Yesterday I attended NEATEN meeting held at BALTIC . I am not a secondary school art teacher (I’m an artist and art educator) I felt it was vital to hear about the impact Michael Gove’s top down approach has had on art education at all levels (primary to postgraduate) .
This post is not an exhaustive summary of the event but it highlights some key points.
Who Attended the Meeting
The panel consisted of Chris Horn (Primary Head Teacher Designate), Paul Sampson (Secondary Head Teacher), Lesley Butterworth (General Secretary Designate of NSEAD National Society for Education in Art and Design), Sharon Hodgson (Shadow Education Team and MP for Washington and Sunderland West), Susan Young (Art and Design Advisor- Edexcel) and Arthur Raymond (Secondary Head Teacher).
In the front row we had Alex Ashton (PGCE course leader, Cumbria), Jim Bradley (Durham LA Subject Inspector for Art), Joe Woodhouse (Sunderland University Foundation), Libbie Hastie and Nicole Jenkinson (a Fine Art and a Photography students at Sunderland Uni), Sophie Cole (PGCE course Leader Northumbria University), Karen Davies (Artist and Baltic‘s University and CPD Programmer) and Helen Burns (Creativity, Culture and Education, formerly Creative Partnerships).
There were approximately 100 attendees possibly more (made up largely of secondary art teachers but also including artists and art educators)… in other words there was a big turnout. Some had come straight from schools others had been out on strike (The industrial action relates to safeguarding the teachers pension scheme after all the National Audit Office confirmed that the Teachers” Pension Scheme is already sustainable following the revisions made in 2007. You can read about here).
What was the event about?
Susan Coles wrote
“THE BARBARIANS ARE INSIDE THE GATE….” The main part of our meeting will be an open debate on “The current state of, and the future of, art craft and design education in the UK”
I left the meeting feeling art teachers and NSEAD are doing a good job of advocating the importance of art and design education but sadly Gove’s plans are already having a negative impact. It will be hard to reverse the damage…
- Sharon Hodgson described how some parents/guardians are trying to force schools to allow children to change their options a year into their GCSEs so they achieve the E-Bacc (English Baccalaureate). Teachers are trying to encourage children not to change but it demonstrates the importance parents are placing on the retrospectively enforced E-bacc and league tables. I felt Arthur Raymond made a very strong point for teachers arguing about how and what is measured, he emphasized that accountability is important, but some measures are not beneficial.
- Lesley Butterworth described how only an estimated 25% of the school population could easily achieve the E-Bacc so we are setting up 75% of school children to fail. My philosophy is that education is about giving as many opportunities to succeed and excel as possible, not labeling learners as either not ‘academic’ or failures. The performance tables for 2010 which shows the retrospective application of the E-bacc criteria make interesting reading here. The average number of candidates attaining the E-bacc in South Tyneside in 2010 is 4.3%, Newcastle upon Tyne is 13.9%, Hartlepool is 7.7% and Sunderland is 8.8%… over the next couple of years those percentages are likely to incrase but I personally know many good schools where the E-Bacc percentages make it look like they aren’t doing very well.
- Already some schools are reducing the size of their art departments and encouraging students to choose courses within the umbrella of the E-bacc (perhaps by only placing creative subjects/ subjects outside the remit of the Ebac in fewer option blocks that means subjects like art and design, textiles, photography, music, performing arts, drama, Information Technology, Business Studies, PE, Religious Education, mixed short course etc ) NSEAD have carried out a survey about the impact of the E-Bacc on schools now you can see the research carried out in March 2011 here.
- By 2015 education in the UK will be compulsory until the age of 18 you can read the Green Paper called Raising Expectations here.
However, in the short term, head teachers provided anecdotal evidence that the numbers staying on in sixth form or going to college had fell dramatically probably due in part to the cut in EMA and the raised University tuition fees. This means as well as less children opting for arts at GCSE level, less will opt for As A2 level, fewer for foundation, fewer for BA level…
- Sophie Cole and Alex Ashton reported how PGCE courses and other Teacher Trainning routes are being scaled back. If the degradation of teacher training continues the likelihood is that future art teachers will be more likely to be trained by non-subject specialists. I think this in combination with the move is to make schools become ‘training academies’ (or whatever the correct term is) will remove some of the academic/research emphasis and possibly marginalize the professionalism of teachers. Other professions train at universities where they can get on overview of the context they are working in and are in some ways slightly further removed from the politics of the day. Isn’t this what we want for teachers? I trained at Northumbria University and certainly use the very current skills, knowledge and understanding of pedagogy in the educational workshops I run as freelancer. On a personal note I am disheartened that a course that is rated as outstanding (the evidence is here) doesn’t have a certain future.
