Ringing the Bell for creativity!

My blogging excuse, a new roof for the workshop

My blogging excuse, a new roof for the workshop.

A long blogging break, justified only in part by my other project in the image, but now back to it!  And what a way to start the year.  Sir David Bell made national headlines with a robust critique of elements of the education system as it exists in this country at the moment.  The  arguments were made in a speech to the Association of Science Education but they are all encompassing and well worth a read.  Not least because of the sudden silence from every party in the run up to the general election regarding education policy for the future.  By the way, what would you like to see in an election manifesto on the subject of education?  I suggest you read Bell’s speech, here to crystalise your thinking.

In a very capable interview on Radio 4 Bell highlighted the slew of educational reforms emanating from the current government, and to be fair other governments.  He suggested that the energy and effort expended by schools across the country in responding to these was wasted.  The interviewer slipped into Govian thinking for a moment and claimed that he surely could not be suggesting that there wasn’t room for improvement in schools, to which he replied that there was no evidence to suggest that education acts brought about any improvement.  Strong words from a knowledgeable source.

At the risk of summarising Bell’s suggestions too simply he argues for a reduction in central government control and intervention in education, that curriculum control should be given into the hands of an independent body, that a broad range of A levels should be the norm and that Schools Direct was in need of reform.  This last, in case you should have missed it, is arguably a scheme to move teacher education out of university departments, seen as hotbeds of Marxist thought, and into schools.  In a rather wonderful summary Bells says, “Yet five years of permanent revolution has seen us come full circle to a decades old system which culminates in sixth formers still specialising in three or four ‘gold-standard’ A-levels, with two years of study ending in a pass-and-fail exam. The economy and society is changing out of all recognition – and yet we still have an out-of-date system, when the UK can least afford it.”    Granted he is focusing on A level reform but it does sound quite like a general summary of the state of education.

Another interesting development came in the form of a manifesto from the Crafts Council.   Have a look;  www.craftscouncil.org.uk   Bringing the situation into stark focus they state that, “In the last five years participation in craft-related GCSEs fell by 25% and the number of higher education craft courses fell by 46%.   This comes when elsewhere around the globe investment in creative education and making is rising.”  The manifesto make interesting reading, coming as it does from an industry focus, but most Design Technology teachers would agree with what it suggests.   The common ground it that both Bell and the Crafts Council argue that science and the arts should go hand in hand as both are essentially creative activities.   The Crafts Council went so far as to adopt the acronym STEAM; Stem plus Art.  I suspect that Design Technology should fit in there somewhere, probably between the other two.  (For a moment I had visions of schools creating steam punk designs across the country, happy thought.)   That we should be seeing  a backlash against the steady destruction of creativity in education is a great thing, though it has taken long enough and great damage has been done in many schools where excellent staff have left and resources have been axed.  That any government would have the vision to reverse this would be wonderful, there’s my vote for a manifesto pledge.

If we do not reverse this trend then not only will the chancellor’s ambitions be thwarted, (Remember, “Designed in Britain, created in Britain, made in Britain,” and the e to re balance the economy?) but we are also in danger of losing yet more ground to competing nations.  I am indebted to  “All Change Please” for the link to the news that China is now looking to UK Design and Technology experts to develop their own creative education.  Surely it is bad enough that we can’t supply our own designers, technicians, engineers and scientists because of failings in our education system; and to be clear I mean failings at the level of government policy, not at the level of schools, colleges and universities.  Now it seems that we might even be seeing the beginnings of our very own educational brain drain where countries who have identified  weaknesses in their education systems are plugging the gaps by importing expertise from our schools.

The really encouraging news is, I suppose, that the slow destruction of creativity in education in all it’s forms has at least been recognised.  Obviously my first focus is Design Technology but we should also consider the catastrophic effects of curriculum reforms in recent years on the arts.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a political party had the courage to address these issues?    I am old enough to be reminded of the “White heat of Technology” speech that Harold Wilson made in 1963.  It is certainly time for  a new vision of the technological and creative direction that this country should be taking.  More than anything I believe that the time has come to create a climate in which teachers can focus on their classroom practice and their children, where the creativity of the teaching profession can be unleashed, where risk is rewarded and not penalised and where the average career of a new teacher is much longer than the current five years.

Full STEAM ahead for 2015!

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Comments
One Response to “Ringing the Bell for creativity!”
  1. tristramshepard says:

    Welcome back to the blogosphere, and thanks for the link to All Change Please!, and to the David Bell speech which is indeed encouraging, though I feel it will fall on deaf ears. There is no question we live in a technological age, yet persist in basing our school curriculum on an academic model. In most instances STEM, or indeed STEAM, is a waste of time, because the separate components are still being delivered as separate academic entities, and the potential to utilise D&T as the central discipline that holds them altogether is being ignored. Sadly what’s happening is that the current system is rapidly running out of STEAM…

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