Welcome to the website of Susan M. Coles, Artist & Arts, Creativity & Educational Consultant.

Posted in Hope for the Future

I have just returned from Melbourne, where I presented a talk at the INSEA (International Society for Education in Art) World Congress.

Ironically my talk was titled: Small country with big issues – the current state of art craft and design education in the UK:
“The coalition government have wrought changes to the school curriculum which have pushed the visual arts towards the bottom of a new hierarchical subject order, which will have impact on further education and higher education pathways in the near future. UK Art educators have drawn strength from having to justify their subject and revisit their rationale for doing what it is that they do. This need to promote and defend the subject has strengthened resolve and determination. The ability to collaborate and connect via social media has been significant in this gathering of a collective voice.”

Ironically? Yes, because as I stepped off the plane at Heathrow today, my phone was pinging loudly as a pile of messages appeared telling me that Michael Gove had been demoted (or, if you prefer it- re-shuffled).

I will write much more about INSEA in my next blog, but you will be interested to know that the theme of my speech was that the life of a politician was a short one and that indeed “these times would pass” (pinched from an art work by Mark Titchner) whereas Art would always be there. You just can’t put a good art teacher down Michael! I described the Michael Gove effect on the state of art, craft and design education in the UK as being like a world war one battlefield scene….damaged, desolate, bleak.
But, in all of those battlefields, nature comes back with new growth. And, our subject will once again thrive. It’s damaged and needs repair but it is not broken.

I celebrated the work of NSEAD (don’t you know how proud I am of them?) and every single person who has stood up for art, craft and design education in this country. It has been a saving grace that teachers have had to revisit their rationale for doing what they do and defending (and promoting) their subject. INSEA reminded me of the importance of our subject and of our need to ensure entitlement for all people of all ages to have access to high quality arts experiences.

Another quote from my talk was this: “Anthropologists have never found a society without art. Humankind has an innate aesthetic sense which is biologically determined. This sense allows us to create art, which in itself symbolises social meanings and values, and gives a community a sense of identity. All of which contributes hugely to it’s own sense of self respect”

I shared our campaigns and our lobbying with delegates and told the story of the Rainbow for Mister Gove campaign. If I go back into the blogs of the last four years- I see that my relationship with Michael Gove dominates the space! Or, you can call that a non-relationship. I have even thanked Michael for giving us a chance to want to justify art craft and design education. I have given a lot of time to a man who never even answered my letters or granted me an audience. Shame on you Mister Gove.

I will miss the unintentional humour of his outbursts, but I will not miss the constant sniping, criticism, ideologically driven dogma, inability to connect with the people that he “served”, the unwillingness to negotiate or find middle ground, and the lack of empathy with those who dedicate their lives to education.

I am worried that the return of Nick Gibb (Mr Gradgrind incarnate) to the DFE team could be a retrograde step because he wasn’t a fan of the Arts. But we must be hopeful that Nicky Morgan will bring something that has been missing for four years- a listening ear, thoughtful two way conversations, respect for the expertise of those who work in education, more emphasis on children and on life skills, more celebration of what it is to be young and able to ENJOY schooling……and maybe that’s a dream too far. But, if you are reading and listening Nicky Morgan, teachers do a brilliant job in a profession which is driven by data and statistics and where children become numbers and levels rather than people. Respect that. Respect them. Talk and listen.

You see Nicky, Art Craft and Design education also deserves your attention- and you need to be having conversations with both Ed Vaizey and Sajid Javid and responding to this recent NSEAD survey. and in the TES report

It paints a picture of what has happened (and is happening) to art, craft and design education in the four years since Mr Gove stamped his “authority” on our educational system. And, it isn’t something that you can afford to ignore is it?

Good luck minister- be assured that we are all here and not going anywhere. I hope you start to create a different DFE- one which we respect.



3657 days ago

We had a special staff meeting last night- the head ordered in cakes and led a celebration of the demise of Gove. But- the policies won’t go away and we must be cautious because there are Gove supporters still in the DFE. One wonders what the heads who “sold out” to Gove feel like today? Uncomfortable I hope.

Kelly T

3657 days ago

Where to next? Our art option numbers have been slashed, key stage three time reduced, money cut, non specialists teaching year 8 art lessons- don’t think a new person will change this situation. Do you?


3655 days ago

it can only get better surely? Nobody can be as bad as that man was.

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