Category Archives: Opinions & Reactions

Staff and research students react to recent education events/research/publications

Opinions: The Dangers of Pay-to-Play

Pac-Man is an international game symbol like no other, having remained in our popular consciousness since the early days of arcade games. In this thought provoking post, Dr Alex Wade explores the broad societal impact of ‘pay-to-play’ mechanisms. With this in mind, we might therefore what the implications of such structures might be for an increasingly marketised education sector? 

Yellow. Eyeless. Endlessly hungry. Pac-Man might seem an unlikely cultural icon but, over his 40-year career, he’s morphed into various versions of himself, starred in more than 30 games, spawned an animated TV series and created a million-selling single.

This kind of staying power doesn’t spring from nowhere. Toru Iwatani, the great Japanese game developer and creator of Pac-Man, purposefully set out to make a game that could appeal to women and men in equal measure, a radical aim in a games landscape dominated by the militaristic, even masculine, pursuits of shooting and defending the world from alien attack. But Pac-Man’s enduring popularity and sunny nature hides something darker: its pay-to-play model speaks to our times. Everyone’s invited. Everyone can play. It’s fun. But there’s a cost.

Iwatani’s desire to broaden Pac-Man’s appeal can be seen in its design. The grid-like patterns are evocative of the mazes of early-modern England and ancient Greece, supposedly a ‘safe place’ where the role of women/the feminine is often essential to success. For example, in Athens’ labyrinth, Ariadne weaponises Theseus by giving him a sword to kill the Minotaur. Ariadne also provides Theseus with a ball of thread so that he can find his way out. In doing so, she provides a literal and literary escape from the maze and from the monster’s monomania.

 As players munch their way through the 240 dots that comprise the Pac-Man maze, they encounter four power-pills that enable our hero to chow down on scared blue ghosts. Players are urged to escape back to a safe place with their lives intact, echoing modern fairytales: like Ariadne’s ball of thread and Pac-Man’s dots, breadcrumbs are used in the fairytale Hansel and Gretel to guide the siblings to safety. The eating of the breadcrumbs by other animals demonstrates the difficulty of staying safe in a literal and literary state-of-nature. The experimentation and adventure which Hansel and Gretel toy with, a theme common to the safe places of games, can, in itself, border on the gamble of stepping outside of the normal boundaries of everyday life and into the maze which permeates these narratives and structures of games.

But if you’re quick and clever and eat your power-ups at the right time, you can vanquish these ghosts and monsters with adroitness of thought, feminine maturity and child-like inventiveness. Tucked up in bed, listening to the story of loss in Hansel and Gretel, the place where we feel safest is also the arena where we look to challenge the boundaries of that safety. Usually (but not always), there is a happy ending, akin to the experience of Pac-Man operating in the face of insurmountable odds, limited resources and hostile environments.

Here’s where Pac-Man becomes something more – consider Cold War capitalism in the West. A rise in living standards was closely allied to the development of microprocessor technologies used in everything from missile guidance systems to magnetic resonance imagers to arcade games. The Minotaur of Communism was held in check by spending on the warfare state. This thread of global protection against the threat of global destruction was weaved into individual safety nets in Western European countries in the shape of the welfare state. It provided protection to the populace of Western countries against the everyday threats of disease and destitution. This was seen in state spending on universal education, health services and shelter for all.

Yet this came at a price. If you want to get a high score on Pac-Man, you’ve got to follow the game’s rules and objectives. As Martin Amis notes, the “longer a player can play, the more points he can earn, and the more clout he has in the competitive social environment of the arcade”. This notion of competition attained through thriftiness and skill applied equally to the wider social, ethical and political system.

