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

Posted in Education Education Education

You know I have this personal issue with times and anniversaries and numbers don’t you? Well, you do now. Lewis Mumford’s writing on the invention of clocks always resonates with me…..because clocks changed the world.

The book to read is ‘Technics and Civilization’ which was actually published as long ago as 1934 and argues that ‘the clock, not the steam-engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age.

Here’s a quote ‘The effect of the mechanical clock is more pervasive and strict: it presides over the day from the hour of rising to the hour of rest. When one thinks of the day as an abstract span of time, one does not go to bed with the chickens on a winter’s night: one invents wicks, chimneys, lamps, gaslights, electric lamps, so as to use all the hours belonging to the day…Abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions themselves were regulated by it: one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock: one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it.’

Today (January 1st) I’m watching the online obsession with decades and ‘tens’ and using that particular measurement, even slipping into the thinking myself of where was I ten years ago, where will I be in ten years time? Alive I hope. Healthy I hope. Still doing creative things and still pursuing my personal mission in the world that is education.

You see folks, that is where I can well and truly measure the effects of a decade. I remember watching Michael Gove being interviewed before the 2010 election and thinking what a disaster he would be if he ever got to be Secretary of State for Education. I really am not psychic but I certainly saw the disaster unfold. I’ve written many a blog about the man, I’ve campaigned with humour but with true intent, I have also watched the impact on the English education system and the slow but sure marginalisation of the arts, of creativity, of trust in the ability of teachers to do what they know is right. I have seen accountability measures that favour one subject over another, hierarchical walls built between areas of learning, young people being shoehorned into a one solution fits all scenario, schools being micro managed by executive leaders who have forgotten what it is to stand in front of a room full of young people and impart knowledge and wisdom. I have seen Initial Teacher Education watered down, with the impact being that I meet teachers and subject leaders who don’t have deep subject knowledge, who don’t have the ability to innovate and to improvise, who sometimes just see it as a job and nothing more. I relish the fact that I also know, and work with remarkable teachers and leaders who escaped the Govian years by right of being born at a better time, but who will one day become the minority. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by art teacher dissidents within my own local network, circle of friends and across the UK and world and we have to be a strong voice out there.

Let’s cast my thoughts back to December 2019, I am speaking at two Events/Conferences and both are about art, craft and design education. As a warm up activity, I ask groups to see who can be the quickest to come up with the list of the FIVE English Secretaries of State for Education that have been in office since 2010. Nobody wins the prize- not one single group could remember the five. Everyone named Gove though, many named Nicky Morgan, but I am afraid that Justine is almost forgotten, Damian practically unheard of….. and Gavin? ‘Gavin who?’ they asked. That really says something. The fact that we have had five in a decade is not good news either. For each one arrives with their own ideological suitcase, and unpacks it untidily onto their desk as they scramble for a headline, before rudely departing.

When Nicky Morgan said this…..‘“But if you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do…then the arts and humanities were what you chose. Because they were useful – we were told ­– for all kinds of jobs. Of course now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth, that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects,’ I was really very annoyed. Being a member of InSEA International Society for Education Through Art and after talking online to another art educator (from the USA) Jenny Evans, we asked InSEA to write to Nicky Morgan, resulting in this incredible letter from 2014 which says more than I can ever say.

_The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP
Department for Education,

