Something that you may or may not know about me is that I have recently taken on the role of school governor, well, we are actually called Directors at this school. It was a decision I made because of the wonderful work they had done with my son who has autism, because my daughter was joining Year 7, I had a little spare time and I thought it would be nice to give something back. I only attended my first board meeting in December but so far I am enjoying the role. I have been asked to have responsibility for Food Technology and Textiles, two subjects I would like to think I know a thing or two about!
Yesterday I went into school to meet with the Director of Learning for the Technology Department, or in other words, the Head of Department. The meeting didn’t get off to the best of starts considering they couldn’t find the lady for half an hour and then she left me waiting a further 20 minutes! Eventually she collected me and we had a tour around the technology department. Some very large Year 11 children were busy at work, both in the kitchens cooking for a GCSE assessment, and also in the workshops where there was lots of cutting, hammering and welding going on. But the textiles rooms? Deserted. The walls were half bare too. I was shocked and saddened to hear that not one single child had chosen textiles as one of their options.
Apparently one of the reasons for this could be that the project they complete in Year 9 before they choose their GCSEs is not exactly enthusing the children. They make a bag in Year 7, a cushion cover in Year 8 but in Year 9 they make a fabric postcard which even the staff admit isn’t very interesting. Why can’t we offer them something like a simple quilting project which can be VERY addictive? So I decided to look into this further.
Simply by doing a Google search I found a few articles and papers written about the decline in creative subjects within schools. Primary children get very little chance to make things, as evidenced by a lesson I taught as a supply teacher recently where not one Year 4 child in a class of 29 knew what to do when I gave them a needle and thread!
One of the best articles I read on this was by the Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/feb/11/design-craft-subjects-decline-in-schools in which it is clear that Educational policy is one of the reasons for the decline. A few years ago the EBac was introduced which placed a greater emphasis on ‘academic’ subjects rather than those that are more artistic and creative. GCSEs have recently gone through change from being all about getting ‘5GCSEs at A* – C including English and Maths’ to a ‘Best 8’ system which turns grades into numbers and gives a student an average points score similar to the American system.
It works like putting all subjects into three boxes. My Year 9 son will have to study English Literature and Language and Maths which will go into the first box and be double weighted in this new points system. He will have other compulsory lessons such as PE but will end up with room on his timetable for just three options. One of these MUST be from science, computing, history, geography or a language – basically traditional EBac subjects and they will go in the second box. The final two choices will be from any of the subjects the school offers, but if a child chooses two creative subjects they could possibly end up in a situation where only one will count towards the final points, leaving the other as a zero score and the child with a potential deficit in their overall points. This will put them at a disadvantage compared to a child who choses more academic subjects and thereby gains a higher points average. And of course all this has an impact on the school league tables too which has led to some schools leaving children with only one choice of subject at GCSE in order to maximise the potential for points.
All of this seems to be in a complete juxtaposition of what is happening if you look at community courses, or adult education. There has been a significant growth in the number of adults enrolling for evening classes in creative areas. People are choosing to spend their free time and hard earned money on anything from knitting to flower arranging. This could lead to craft based skills only being available to those people who can afford to learn them. How will that impact on already disadvantaged families?
Something that also came up in my reading is the growing evidence of increased childhood depression. More and more young adults are needing help with their mental health, they are suffering from stress placed on them to achieve in their exams. Suicide rates continue to increase and there seems to be a new story in the news every week about the lack of funding in the NHS for mental health, especially for young adults. There has been studies into this and it has been proven that increased creativity can reduce depression, stress and anxiety. Are we doing our children a huge injustice by taking away their creative outlets and replacing them with yet more academia and stress?
We also need to consider the long term life choices that could be affected by what the children can study at school. When I was taking my GCSEs our school didn’t have a textiles teacher, and so it wasn’t offered as an option. Something which has always bothered me as I am pretty sure that my career choices would have been very different if I had been able to work with materials from a much younger age. So can you imagine my horror this morning when I discovered that the school I am now a Director of, with a responsibility that includes textiles, is not offering it as an option to the current Year 9 children for one of their Year 10 subjects!
I would love to hear your views on this, do you have any ideas or comments? Do you have children in this position? Would they like to do more creative things in school?
I feel like I need to do something about this. It may already be too late for those children going into Year 10 in September, but what about future generations? And one last thing to ponder, I did hear a rumour that the government is now trying to make PE lessons less practical too – where will this all stop?