And where better to see the ultimate results of that competition than that post-Cold War capitalism’s spaces of consumption, the mall? While the space Pac-Man occupies is classical in its structure and narrative, it has an equal and parallel orientation towards the modern world. Frictionless and contactless, the smooth spaces that allow Pac-Man to move around the labyrinth away from monsters and spectres resemble the happy, mapped-out shopping centre with its wide concourses and smooth, shiny spaces floors. There is no natural light here, and no time, though there are many signposts telling you where to go to buy. You become something akin to Pac-Man on a power pill, temporarily and irrepressibly able to munch through goods and crunch through credit with the end, both entrance and exit, hidden from the consumer’s view.

But the comedown can be hard to face. It’s easy to get into a shopping centre, but hard to leave. The satisfaction of shopping is almost always accompanied by the slight niggle that, like the classical labyrinth itself, there is something mortal left in the centre of consumption when the red thread of money, or of blood, runs dry.

The means to play Pac-Man mirror an economic model with a high price to pay. In the amusement arcades of the 1980s, where, with tenacity and dedication, one coin could be made to last all day, hard work was rewarded by extended play. (‘I got a pocketful of quarters and I’m headed to the arcade/I don’t have a lot of money but I’m bringing everything I made’, run the opening lines of Pac-Man Fever.) For the children who grew up in the arcades of the 1980s, this is normal and normed behaviour. Want to play? You have to pay.

But for the late 1990s meritocracies of Europe and America, where these children became adults, the pay-to-play economic model was adopted wholesale: a necessary bargain of citizenship were that rights and responsibilities were in check and balance. If you have no job, you have to work at getting one. You have a right to smoke, but a responsibility not to in public. The idea of the umbrella protection of the welfare and warfare state was left behind. Everyone had to eke out that pocketful of quarters and if you didn’t have enough, tough luck: you clearly wasted them elsewhere. Less was more. More must be done with less. This pay-to-play model has had a permanent and tragic legacy, the results of which are being felt today and stretch far into the future.

Now, in our current state of post-Cold War capital, many of the mazes of consumption are open only to individuals who have the code to enter them. Like the initials on a high score table, only those with enough currency to Insert Coin have access to the games that reward the pay-to-play model found in the exorbitant fees of higher education, healthcare plans and private pensions. The enjoyable, if empty, thrill of the modern-day power pill – clothes shopping, the absent amnesia of online purchasing, the post-splurge latte – all these are obtainable by consumers with the requisite credit rating and zeroes in their current account.

For others, who do not possess the code or currency of pay-to-play, there are other mazes to explore. These are not smooth, or easy to move through. There are the endless grids of forms to be filled out for benefits applications. The phone mazes to be negotiated by employment support ‘candidates’. The mesmerising morass of payday loans and the monster-like enforcement of debt repayment.

Most pertinent are those mazes of social housing. That idea, founded at the beginning of the Cold War where the doctor could live next door to the baker, the barber next to the coroner, soon found itself abandoned by the individual pursuit of wealth and state neglect on an industrial scale. The pedestrian-friendly paths became rat-runs for drug dealers: Pac-Men chomping on pills, erratically avoiding the ghostly blue police: the wide open green public spaces a site for the fly-tipping of refuse. Detritus is most widely distributed where money is not. Most chillingly are those spaces between the rich and the poor: the cavities in the cladding where flames are free to channel, but people, trapped in a labyrinth not of their own making, could not escape from.

These are the pay-to-play models where no amount of currency can buy abstinence from the systematic failure of every one of us to Insert Coin into the slots of poverty. These are the spaces that are a shame to us all. There is no happy ending at the end of this maze. Instead, there is the realisation that by not fulfilling a responsibility that we all have to each other to provide safe places for everyone, we have created dangerous spaces from which there is no exit.

Iwatani’s motivation for Pac-Man was to make the game as inclusive as possible, irrespective of age, race, religion, gender. All were invited. The cost was the pay-to-play model. The question we must ask ourselves is, as those labyrinths of despair are cleared from Kingston-on-Hull to Kingston-on-Thames, what game do we go to next? Will we be haunted by the ghosts of the pay-to-play past, or create a safe place of a better tomorrow?

