Recently I have read a great deal on Art Education. I have been trying to get to the bottom of how art should be taught in schools and I've been hit with the idea that there is no easy solution to the teaching of art. I have looked high and low for the Singapore Arts Curriculum, or KTC to painting, but people don't seem to be invested in making money out of arts education.
Is it because we have come so far from our traditional values in primary education that we no longer teach art or is it that the knowledge economy doesn't value artistic and creative people? When I hear a primary school headteacher telling me that primary education is to prepare children for tests, I can but shake my head and wonder. I used to think that being a headteacher was being the brightest and the best, but I fear that some heads think they are a middle manager of a company that produces literate and mathematically functioning individuals, prepared for the life in the 21st century of testing.
This is what I have found about arts education. Firstly, it isn't straight forward, the beliefs I have, and assumptions were challenged and after consideration some of my ideas were wrong. I think as a school, you have to commit to a 'theory of art'.
I have found 6 ideas for the teaching of art:
Technocratic Art (South Kensington Approach) where art is taught through a series of skills which value manual dexterity and coordination and is taught through a disciplined and reproductive style.
Child Art Movement (sometimes named after Franz Cizek) which saw art as a natural development governed by a child's physical and psychological growth and had at its core, unbridled expression.
Aligned to this but not the same is Art as an Expression, if you will, a release of the subconscious, which valued freedom to conquer a complex world; putting the individual in a unique therapeutic place. Then we move to the 80s where the economic rationalists began to takeover art and the teaching of art and art was seen as something which was to be observed, planned, created, developed, reflected upon and evaluated.
Arts as an Aesthetic response. Embedded in this idea is that culture and civilisation are transmitted from generation to generation and to be civilised, in and of itself, is a sign of class. The knowledge of painters, styles and movements are visible emblems where someone can show to the outside world their background. As a consequence the teaching of art could be used to narrow the gap with class differences. The next question would be which culture is one trying to transmit-a Bangladeshi middle class one or a Pakistani working class one? A white British middle class one or a euro centric working class one?
Arts as Symbols and Mediator of Social Change is where a manifesto could be used in forward thinking schools, to use the art curriculum to embed democratic values, to challenge crass thinking and to unify all the previous ideas.
Post modernism which is how is life lived and reflected upon by great minds with the proliferation of images, expanding horizons, the shrinking of the world, multiple differences in the idea of culture, relativism, more cognisance of the privilege of the art world, computerisation, hyper reality and ideas about what culture actually is when we can enhance images, falsify news, define beauty in an individual's terms, and in terms of Facebook, Instagram, snapchat. We have become authors in our own play as we become increasingly atomised, do we define our own culture, are we lived pieces of art?
My conclusions are like with any good piece of research are unclear, I have more questions than answers, as a consequence, i will follow and put this information to our intellectually able for them to decipher what it means to teach art at Medway Primary.
When reading 'Don't send him in tomorrow', I came across a quote from Hubert Humphrey, former Vice President of America, 'It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped'.
We have an expression in our school that coincides with ' The shadows of Life', which is shining a light in to the darkness, it is an expression I used when setting up our Community, Family and welfare Team. This hard working team of 4 people sometimes work with the disadvantaged or the dispossessed or the disenfranchised. They sometimes work with the lost, the last or the least. They also work with the looked after or the looked over and sometimes with all of these at once.
What I do know is that this light is a bright beaming beacon, supporting children to attain good outcomes. Since its beginning it has helped 30 families to navigate the sometimes choppy waters that life brings. This great bunch of people inspire me daily and give a moral purpose to all Medway's work.
A different approach to leadership
When I was a young man, making my way in my career, I used to have to listen in staff meetings to relevant 'clap trap' from senior members of staff. This CPD was unasked for and to my mind gave an insight into how poor these senior leaders must have been at teaching.
When I became a senior leader myself, I decided to ask people what they wanted. Most people don't have a fear of freedom, most people want to be treated as active participants in managing a school, so most people agreed that the way forward was to divest more power to teachers to make decisions and in a clumsy phrase, re-professionalise them.
Teachers at Medway are responsible for their own planning. No scheme. No Singapore Maths. No KTC. That isn't to say that we don't follow some schemes that need a robust and systematic approach such as phonics acquisition. Teachers decide their own CPD in small groups. At one time, in our school, there can be as many as 6 CPD meetings happening.
