Ginnie Stephens, 14 January 2017

In attendance:

Tim X Atack

Sarah Westaway

Jen Lunn

Lizzie Clapham

Really positive conversation which provided a national, as well as local and regional,

perspective; three years down the line from secondary schools' (often early- to flatter

Ofsted accountability) uptake of the EBacc and in light of concerns regarding the

curriculum reform in 11-19 education, with corresponding drastic cuts to (if not total

elimination of) contact hours in arts subjects. Much of the conversation was tangential

and, as such, these notes may or may not necessarily be in the order in which the

issues rose. We defined children as anyone entitled to educational provision; hence

whilst an 18-year-old may be perceived as a young adult, discussion concerned the

through-line of creativity in the infant-FE paradigm.

Arts teaching work is being annually reduced/ drying up in schools for those

traditionally employed as teachers instead of as visiting arts practitioners; for example,

with some teachers being placed on part-time and underpaid contracts not dissimilar

to the zero-hours of retail, or being asked to run departments as a part-time position

which five years ago might have been perceived as a full-time, middle-leader role of

strategic importance to the well-being of students (as well as to the kudos of the

ecosystem of the institutional community context). There is concern about how young

people from less-privileged backgrounds will be exposed to skills in creating/ making,

as opposed to solely consuming, arts activities if this trend continues. The gap is

already having a seismic influence on mental health for young people, who are having

their access to rights for self-expression drastically reduced.

We defined the ironically titled ‘Progress 8’ and discussed how toxic this device is

(national school league tables are no longer based on the percentage of how many

students gain 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, but by how much progress, from their

primary-school-level attainment to their final GCSE grades, every student makes

across their first EIGHT subjects). Many schools will now not even offer an arts

qualification within the first eight options blocks (2 for Maths, 2 for English, 2 or 3 for

Science, a Humanities subject, a language= the subjects considered worthy within

‘Progress 8’). Progress 8 and its effects have already led to the establishment of

brilliant organisations such as Arts Emergency and furthering of 5x5x5=creativity, but it

should not be up to charities and foundations to make up for the lack of top-down

infrastructural support or investment in arts. It seems to be that policy in education is

driven by the cultural experiences and whims of the people in power and is not tailored

to the well-being of future leaders/ makers. Also a conveniently very short-term

memory about previous trends; i.e. a recent conference positing that to teach students

outdoors can be beneficial, when this has been very well documented for thirty years

or more… Finnish educational/ pedagogical trajectories are not always as

revolutionary as we are sometimes led to believe. ‘Progress 8’ has not been explained

adequately to parents/ industry and schools are duty-bound to conform, even though

the result is very much about ‘picking up the pieces’ for children back at the chalk face.

Schools are blanket blaming the Ebacc measure for problems as reported in the

press, where actually in many cases it is their selection/ limitation of wider options

subjects for Progress 8 measurement causing the issue for success in Arts attainment.

These two ‘initiatives’ are being conveniently banded together but true advocates of

excellence in arts have greater flexibility on an institution-by-institution, or MAT

(Multi-Academy-Trust) basis.

We're now in a knowledge/ information-retrieval, not fact-regurgitating age (learning by

rote is largely irrelevant, whereas to challenge and think laterally is a manner mirrored

by our often web-based daily existence… but by rote is so much safer/ accountable for

suits compared with the ephemerality of learning via drama as a living/ breathing

mode). The curriculum is being reined in, with vocabulary such as ‘political’

conspicuous in its absence; for example in Drama A Level there is no longer a need to

demonstrate ‘political’ understanding; this has been de-grouped from its partner

‘social, cultural and historical’ contexts in assignment phrasing. A tiny semantic

change but dangerously symptomatic of wider sanitisation. Furthermore, Devised

theatre is now taught in all 11-19 curricula; this was a great move forwards against the

overwhelming doctrine of literary heritage prevailing (in itself exclusive to those with

less confidence or exposure to literature skills): however, in the new A Level this can

only be credited if overtly built upon a response to an existing play text; there is much

fear at the risk of any actual authentic student expression being the source of

creativity; all must be derivative and accountable according to the approved

practitioner shortlists of exam boards! So, no need for youngsters to have an opinion,

but praise where they can cohere and conform with prevailing mindsets. A return to

the 80s? Again, this is top-down from the QCA rejecting/ editing/ approving new exam

specifications, which were released so late in the last academic year that teachers

could not even adequately prepare before beginning to deliver.

Time and again employers comment that the skills they most cry out for are those

associated with the arts subjects- flexibility, resilience, confident and efficient

communication for varying audiences, lateral thinking, the ability to consider ideas

from alternative perspectives, etc, etc. Where will children access and hone these

skills if not encouraged for all consistently as they frame their wider knowledge?