Alex Wade is Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences at BCU. His book, The Pac-Man Principle: A User’s guide to Capitalism is to be released by Zero Books at the end of 2017.

Educational Excellent: Freedom or Straight Jacket?

Written by Ian Axtell, Subject Leader for Music Education, Secondary Partnership Coordinator, @IanAxtell

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There is some very powerful rhetoric in the Education White Paper: Educational Excellence Everywhere. Who cannot warm to the ideas that educational excellence is for everyone and that schools and teachers should have the freedom to teach in the manner which is most appropriate for their pupils? But, how can you ensure there is excellence for every pupil if teachers and schools have the freedom to teach how they like? The answer in the White Paper is to make sure that teaching and learning can be measured using easily quantifiable outcomes. The processes of teaching and learning, the pedagogy underpinning how we make subjects accessible to pupils, no longer seems to be important as long as pupils can pass the test. Schools and individual teachers will be held accountable for how well their pupils pass these tests, tests that have been devised by the government.

Is this real freedom?

The WScreen shot 2016-04-06 at 11.43.29hite Paper indicates that the focus will be on embedding existing reforms to the accountability measures in education. This might come as a relief to those of us who have been in education for over 30 years where the standards debate has seen a gradual increase in the pace of reform. However, recent reforms have further emphasised accountability measures, linking them to pay and conditions and restricting pupils to the range and scope of subjects with which they can engage. Is this in the interest of teachers and pupils? Schools and teachers will now be held accountable for the number of children who pass academic subjects highlighted in the Ebacc. In effect, the White Paper supports the idea that:

Being academic (focusing on theory) = educational excellence.

It is interesting that the place of theory has been questioned when it comes to teacher education (DfE, 2010) but appears to be the priority when it comes to pupils’ learning. Focusing on academic education addresses the assertion that “knowledge matters” and

“the ability to think demands a basic knowledge of the thing about which one is thinking”(Woodhead in Kitchen, 2014: xi)

but in many tests the focus is on knowledge recall rather than promoting thinking. Knowledge and knowing go beyond recalling facts. Testing facts can provide a limited and even distorted picture of what a person knows and understands. Measuring the recall of facts consigns people to think in a particular ways about particular knowledge suggesting compliance and conformity rather than creativity and individuality (worryingly compliarb5255_Education-SecondaryArtnce and conformity underpin many forms of extremism that exist in our world today). Testing facts looks backwards rather than forwards and ignores the potential for pupils to contribute their own creative thinking. Pupils need access to knowledge but they also need opportunities to share their own personal perspectives, experiences, aptitudes and capabilities related to that knowledge.

We have always had tests and always will. They can provide a helpful snapshot of what a person might know at a particular time in a particular place but there are other forms of summative assessment. The most rewarding teaching experiences I have had are when knowledge is used as a catalyst to promote thinking. It is more difficult to measure thinking but infinitely more engaging for the learner:

“the unexamined life is not worth living for the human being” (Socrates from Plato’s Apology in Hetherington, 2012: 31).

Thinking is: “the highest and perhaps purest activity of which men are capable” (Arendt, 1958: 5).

If pupils are just taught how to pass the test rather than to use knowledge to promote thinking then they become automatons that expect to be told what to do and say. They lose the potential to develop a sense of their own individual identify. The process of acquiring knowledge through thinking is engaging and empowering. When this thinking involves metacognition it can provide the skills and aspiration to acquire further knowledge:

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking” (Dewey, 1916, p.181).

This is real freedom.