Teachers are given time to read and follow a masters programme, if they choose, which is paid for by the school. NQTs can lead sessions where they have an expertise. The marking policy is decided in phases. Scrutinies of work are done by teachers themselves and phase leaders manage their teams data.
What then you may ask, do I do? In short I lead. Medway has an innovative curriculum, interesting projects, exciting initiatives and well rounded personnel. These things didn't happen by accident. My job is to ensure barriers to success are removed, that we don't follow the wrong pathway and get lost and that people are developed to become self-evaluative practitioners.
I am not arrogant enough to suggest my ways are better than others, but unlike others, I am willing to adapt and change my style. Rather than leading from the front, it's about leadership of everyone.
Bullying takes so many forms and whereas I agree with the argument for it being persistent, harmful words, casually tossed, cause a great deal of anxiety to our young.
I found it odd whilst reading the other day, that someone had killed somebody for being a snitch. The victim who had told the authorities, was reporting on a terrible crime and yet the language of acceptance seems to provide a framework that calling someone a grass or snitch ensures the perpetrator has some justification for their violent conduct.
Everywhere bullies hide. Every shadow, the bully does their work. We must be vigilant and shine light into the darkness. We must encourage our children to tell, whether they are being bullied or whether they are a bystander. We should celebrate it.
How does it become so important in a child's life that somebody could bully them and silence them by commentating that they are a 'snitch' or a 'grass'?
At our school, we are de-valuing the words and placing the importance on telling when someone is doing something nasty to you or others. We have posters around the school with slogans such as 'snitch for the greater good' and ''grassing is good, if it helps those in need'.
If you look on our twitter page and our gallery, you will see our 'Friendly Faces' (Anti-Bullying Squad) being supported by Geronimo Stilton during Anti-Bullying Week.
It was an honour to meet a real life hero on Friday, Ted Bootle. At the assembly our pupils spoke a great deal about fighting for freedom. A phrase that needs unpicking. I wear my poppy with pride because I think it exhibits a great deal about our country. A country that fought for freedom, not knowing where that freedom ends. A country at the time that didn't have an equalities act, that didn't have a great deal of immigration and a country that was separated from Europe. But those honourable people, like Ted, sacrificed their young adulthoods to protect that idea. So when I gaze around our school, and identify the values our children exhibit, I know that when I wear my poppy, those brave people did not sacrifice in vain.
As a staff, we have been suspicious of Growth Mindset as some of us remember headteachers of the past: extolling the virtues of brain gym; left brain thinking; VAK; VCOP; The 5 Rs ; multiple intelligences and drinking water in a specific way! Therefore any 'fad' receives short shrift at Medway.
Growth Mindset is a brilliant insight with strong evidence that some people believe in a fixed IQ. That is Carol Dweck's view point, and I agree. What I don't agree is that if teachers say to children, 'You haven't achieved this yet', this is a natural progression from Carol Dweck's position. Carol Dweck does not comment on attitudes to learning.
Our schools position is that achievement begats motivation, therefore if a teacher spends time planning a lesson which is involving and engaging, modelled and scaffolded, assessed keenly and fed back purposefully, then the achievement the child experiences will encourage that child to produce better work.
Instead of assemblies about how children can achieve if they try just a little bit harder, more assemblies should be about what they have achieved and what they can do next.
Marking and Assessment
Our school has started a conversation regarding marking and workload. We have come from the point that feedback should move learning forward and importantly mean more work for the recipient of the feedback than the donor.
What has moved my learning forward is how we motivate children to want feedback. If we believe some children have the opinion that their IQ is fixed, comments regarding their feedback will not be well received.
How do we build with our children a culture where they embrace continual improvement? One way is simply to state, I as a teacher have high standards and I know you can match them. It is important to note here that Carol Dweck's work on Growth Mindset, only pertains to IQ not to attitude. Children who are in our school are definitely, easily convinced that the more effort they produce, the better their outcome, which is why Growth Mindset doesn't appear in our curriculum. This doesn't mean we disregard Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset, it just doesn't seem that relevant.
To return to marking, we are trialling different ways of assessing. One cohort is marking in a detailed fashion (25%), 25% is skim marked, 25% is peer assessed and 25% is self-assessed with the teacher overseeing the judgement. In other classes, whole class feedback is given when the teacher identifies the errors or misconceptions that commonly appear. Some classes mark by evaluating 3 pieces of good work and then critically assessing them.
After these have been trialled, Sarah Hill (an outstanding year 6 teacher) will draw up a marking policy which works for the teachers and the learners.