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

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This might be the last blog that I ever write.
My last blog entry was January and I’m still wondering why I’ve dried up with blogs. Being active on Twitter is one reason- I feel as if I have said many of the things I would have written about. Another reason is that the blogsphere is “noisy” these days, and sometimes better people write about the things that I should be commenting on. I’m in deep admiration of the people who can find time every week to do this. I can’t. I’m not sure I want to either. But I try and read others. I am indebted to the likes of Ross Mc Gill @Teacher Toolkit and Tristram Shepherd for their regular thoughts and information.

Recently, I have been thinking that I am now at the age when I should be thinking about retiring? I’m not sure how to approach that really. I don’t think creative people ever retire. I’ve also had an injury recently (after been spectacularly knocked down the escalator at Euston Station), which has meant taking it easy for a while. That slow pace doesn’t suit me at all, but there is something strangely satisfying about having the time to cut my toenails and to make spinach soup from scratch. (and lots of other little tasks). I do think a lot, I do read a lot, and I have been trawling recently through Nicky Morgan’s Education White Paper, Ed Vaizey’s Culture White Paper, the DFE workload documents, the NSEAD Art Educator survey, a tsunami of daily emails, whilst my bedside table is sadly piled with unread books that I bought or asked for. Will I ever tackle that biography of Charles Dickens?

Now, the world wide web and internet is a marvellous thing. I first got an email address is 1995. I only knew two other people with email addresses then, my brother and a bloke at work. That didn’t exactly block up my inbox. But now, look at us all, swamped with messages and information, skim reading, flagging “important” ones, deciding what is and isn’t “important”, filing (and sometimes forgetting) and never again having the time for the immediate response.The 24/7 information highway intrudes too much, and since I’m running well being days for artist teachers, I’ve learnt to ration my access. Especially on Sunday’s when I try to switch off most of the day. We are human. Are we human? Do you remember this by The Killers?

I find the way this current government is operating oppressive and sinister, and as education is my main interest, I’m appalled at everything that is being thrown at us. I am chuffed (northern expression, probably not allowed in a SATs test) to see support from unlikely sources, Mumsnet for example (and about time middle England revolted, because we all know who you voted for last May) and even Tory led councils. Everyone seems to be challenging and questioning the command that the government will force schools to become academies. I’m somewhat amused watching both Nicky Morgan and Nick Gibb in their recent TV and radio appearances, amused because they don’t have the gravitas and deep knowledge needed to convince us. It’s shallow. It’s wrong. And, as for Mrs M’s appearance at the NAS/UWT Easter Conference, well what is this other planet that she lives on? As I said in a tweet:

So, as I’m rambling a bit I will just say that I’ve had a busy time since January, a lovely diverse time, mainly working with teachers and running insets.I was also busy organising our February All Party Parliamentary Group on Art Craft and Design Education meeting at the House of Commons, where the extensive and very important NSEAD survey was launched.Showing the effect of education government policy on Art, Craft and Design education. The meeting saw a terrific presentation of hard evidence and facts from Sophie Leach. I am so proud to be a part of NSEAD.

There is one day I had recently that brings me back into reflective mode. I’m proud to be a governor at two primary schools. One of these is Seascape Primary School in Peterlee. Recently, I went with two year 3 classes, and their teachers and parent governor (and yes, Nicky Morgan, parent governors ARE important, very, very important) to visit the Leonardo da Vinci drawing exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle. I was really aware that day of their unfettered enthusiasm and appreciation of a unique opportunity. I watched them stand, sit, lie on the floor sketching and talking. I was aware of the fact that these children are all in the same age group, (that lovely age where there is often a front tooth missing). But all so individual, all with their own quirks and personalities, all with their own views on what they were seeing, all able to communicate visually in whatever way they chose to, all different. All happy.

I’m not saying they are not happy in the classroom of course, but I am saying that’s it’s wrong to expect all of these very different people to achieve a single set standard at the same time of the same year. Children are not statistics. They are not numbers and percentages. They are in fact a collection of diverse and amazing people. Childhood needs to be what it is, about the child and not the system that they are born into, which is so dominated by fiscal structures and capitalist ideologies. Surely it’s a time for adults to be nurturing these individuals and supporting each and everyone, for letting them grow up at their own pace. Not for measuring, testing, training them as fodder for the workplace – which captures them and enslaves them. The gap between those that have and those that have not gets wider. Our government talks of social mobility and social justice but in reality has no idea what these mean. These are hollow words, politically driven rhetoric, which have lost resonance and meaning.

Remember that “Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it.” You can weigh it all the time, but it’s not making the pig fatter. So the point being, if we’re all we’re doing is testing and then teaching to the test, that doesn’t assure that we are actually improving any educational outcomes.

Education should not be a strait jacket for those that are being educated and certainly not the legions of highly qualified, highly trained and highly skilled people who work in the system. Since 2010, the Department for Education has constantly challenged the values that I hold dearly in education, and only the positivity and passion of the people I work with keeps me going. And, the children. Let’s remember the children.
Do you know that play is considered to be so important to optimal child development that it has been recognised by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Children who are being raised in a hurried and pressured style may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play.

Recently, I met with two different teachers, both young Art and Design teachers. Both are wanting to leave the profession. I offered my advice, “stay true to your beliefs and your interests”. But, it’s their life. Their decision. I can only advise. If we lose people like these, we have a hole we can not fill. There is a ground swell of opinion at the moment which is casting a spotlight on the mess that education is in. Let’s keep that spotlight going, let’s stand together for the things that we believe in.

This might be the last blog that I ever write.
But, then again, it probably isn’t. There is only so much spinach soup that a girl can make.



2943 days ago

don’t dare desert us to make more soup. thank you for making sure the child is mentioned.


2943 days ago

Susan you will always be there. I know that. Meeting you at the start of my art teaching career has been significant. I still need you for advice and hope. Envery one retires one day but we’ve got the Tories to fight so let’s get down and get with it. X


2942 days ago

Having just booked a place at a Conference you are speaking at I’m confident that the soup making won’t take over. I’m in two minds about staying in teaching but keep reminding myself why I left another profession (design agency) to be one. It’s about helping young people find a different way of doing things. Onwards. Upwards. Always.


2942 days ago

Your words of wisdom are valued so highly by so many people, as to is your support.. no way can the soup win! More art not less, more holidays not less so it feels like semi retirement:o) Less escalators! x


2941 days ago

I’ve escaped abroad to teach but will come back in the next few years.
Your tweets and blog keep me up to date as do the Facebook pages.
Keep up the good work.


2929 days ago

Genuinely moved by some of these thoughts. Not just as a teacher but as a parent. I want my kids to be happy at school. That might make them work harder and achieve more. I’m dreading when my little lad hits year six next year- he’s already chewed up about the SATs. I also want my kids to dance, do drama, make things, create music and do all of these alongside the rest of the school day.

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