References:

  • Arendt, H. (1958) The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education. New York: MacMillan.
  • DfE (2010) The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper 2010. London: Crown Copyright.
  • Hetherington, S. (ed.) (2012) Epistemology: Key Thinkers. London: Continuum.
  • Kitchen W. H. (2014) Authority and the Teacher. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

 

 

Pupil Premium, Academisation and Governance

Written by Dr. Rob Smith, Reader in Education, @R0b5m1th

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Rob spoke on Radio WM during Adrian Goldberg’s show on the 30th March 2016 8am about pupil premium in the light of recent Perry Beeches. BBC WM

The pupil premium policy provides an example of tensions that are at the heart of English education policy at the moment. To start with there are the market structures of competition between different schools. With this marketisation comes a centralised model of governance through data (see for example, Ozga 20
09
). Schools are required to produce data so that their “pData1erformance” in relation to other schools can be compared. As we know, the consequences of this emphasis on performance data include a narrowing of the curriculum consequent on teaching to the test and the gaming of data. The problem with marketisation is that we may expect schools to be run public-mindedly, in the spirit of meeting all students’ needs, with a public service ethic, but the landscape in which they operate forces them to focus their efforts on being a viable financial institution with a staff drilled in the production of favourable performance data.

The academisation of all schools by 2020 is a further consolidation of the same policy of marketisation. The principle underlying this is that competition “is the rising tide that lifts all boats” (Willetts) – in other words the unfounded notion that competition is a like a force of nature that raises standards in every institution. In my view, this is a wildly one-sided view of the impact of marketisation. But it is important to note that academisation facilitates a more direct funding relationship between schools and central government.

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Within this marketised policyscape, the pupil premium policy is a redistributive policy that acknowledges the link between household income and educational attainment (see Lupton and Thomson 2015, here). In other words, the pupil premium policy is designed to address social justice in education. Pupil Premium is an amount of money (around £1000 per student p.a. in secondary) that is paid to schools based on census data they gather about the househoMeasuring1ld income of individual students’ families. The implication is clear: schools with additional financial resources are in a better position to meet the needs of those students and in so doing to address the inequality in attainment that currently seems to exist.

Now here’s the tension:

What happens when a policy that seeks to tackle social injustice is nested within an overall cultural environment of institutional self-interest?

In the last few weeks, we may have been provided with some answers in the Perry Beeches saga.

Perry Beeches was a shining example of the success of Free School and academisation policies. The principle underlying these policies are that academy chains provide a better template for raising student attainment and that local authority governance of schools needs to end. The performance of Perry Beeches 1 and 2 appeared to provide evidence for this claim. It was only with the poor inspection result of Perry Beeches 3 last summer that the success story started to unravel. This was followed in October 2015, by allegations to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) that Perry Beeches the Academy (Perry Beeches 1) “had recorded pupils on the annual census entitled to receive FSM where no entitlement existed” (EFA 2016, 3). This resulted in an investigation and a report.

I think the report speaks for itself. But I think it should also be read in conjunction with the Ofsted report for Perry Beeches 2 that took place in April 2014. In this report the school was deemed outstanding for leadership and management. Pupil premium was mentioned specifically:

“Over half the students are eligible for the pupil premium, which is well above average. This is additional funding for students known to be eligible for free school meals, those in local authority care and any with a parent in the armed services.”

Furthermore, governance was praised in this area:

Governors ensure pupil premium funding is used effectively to provide additional teaching and support staff, for intervention and enrichment support for the students for whom the funding is received.

Since then, the Chief Executive of the Perry Beeches Academy has resigned from his post but intends to continue as a head teacher. The academy chain is to be taken over by another academy chain. The failings of OFSTED to do anything other than affirm the school as a shining example and early adopter of the government’s academisation policy needs to receive greater attention.Measuring2

As for Pupil Premium, the episode provides yet another example of the worrying effects of the colonisation of educational cultures by a market mentality that is championed by the current government. While bowing to the forces of colonisation may secure funds for schools in the short term, this can lead to a distortion of the truth of the kind we are familiar with in commercial culture.

That can not provide a sound foundation on which to construct a world class education system.

