irrelevant subject knowledge and then being required to regurgitate it again in purely written form, isolated in the examination hall. But despite this their work is tested every day and their faults are identified and commented on by their teachers and ambitious new targets set that they have little chance of meeting. It’s not long before a sense of profound failure sets in, they start to lack confidence, and develop low self-esteem. At the end of eleven years of schooling, something like around half of all children who take the seven EBacc examinations will fail to achieve the expected five good pass ‘floor standard’ grades. And they will then have to stay on at school or go to college for another two years to try again, before many give up completely on education as being something that’s just not for them.

The shame is that if these children also had the opportunity to properly study a wider range of less-academic subjects while at school – such as the creative arts and applied technical and practical problem-solving that helped them develop the life-skills they need – they might just have discovered that they had many other different talents and abilities that they could have developed and excelled at. Of course at the same time these less-academic subjects also need to start to be seen by society – and importantly by politicians and the media – as being just as worthwhile educational experiences as learning everything there is to know about the theory of widget-making.

Meanwhile All Change Please! can’t help wondering if the politicians and media in Jannet and Jo’s parallel universe are any better than they are here on this Earth? By the sound of it, probably not…

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?

The bleak tale of Oliver’s great expectations, twisted

Please, sir,  I want some more lessons in the Creative Arts

Further to the suggestion in Getting high on Classic FM that, in response to the recent Henley Report into Cultural Education in England, nice Mr Gove had ambitions to play the role of a Victorian philanthropist, All Change Please! is proud to present its own somewhat twisted version of that  literary classic Oliver Twist. So, with apologies to the great Mr Dickens, and without further ado…

The Henley Report rose from the table; and advancing to the junior education minister, paintbrush and sketch-pad in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

‘Please, sir, I want some more lessons in the Creative Arts.’

The junior education minister was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The subject associations were paralysed with wonder; the teachers with fear.

‘What!’ said the junior education minister at length, in a faint voice.

‘Please, sir,’ replied the Henley report, ‘I want some more lessons in the Creative Arts.’

The junior education minister aimed a blow at the report’s cover with the ladle; pinioned it in his arm; and shrieked aloud.

The Secretary of State for Education was sitting in solemn conclave, when the junior education minister rushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said,

‘Mr. BumbleGove, I beg your pardon, sir! The Henley Report has asked for more!’

There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.

‘For MORE!’ said Mr BumbleGove. ‘Compose yourself, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that it asked for more, after it had attended the single lesson a week allotted by the EBacc?’

‘It did, sir,’ replied junior education minister.

‘That report will be re-spun,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. ‘I know that report will be re-spun.’

Nobody controverted BumbleGove’s opinion. An animated discussion took place. The report was ordered into instant confinement; and a bill was next morning pasted on the outside of the gate, offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who would take the report off the hands of the parish. In other words, five pounds and the report were offered to any man or woman who wanted an apprentice to any creative trade, business, or calling…

All characters appearing in this work are sadly far from fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely intentional.

The original, remarkably similar text can be read here:

http://charlesdickenspage.com/twist_more.html