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

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I was invited to attend the recent Association of Art Historians Residential, at the University of Leeds, as a “critical friend”. These were to be three consecutive days/evenings in July. I didn’t hesitate to say yes, when Trevor Horsewood (AHA) invited me. Who wouldn’t want to spend a chunk of time learning more about art history, but also mixing with such positive and passionate people as art educators? Also- it was tempting once I was also offered a slot to speak called “Fighting the Rhetoric”, which regular readers will know, is sort of “up my street”. I was also going to be able to work with both Anne Louise Quinton (art teacher and “art crusader”) and with Abigail Harrison Moore (Head of School, Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds), both of whom I know and admire. The descriptor for the cleverly titled “Plan-Prepare-Provide” was this; a residential course at the University of Leeds offering a unique opportunity for teachers and their schools to improve their delivery of both academic and practical art lessons. Sessions will include advice and insight into the mark schemes as well as planning and delivering the written element of the coursework, drawing on a wide range of suggested titles, possible artists and exemplar materials. The AHA were funding this event for teachers and it was free to attend, with accommodation and food as part of the offer. 23 teachers were selected to attend. From all over the UK, and also one from abroad.

Leeds is a great city too, not just because it’s in the north, but because it has rich culture and heritage, atmosphere, ambience, architecture and a superb University. It also has also the inspiring Leeds College of Art. I like Leeds.

It was an experience to treasure and remember for a long time. To be honest, I can’t ever fit in everything that we did, but the link to the programme will give you a flavour.

My own personal highlights were listening to Sarah Philips and Anne Louise Quinton, when they shared exemplars of the creative ways in which they made the subject relevant to the students of today and how Sarah has worked to write the new Pearson Edexcel Art History A level. (I was so pleased to meet Sarah in real life having previously exchanged conversation via Twitter). We also had a session listening to students who have taken part in the national ARTiculation event. A great programme which promotes the value of art in schools and encourages young people to learn and then share their learning through public presentation. You really should find out more about this initiative at the Roche Court Educational Trust website. Every year they work with over 50 museums, galleries, universities and arts associations to develop ARTiculation. Around 4,000 young people a year take part in ten regions in England, four in Scotland and four in Ireland. ARTiculation Italy was launched in partnership with the British Council in We worked in groups, following the same process as these young people, and we learnt a huge amount through that.

I tell you what though- we did work really hard, through most lunch breaks and also in evening sessions. We worked in pairs, small groups, table groups, larger groups, often following the research path that our own learners will take. What’s really important in any professional development is that the participants know HOW to apply their learning and to be able to do this effectively. The residential had a really tight focus on that.

My own session was on the morning of the last day, and was a condensed history of the last seven years, and the many effects of government policy in education on the teaching of, and access to, visual art and design education. It was also about our own personal motivation, why we do what we do, a re-visiting of what led us to be artists and teachers and then artist teachers. It was a focus on the motivation and the drive that does help us to “fight” the rhetoric. We looked at “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and what we could impact upon and what really wasn’t even worth bothering with. There were so many “Good” things too, and that is so important. Then we worked in groups on creating short Manifestos, based on our non negotiables about art education, wrote these up onto large paper and formed a long line which marched through the building and up to the Fine Art studio, chanting and shouting out our Manifesto statements. It was empowering and it was fun. I do like to get the “f” word back into education. I just love these art teachers, especially when they’ve got a cause to support! I also ended my session by mentioning the OFSTED Chief Inspector’s recent speech which is here, and, in particular, the section called “the substance of education”. My next blog will be a message to Amanda Spielman. I’ve got her message loud and clear and want to make sure she gets mine.

Other highlights- conversations, the drawings all over the tables, the warm and comfortable student accommodation that we stayed in, more conversations, the guided tour, the smell of the library, hidden artworks, and discovering the Eric Gill wall frieze. Probably so much more. A blog can only be so long, it’s not going to be “War and Peace”. ;-)

Somebody did ask me a question which threw me a bit, the question being “Why do you still do this? Why do you still fight for art education?” I just looked around the room, and that was enough, as I had the answer. “I do it for you…… and all the others in this room.” It’s worth it isn’t it? There we all were, at the end of a long school year, yet surrounded by people who care about art, who thrive on it, who can’t get enough of it and who rally on through two and a half days of vital, exciting, creative learning and challenges.

Oh yes, and because nothing ever stands still, the AHA have a new name, they are now called Association for Art History and have a sparkling new image and website.

Thank you so much Pontus Rosen and Trevor Horsewood (AHA) and Abigail Harrison Moore, for bringing me into this event and trusting me to deliver. We also owe a massive thanks to the person whose organisational skill was the glue to this event, Sarah Richardson, a PHD student at the University. To the diverse, happy, engaging, clever, inspiring group of teachers who attended, well….. you know how much I value all that you do. Keep doing it.


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