Personal reflections on the 2016 London Mayor’s summit on music education: wants and needs

Written by: Martin Fautley, Professor of Education, Birmingham City University

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On Tuesday 22/3/16 I attended the London Mayor’s summit on music education, a prestigious event held in the equally prestigious surroundings of City Hall, on the banks of the Thames, overlooking Tower Bridge. Nice! It was, however, a curious event in many ways in my opinion, and I shall try to explain why here.

Mayor Music 5

My role was to be on a panel concerning CPD and teacher development. I, and some of the BCU music education team, have been working on evaluating the Teach Through Music programme in London (read the reports here), and I was happy to talk about it, as I feel it has been a good thing, and made a differencScreen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.25.37e. But more on that later…

The day began with an address by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, which can read here . This opener set the tone for some of the overall oddness of the day. NG didn’t mention the white paper ‘Educational excellence everywhere’, which had come out the previous week, at all. What he did talk about was a music education which seemed to me to be almost entirely to be about learning to play an instrument, and/or singing. Screen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.17.31

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OK, yes, he did mention the National Curriculum, but seemed to think it was about performing and listening only, composing never got a mention. But then neither did universal academisation, which has the potential to make the NC nugatory and otiose, so maybe the omission of composing is how those at DfE towers want to think of music education? Some nice children singing madrigals, and playing some Purcell and Bach will be very pleasant, won’t it? I don’t move in the rarefied atmosphere of the upper political echelons, so don’t know if it is normal for a politician to do his stuff then go (‘eats, shoots, and leaves’!), but there was no opportunity to ask questions at all.

One primary school teacher heckled from the floor “no forced academisation!” but that was as interactive as it got.

Read the teacher’s own reflections on the day here 

Then there were a series of panels, presenting on various aspects of music education. Then a rather nice buffet lunch, with a chance to talk to people. Networking, and getting a feel for the zeitgeist, is an important part of such days, I always think.Mayor Music 8

Screen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.16.20Following this, in the afternoon sessions, something began to bother me quite a bit, this was a mounting feeling that, as the late, great, Yogi Berra said, “It’s like deja-vu, all over again!”. Music Excellence London (MEL) had just spent a shedload of money on music education in the capital (that’s another issue, I know, especially as I’m writing this in Birmingham), and yet I got the feeling that people in the audience who maybe weren’t teachers didn’t know about this, hadn’t read the work on MEL and evaluation that Trinity Laban, Music Mark, Sound Connections, Alison Daubney and I had done, and didn’t seem to have engaged with what a longitudinal CPD programme might entail. There seemed to be a lot of “well, we can offer a splendid Chinese nose-flute CPD session for teachers”, rather than a joined-up, clearly articulated, research-informed programme, which MEL had entailed.

Now I know I am getting old, but parading one’s ignorance of history used to be something that was looked down on, now it seems to be something that is celebrated. If we had worked like that in ancient times, every few years or so someone would say “look, I’ve invented the wheel”. It struck me that a number of people there from the floor, as it were, were either thinking out loud in public, or making observations that betrayed that either they or their organisation had something to sell, or that they had little conception of what life is really like for a busy classroom music teacher. Alongside this, there seemed to be little knowledge or conceptualisation of what has gone before. When one of the contributors mentioned he had been taught by Brian Dennis, I wondered how many people had read his ‘Experimental Music in Schools’ book of 1970? Or, sadly, I also wondered how many have read, or even know about, the important music education book published the same year by Paynter and Aston, ‘Sound and Silence’? It struck me then that what might be termed the ‘institutional memory’ of music education is in real danger. I said in my mini-talk “we have to both know stuff, and know how to teach stuff”.

Screen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.18.30Mayor Music 4

This, for me, is important. And “knowing stuff” includes stuff that we have done before. Whilst we need – and want – new entrants to music education, we also need – and want – them to know something of what has been done in the past. So, the thought that was bothering me became crystallised – why do we seem to be still asking the same questions, ignoring the all the work, research, and words that many people have written (especially my words, I put a lot of effort into them!), and trying to start again?

