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

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I love my IPad and the ability to make notes as I travel, especially in meetings and on trains. I think a lot on trains. I spend a lot of time on trains. So, as December ended,I decided to clear out unwanted notes from the IPad and there I found the start of at least six blogs, none of which were ever completed. I wondered why. Especially when I look online and see that my last blog was written in August. Oh dear…

I find writing quite easy and natural, so it isn’t that. Each of the unpublished blogs had a theme so I wasn’t short of ideas either. But still, I didn’t finish any? I will make a better job of it this year.

I think maybe that this is because I also use social media to tell the story of what I do “day to day”, especially Twitter, so maybe the blog seems superfluous. Yet, I would probably have different audiences reading these. I kept putting it off so that now feel that I can almost have a “clean sheet” as 2016 descends. I don’t like ticking off time by the way, I have mentioned before the points and theories of Lewis Mumford, about time being used as a measure, and how it has changed our lives from natural cycles to quite draconian control.
And, seriously, when you pass the half century of years, you don’t want to keep reminding yourself that there isn’t as much time left as there used to be. Our culture and society is obsessed with marking time, why don’t we just relax a bit and enjoy each experience as just that? I wish we would stop the clocks ticking.

I have had an incredibly creative and fulfilling year, with my involvment in NSEAD still being pro-active and very important. I also won’t forget the excitement of winning the Big Draw Award, the many events and courses and insets that have filled my days, the two Sketchbook Circle exhibitions and days, and so many other things that add up to a very long list.Which is why it’s easier to follow it all on Twitter. For me, the incredibly dedicated and inspiring community of art educators that I work with, make it all worthwhile.

I was bitterly disappointed when the election didn’t go the way I had hoped (possibly you might suspect where my vote went), and I did really waver about continuing my advocacy and work. The good news is that it was just a little waver, a temporary lapse in direction.

I am more determined now than ever to influence policy makers and take the views of educators to them. To be sitting on a platform with Schools Minister Nick Gibb in October, was a surreal but important experience, and at least Nick left that meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Art, Craft and Design education better informed.

So, my digital diary is in front of me, and my first job this week is to get our Big Draw Award entry done. We have had four fantastic events at Baltic, the teacher inset, the public event, the Sketchbook Circle day and the recent “Come Draw With Me “ life drawing session. Then, later next week, I have a day at Baltic, with the Northumbria University Art and Design PGCE group, who are recovering from their first placements and warming up to their second ones as they make their forays into schools. It’s a Brave New World !

I have never seen my art teachers so tired by the way, and it isn’t because of the teaching of the subject. It is because of the constant demands on them for data crunching, marking, proving progress, justifying why pupil A (I’m not even sure kids have names anymore) isn’t on target for a GCSE grade that a software programme invents for them and which doesn’t relate to their ability in the subject, attending meetings and insets which sometimes ask teachers to apply generic approaches to their own subjetcts- many of which simply don’t work. Purple pens and green pens and orange and yellow highlighters and “verbal feedback” stamps and post it notes cluttering up desks and headspace. Observations, observations, observations. Who gets time to teach these days?

The ever present shadow of OFSTED never goes away, like a dark spectre hovering threatingly over each and every school- to be honest, that is the phrase I have heard the most this year “We are expecting OFSTED. Like the sword of Damocles it is never seen as anything other than a threat-

The DFE (Department for Education) have not tackled teacher workload. If anything, they still add to it. Ploughing on with changes and reforms that seem to be ideologically driven. The effect of the English Baccalaureate on non EBacc subjects is not being recognised by those that have the power to make changes, but it is being felt within schools and it is significantly affecting student choices. It’s not a good time to be a young person in a school is it? Everyone wants a piece of you, every teacher on your back to do more and achieve more. One of the saddest stories to hear this year has been of schools where after school activities are now timetabled and some of our art departments, who have opened their doors nightly for years, are now told that young people HAVE to attend a catch up Maths or English session. I really think that is a terrible and unfair directive to make. These young people have a life and they should have some choices in what they do in their own time. As do teachers by the way.

I am not surprised that there is a teacher recruitment issue, but I am saddended to hear it. That’s an issue in my own subject now. Nationally we are way below our recruitment targets, 37% below target, and too many lower school art lessons are now being taught by non specialists. But then, I can understand the reasons why people don’t want to commit to becoming Art Craft and Design teachers at the moment. Financial pressures, uncertainty about employment prospects and wherther or not their subject is actually valued in the system. A doubt perpetuated by current government policy.

My job then is to help to keep the art educator communties strong and feeling valued, through face to face, through social media, through the wonderful Sketchbook Circle, which is what it is thanks to the the energy, belief and vision of both Georgia Naish and Elinor Brass and I am proud to play some small part in that.
It is my intention to applaud and to support the work of NSEAD, which is absoloutely vital in a time when our subject is being marginalised.

Being a teacher is an incredibly important role, you have the power to change the direction of a young person’s life forever, to inspire them to aspire. Let’s keep this spirit going. Let’s make our subject count.



3122 days ago

I’m a tired teacher. I feel like giving up. Your blog makes me reconsider though. I know I can make a difference. Thanks for the reminder.


3121 days ago

I’m in two minds about going into teaching when I finish my art degree this year. I need assurances of employment possibilities and support. I will look at NSEAD and keep myself up to date as I make this decision. Thanks for flagging up concerns but also for flagging up the positives.


3120 days ago

Just what I needed to hear before returning after the holidays. It is great to know I am not alone in feeling the pressures, you are very inspiring and definitely make this teacher aspire to be a better artist / educator!


3119 days ago

I am exhausted from having taught in Primary for almost three decades. I could honestly quit almost daily. I watch sadly as my own children pass through the secondary system with barely an ounce of their own untapped creativity allowed into their daily school lives. Way too much interference and insistence on measuring their academic achievement and their teachers’ performance takes its toll.
I continue teaching because I will always carry the light of creativity and when it shines on children, often on the last ones you would expect it might matter to, it can awaken something in them that makes them shine too. Those are the bits worth fighting for and the days that make you smile. And that’s why art is great.
I hope my own children will realise it too and rediscover the pleasure it can bring once they’ve played the exam game and can breathe again. One thing’s certain- they will never want to be teachers.


3119 days ago

Only been teaching for one full term and I’m wondering if I can last? Actually love being in the classroom but I’m dreading the other things- constantly marking sketchbooks- why are we doing this? Art isn’t the same as English. Then students not being on their target grade when I hardly know them anyway. But, I’ve had successes with some naughty classes and that makes me proud. Done some great graffiti workshops too. I’m glad you are out there making the voice heard and I’m glad that you remind us that we are doing a great job. I used to work in Argos and it beats that anytime.

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