- There are already redundancies and cuts in Further and Higher education institutions. Arts courses at colleges and universities are closing. Susan Young suggested Michael Gove had moved significantly from his initial position but based on what he said change is happening now. Sharon Hodgson also argued that whilst his position may have softened in the media in Parliament he still seemed resolutely to stand by his initial vision. Paul Sampson raised the interesting point that he could foresee in the future other subjects being included in the E-bacc so attainment would increase and the Government could announce they’d raised standards! An interesting point which makes political sense if not educational sense.
One thing I hadn’t considered were declining school rolls raised by Susan Young. It does make me fearful that subjects will be taught by non-suject specialists as the 11-18 population decreases. Perhaps schools and NSEAD should be researching the best ways to manage part-time staff in order to ensure the highest levels of knowledge and professionalism
Has my own Ideology Changed in Response to the E-Bacc
In short NO! A couple of months ago Susan Coles posted this link here. Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for Schools, Department for Education defends the criticisms against the E-Bacc (originally it was a transcript… adding the video but keeping the transcript would have been super useful) In response I wrote…
“If you talk to people like the Russell Group, they have implicitly been saying that they would regard those sort of subjects that are in the English Baccalaureate as the best preparation for going to a Russell Group university. That is the incentive.” Good reason to overhaul the education system for the entire pupil population then?!
Erm hang on their website says “Students can choose from a wide range of internationally renowned courses – from medical, biological and physical sciences to business, social sciences and the humanities.”
Whillst Mr Gibb goes on that the humanities is defined as Geography and History in The definition of a humanity in the 2006 Act I’m pretty sure that the Russel groups universities recognise the humanities in a broader sense… still if this is the justification it seems wrongheaded. If the Russell Group want better filtering for their universities and courses they need to change their admission procedures not confuse parents and guardians by adding more ‘performance measures’ to league tables which send out the signal these are what your child should study to become a successful member of society.
I would have got an E-bacc because I choose subjects that happen to fall into it but just because I was happy doing those subjects doesnt mean other people were. Its a great way to disenfranchise a lot of individuals because I really feel for the majority you should be making school a happy, challenging and personally interesting place.
We should not be creating an education system based on Michael Gove‘s personal ideology that appears to come from a gut feeling rather than research and evidence. We are meant to be taking education forward to prepare people for a world we can’t imagine, visualize or predict… we need next practice not old practice.
What to do next
If you are at all interested in this please see Susan Coles website Artcrimes.
If you are an artist, arts educator or teacher (primary or secondary) or lecturer you could also join the NEATEN (North East Art Teachers and Educators) Network on Facebook here. Also do consider joining NSEAD and keep upto date with the National Curriculum Review here.
I really hope that Baltic were able to document this even and that we can send an edited highlights to Michael Gove along with the questions we wrote!
If you are a parent/guardian with a child approaching their options I would encourage you to listen to what your child wants to do and discuss it with them. Giving them a chance to enjoy and succeed by picking options they are best will help your child develop the confidence, skills, knowledge and understanding they need to do well in the changing world.
If they do pick an art subject this might help them into one of the 2 million jobs directly and indirectly in the creative industries (The Creative Sector is one of the most rapidly expanding sectors of the economy click here). Studying art will also develop their higher level thinking skills that can be beneficial across a massive range of careers and is really useful for entrepreneurs.
I feel thats how most of the parents/guardians I have talked to will be approaching it but think its easy to think the E-bacc is the next big important thing.
I believe that if your child intends on going to university a good personal statement is as important as the subjects they have studied at GCSE. Their A levels (or equivalent) of course must be relevant but by then your child will be better placed to know what they may like to do. Make sure you tell your schools how much you appreciate all the subjects.
If you’re in year 9 (a pupil/student/learner) listen to the advice of those round you but just go for it (sounds a bit corny!). Try and pick the things you enjoy if you can because you’re more likely to succeed at them . At 13 I thought I wanted to be a primary school teacher and almost took history over design technology just because I knew it was a ‘core’ subject in primary schools. I’m not a primary teacher and I use some of the skills I started to develop doing DT in my own business designing, making and selling greeting cards. I could never have predicted that!