I had been hoping that the summit would be a high point, a pinnacle, literally, a summit, to look back upon the achievements of MEL, which are, from my perspective as one of the evaluators, very highly significant indeed. Instead it felt to me like we were down at base camp bickering about whether we wanted Kendall Mint Cake or Lucozade, whereas in my view we want – and need – both!

It also reminded me that in teacher education we used to run sessions on philosophy, history, sociology, and psychology of education, but they have long gone. And now as government thinking seems to be that learning to be a teacher involves basically “sitting with Nellie” (which, incidentally, is describeMayor Music 3d nicely and pejoratively by Oxford reference here http://bit.ly/1RCRXqt), there will be little chance of inducting people into the rich community of practice of music education; which is a shame, as both Gove and Gibb have cited Matthew Arnold’s notion of “the best which has been thought and said”, and there is a lot in music education which falls into this description. But then Gove dismissed me and my ilk as “the Blob”, so maybe this is just my blobby thinking!

Anyway, in conclusion, this isn’t meant to be a criticism of the organisation, or of the arrangements, which were all fine, but just the feeling of “here we go again”. I think this is a worry, not just for music education, but for education generally. There is a lot that has been “thought and said”, and it ill behoves us as a sector to ignore, downplay, or negate this. After all, as Burke said “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”!

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My Reflections on Creativity

Written by Becky Snape, Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant, PhD student, @BeckyS1993 

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‘The role of government is to enable great culture and creativity to flourish – and to ensure that everyone can have access to it.’

(Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2016: 13).

We are at the advent of a new period in education. The English educational landscape is undergoing significant transformation, and over the next few years we’ll see these changes play out. The release of the Department for Education’s White Paper last week frames how it is proposes to achieve these objectives. The paper, entitled ‘Education Excellence Everywhere’, outlines the government’s plans for the education system, including a five year plan for their education 8strategy. I’ve been following debates about the White Paper on social media. Invariably, these focus on the shift towards full academisation of schools and the changes in teacher recruitment, particularly regarding the scrapping of QTS.

However, I was most interested to consider how creativity tallied with this. A lot of people were talking about school structures and teacher training but I didn’t notice anybody discussing creativity in the context of the White Paper. Perhaps this is unsurprising, as when I looked at the document it appeared that:

the word creativity appeared in the 125 page paper just two times: one in the context of school leadership, and the other when describing a ‘pioneering’ free school in London.

I also looked for other words which are often seen as being synonymous with creativity, such as innovation, originality and imagination. Originality doesn’t appear at all. Imaginative is used once, where they describe the work of many schools across the country. Here, the DfE outline their aims to build on the work of these schools. They also refer to innovation numerous times, although this is largely in the context of restructuring and shaping schools, and leadership development, rather than in learners’ education. To me, it appears as though innovation is used to strengthen the argument for academisation.

rb4816_EducationOverall, my concern is that the new White Paper does not sufficiently address creativity in its 125 pages. While I haven’t read the entire paper yet, from what I have seen I get the distinct impression that its purpose is to address raising standards in order to place our country on the global stage. For instance, writing is only addressed in terms of how standards have been raised so far and what needs to be improved. This isn’t entirely surprising as writing is largely the medium for learning and assessment in schools, and is therefore often seen as one of the central pillars of not just literacy attainment but education success more generally. The core skill of writing is one which is seen to be integral to a learner’s development and success, not just in school but also beyond in the ‘real world’. In the White Paper itself, the government highlights:

‘preparation for adult life’

as one of the central pillars of their five year plan for education (2016: 124). Good grammar and spelling are seen as valuable in our society, so a confident grasp of Standard English in writing is vital whether you’re writing a CV to get a job or carry out basic tasks like sending an email once you’re in a job. Thus, it makes sense to consider raising standards and to strive for excellence, and very few people would argue that this doesn’t matter at all.