School is their workplace and we need to better equip children; all the while

acknowledging that play is not an adjunct but an integral and necessary mode of

working throughout life, not just until the age of ten, when the stress of Key Stage 2

SATs tests suspends all notion of any (vital) fun.

Discussion of the Art's Council's ‘Creative Education Challenge’: a call for action which

has been constructed in the wake of the death of ‘Arts in Schools’ and the fantastic

‘Creative Partnerships’. Suggestion that point of strength is in Local Authorities (LAs)

coming together, pulling into educational partnerships; however this is limited by the

extent to which the LAs themselves have been decimated as a result of the

Academisation of schools and loss of umbrella responsibility/ clout for funding school/

projects previously helped by the local council. About finding bridge organisations, but

this is about success on a local level and not about taking national responsibility or an

overview for long-term support. Leeds is one of the few remaining LAs which has the

funding and clout to achieve this.

Managers are not replacing teachers in arts subjects who leave- they simply cannot

afford to because of the schools' wider deficits due to the forced academisation and

subsequent annihilation of local councils as a result of schools being privatised (with

Education having previously been the area responsible for a sizeable proportion of

their funds… casting the rights of children with Special Educational Needs, or those in

rural areas who once had taxis provided to even attend school, being cast entirely

adrift). Headteachers will verbally credit the arts but they are always the first areas

where contact hours are cut, to make way for Core subjects and overwhelmingly poor

progress with basic numeracy and literacy, which is understandable but regrettable.

The arts are not ‘enrichment’; they are are basic right. The JAMs are being ignored;

e.g. in Teesside arts teachers no longer even have the privilege of considering lofty

virtue of their crafts; the basic funds available instead are directed to providing food

and minibuses to actually enable children to attend in the first place. Totally linked to

the glib naiveté of the Foodbank mindset; Loach doing Corbyn's work, etc etc.

Who are we to be the gatekeepers of what is good and bad cultural provision anyway?

Dangers of a pseudo-post-colonial mindset in that it is not for the middle classes to be

the arbiters of taste for those less privileged. If cultural needs are met by hours of

streaming videos or playing video games interacting with an online society, or making

amazing music via Garageband while avoiding formal qualifications such as GCSE

Music at all costs, arts provision should not be used as another propaganda tool in

anti-government backlash; however, just as with the proliferation of bullying via social

networks, we have a duty to expose children to modes of safe practice through

modelling; i.e. learning the rules and then breaking them, in order to provide

contextual frameworks for understanding the potential impact of their creative output.

All of this has been flagged before by practitioners as brilliant as Keith Johnstone,

Dorothy Heathcote, Ken Robinson. When will their times truly come in terms of

influence on educational policy- no coincidence that some of the most brilliant insights

have arrived from experts who have felt bound to relocate out of the UK in order to

evolve… Who is governmentally really on our side- Hunt is joining us at V&A- where

are our strategic spokespeople? Commercial companies such as Digital Theatre Plus?

Some primary school teachers receive only one hour of training to teach the arts

across their whole PGCE course. From the outset the arts are apologised for; as came

up in an earlier session today, even free-to-host initiatives which practitioners offer to

schools (often at severe financial loss to artists, unless couched under the remit of

very specific ‘issues-based’ projects, which councils will still fund in panicked

response, showing off their support of educating the masses about the dangers of

taking drugs, etc- the margin of such projects being creatively limiting and often


are often turned down. The costs of even providing Cover teachers whilst the main

teachers are hosting events are too expensive for schools to sanction. Work designed

for an intimate class of thirty as audience is instead staged for 250, as showing/

workshopping it to a whole year group is the only way for the school to demonstrate

equal opportunities and avoid parental complaint… obviously limiting the impact and

potential resonances for deeper learning.

We reminded ourselves to not be blanket-alarmist about the situation, but to consider

it from a point of informed anger.

End note: in the current calamitous context, how do we continue to foster excellence

for all? This definitely remains an open space.

Images attached of our notes. Many thanks to all of the participants for their generous

input, insight, time, viewpoint-sharing, active listening and creative expertise. We were

small in number today but representative of a very much bigger concern, which is

perhaps better represented within the main educational sector than this

content-inspiring-arts-community at present. There is hope we can be more fluidly

united; as our battles for the basic rights of creative expression for all, and the ability to

take risks without pre-empting defined results, are ultimately one.



Drama, crisis, young people, class, Arts, creativity, Young People, Children, ART,

ART, Art, music, Class, Young people, education, art, Progress 8, Accountability,

Ebacc, Creative Rights, Curriculum Reform, Crisis, Creativity, arts, Education, Politics,

accountability, children, drama, politics, Music