But what about creativity? Isn’t that important for the workplace too? Of course, the act of pulling bits of information together to create something new is often original, so writing in many forms may be seen as creative. However, my concern is that creativity seems to be presented as something that is a convenient by-product of raising standards rather than something which drives how curricular and specification documents are shaped. This certainly seems to be true in creative writing (as part of English), but also seems to relate to other domains of creativity too. If taken at face value, the marginalisation of creativity in the new White Paper would seem to highlight how sometimes raising standards takes precedence over nurturing learners’ creative development. My questions are:

  •  If the central focus of the paper is ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’, why is this reform not anchored to creativity?
  • Why is educational excellence not explicitly underpinned by creativity?

My initial response to this is that this may be in part due to the perception that creativity is not as easy to measure as other areas of a child’s education. Moreover, in my opinion, it seems that globalisation is a worldcentral issue to the government, and feeding into that is raising standards in education to match some of the world leaders. However, something to note here is that many of these world leaders still very much value creativity in their school systems!

My contention is that creativity should be something that is central to educational reform rather than a politicised term that is used to pay lip service to those who see it as integral in teaching and learning. For me, this is why it is so important that many of us in CSPACE are challenging this status quo and providing evidence to support the fight to preserve the value of creativity in schools. The quote I began this blog with is taken from the government’s new Culture White Paper, which was released today (as I write this). This notion of access of creativity is one which resonates with the seminal NACCCE report (1999), where democratic creativity is highlighted as a key component of educational reform. It’s important to remember this and ensure that creativity is not simply used as a political sound-bite, but rather something that the government ensures is embedded in teaching and learning. Many teachers appreciate – and, crucially, apply (within their means) – the true value of this, but I’m not entirely convinced that this government does. I can only hope I’m wrong.

Sources

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/509942/DCMS_The_Culture_White_Paper__1_.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/508447/Educational_Excellence_Everywhere.pdf

http://sirkenrobinson.com/pdf/allourfutures.pdf

Culture in action

Written by Christopher Bolton, Senior Lecturer in Drama Education, Birmingham City University@MrCJBolton

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One of the potential outcomes of drama in education is its ability to develop participants’ metaxis. The meaning of this term has been defined by Boal (1995:43-44) as a lens that someone can use to view their simultaneous position in different ‘worlds’ and that this process enables a person to comment upon the two. Similarly, for Bolton (1992:11) metaxis is “the power of the experiences” that “stem from fully recognising that one is in two social contexts at the same time”, and it is with my ‘metaxical’ lenses firmly on that I have been considering the worlds of arts education and cultural education.

Chris

The recent release of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s white paper highlighted the important role of “culture in action” in “rejuvenating our society”. This “evolution” (interesting to note the use of the word ‘evolution’ as opposed to ‘revolution’; the word ‘revolution’ is reserved to describe the government’s devolution of power) discusses the importance of increasing opportunities for children and young people to participate, appreciate, create and contribute to the culture of society. The clearly stated aims include;

  • Everyone should enjoy the opportunities culture offers, no matter where they start in life
  • The riches of culture should benefit communities across the country
  • The power of culture can increase our international standing
  • Cultural investment, resilience and reform

Worthwhile aims, I think, and these are appealing on both a professional and personal level. The idea that “Everyone should have thchris 2e chance to experience culture, participate in it, create it, and see their lives transformed by it” is also worthwhile but interestingly one could substitute the word ‘culture’ for ‘education’ and the two worlds suddenly crash into one another, shattering my rose-tinted ‘metaxical’ lenses; darn it!

Contrast this view with the DfE’s white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere and I am left to glue together my shattered lenses and see things anew. The drive toward full academisation of all schools by 2020; the incessant energy forced into ‘core academic subjects’ through EChris 3Bacc; and the arguably continued further de-professionalisation of teaching through the QTS debacle, means that I should have perhaps left my lenses where they were (or would I then become another contributor to the ever growing number of those leaving the profession, interestingly ignored and denied by ‘those in the know’?). By forcing schools to concentrate on EBacc subjects and enabling them to do so through academisation, the future of arts and culture in education is perilously close to benefitting those who have had a better start in life; in fact it’s just unethical! How will culture benefit the young people of deprived areas if they are consistently forced to concentrate on an ever narrowing curriculum? Where will their opportunities come from? How will pupils from diverse backgrounds have access to cultural and arts education and meet the intention of ‘publicly-funded culture’ reflecting the ‘diversity of our country’?

The DfE have the answer; schools can now extend their day! Is this not the Government’s way of justifying the EBacc? Using my x-ray metaxical lenses I can see that when people start complaining about the lack of arts in education the Government will simply say that the arts can be taught during the extension of the school day. Unfortunately, as many colleagues will know, this happens already! The arts are being trivialised never mind marginalised!

I’ve heard, anecdotally, of many arts organisations facing challenging financial situations; of many drama departments closing; drama, music, dance and art losing time to more ‘academic’ subjects; Ofsted only inspecting EBacc subjects; arts teachers being ‘asked’ to teach other subjects or lose their job, it’s just plain wrong. See here for an interesting take on the state of drama in schools. Worryingly, “the most commonly withdrawn subjects” from UK schools in light of the EBacc “are drama and performing arts, which had been dropped in nearly a quarter of schools” see here (page 36).

Nicky Morgan claims that she “want(s) every single young person to have the opportunity to discover how the arts can enrich their lives. Access to cultural education is a matter of social justice.” How is enforcing the above fair? Young people are being disenfranchised by those in power. Potentially their access to arts and culture is being denied by those who have had a better start in life. Bruner (1996) wrote about education being a system that should help those growing in a culture find their identity and that the aim of education should not only be a transmission of culture but also provide people with alternative views whilst strengthening their will to explore them. How will this happen Nicky?

Chris 4

Professor Jonathon Neelands (2002:122) predicted a “cultural choice” that we now face in British education, 14 years ago, positing that schooling should be “designed to feed, nurture, guide and fulfil the humanising and compassionate potential of the imagination”. I think that the alienation of arts teachers also feeds into the students that they teach potentially leading to an “impoverished and limited sense of ‘self’ and ‘other’” despite the aims of the cultural white paper. This means that learners are often struggling to understand the world they are in and are potentially told what they should be doing, learning and thinking. I support Neelands’ calls for a ‘humanising curriculum’. Perhaps one that places the arts and culture at its core; why not? Interestingly, Neelands (:119) makes the point that “Policy makers have tried to persuade parents, commerce and the powerful constituencies that the greatest challenge we face is not the need to address new cultural work and career identities” or “new economies based on communication rather than manufacturing” or “endemic poverty and the creation of disaffected underclasses” rather we are told that “the real challenge is falling literacy test scores” or could that be PISA rankings, school league-tables, Progress 8 or Ofsted grading?

So what is the culture of our education system? We are told that culture and arts matter but they are increasingly devalued in our education system; schools are increasingly forced to value what is assessed rather than assess what is valued; teachers are leaving the profession and recruiting is increasingly difficult. Maybe we need to look at the world of Canada? Their government are investing $1.9 billion over five years in the arts.

Maybe I need some new glasses?

References:

Boal, A., (1995) Rainbow of Desire, London: Routledge.

Bolton, G., (1992) New Perspectives on Classroom Drama, Hemel Hempsted: Simon & Shuster.

Bruner, J., (1996) The Culture of Education, Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Neelands, J., (2002) 11/09 The space in our hearts. Drama Vol 9 No 2 4-10 in O’Connor, P. (2010) Creating Democratic Citizenship Through Drama Education. London: Trentham Books.