November 25, 2014
We are members of InSEA (The International Society for Education through Art), an organization that advocates for art education as a means of “fostering values and disciplines essential for full intellectual, emotional and social development of human beings” in all nations throughout the world. As such, we look to the more powerful nations of the world for leadership in matters of educational policy.
Our organization had its genesis in the philosophies of Sir. Herbert Read and other internationally respected philosophers, scholars, and art educators, who, in reflecting upon the horrors of WWII, recognized the importance of nurturing youth to become empathetic human beings. While advances in fields of science and technology may hold practical benefits, they also may unbridle self-centered desires to overpower and subjugate. The founders of InSEA understood that through the arts youth might come to experience appreciation of cultural differences, be guided to think critically and analytically about problematic situations and – in perceiving these issues through the viewpoints of others – identify harmonious solutions to complex intellectual, social, cultural, environmental and geo-political problems.
We recognize the important roles of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in society. Indeed, many of the intellectual characteristics of successful scientists, engineers, and mathematicians are similar to those of artists. Furthermore, we applaud that young women be encouraged to consider careers in fields, wherein they once may not have been welcomed. Yet we are deeply concerned at your implication that youth disregard interests in the arts and humanities in pursuit of careers that narrowly focus on STEM. As others have pointed out – data simply does not bear out your arguments that there is no future and are no jobs in the arts and humanities.
Indeed, in a 2011 report it was announced that:The UK has the largest creative sector of the European Union. In terms of GDP it is the largest in the world, and according to UNESCO it is, in absolute terms, the most
successful exporter of cultural goods and services in the world, ahead of even the US.
This does not suggest a bleak future awaits those who pursue the arts and humanities, even as the numbers of youth enrollment in these educational programs increases, if for no other reason than this: If the UK were to produce more mathematicians and scientists and these workers were to secure the well paying jobs you describe, would they not wish to enjoy the bounties of their
wealth in beautiful homes, furnished with the finest of crafted objects, or spend evenings and weekends engaging with the arts? Would not an increase of those pursuing STEM careers assure an equally great need for artists, architects, and craftsmen?
Yet, our concerns are not with the financial benefits of one field or career versus another. History reminds us that when nations pursue blind innovative, without the balancing effects of all that the arts and humanities provide, they jeopardize the happiness of their citizens and a peaceful coexistence with other nations of the world. The arts remind us of our humanity by keeping us hopeful, easing our sense of loneliness, and focusing our attentions on things that really matter,
such as ethical interactions with one another and the natural world. To be productive, happy citizens of nations and the world, we need youth who are capable of advancing society towards peaceful harmonious goals. We need citizens of nations and the world who are emotionally stable, have balanced interests in the practical and aesthetic, and are free to pursue career paths that are deeply satisfying – whatever those career choices might be, – and who, as a result, find welcoming opportunities in those chosen fields.
We urge you to serve as a global leader in clarifying such an educational policy of balance.
Sincerely yours,
Teresa Eca, InSEA President, Portugal
Rita Irwin, InSEA Past- President, Canada
Marjorie Manifold, InSEA Vice-President, USA
Glen Coutts, InSEA Vice-President, Scotland
Vedat Oszoy ; InSEA Secretary, Turkey
James Sanders, InSEA treasurer, USA
Janeke Wienk, European Representative in the InSEA World Council, Netherlands
Martina Paatela- Nieminen , European Representative in the InSEA World Council, Finland_

It seems ironic too, that as I type these words, that Mrs Morgan has made her way around the game of political musical chairs and ended up (again) as the Minister for Culture. Her circuitous route being an embarrassing example of selling your soul to the proverbial devil.

You’ll notice I don’t mention Nick Gibb much. The Schools Minister. The minister who appears to be Teflon plated. Will he survive the February re-shuffle of government? Wait and see. I live in hope. Nick is (for me) the biggest block to progress in solving all (or even just some of) the issues in education which have destroyed what was once a pretty verdant landscape. It isn’t anything personal Nick. I just resent people in power within education whose training, work record and background has nothing to do with it. As such, I wouldn’t (for example) put myself forward as a gas engineer or an airline pilot.

Anyway, most people who know me will also know that my life’s work has been in education, and in the past decade it has been about promoting and defending Art, Craft and Design education. I was really hoping through the three recent general elections, that a change of government would return education to re-discovering a moral compass once again, but that hasn’t happened. And so, we continue, and so I continue. Through my work and influence as an individual, as an active Council member and past President of NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design), in my role as one of the three European representatives on the InSEA World Council, I will never stop promoting or defending what I believe in.

I will cast my mind back again, it is 2012 and I am standing in a small queue with two art teacher friends Denise and Ruth, we are waiting to speak to our MP Sharon Hodgson (Sunderland West and Washington) and we sit down and talk to her about Michael Gove and the policy changes that are threatening art education in our schools. Sharon writes this all down, asks questions, shows concern, and some time afterwards invites me to work with her on setting up an All Party Party Parliamentary Group on Art, Craft, and Design Education, to meet and debate the art education issues in Westminster. In January 2020, we will set this group up again, as you have to start from scratch after every election, and we will do that and use this forum to inform and to influence current and future policymakers. I can’t thank Sharon enough for her support, and our co-chair Tracy Brabin, and our vice chair Earl Clancarty.

I hope that, in ten years time, this group is more about promoting than it is about defending. It has to be.

And, what we do, well, we do it for our children, for your children, for future society, for humanity. Art tells the story of what it means to be human. I will end today with the InSEA Manifesto, it says everything I want to say. is the link, please read and please share. (And by the way, I love art. It’s my heartbeat.)



1661 days ago

it’s a message to us all, how quickly things can change and how we each have a role in making sure we never stop reminding people of our beliefs.


1661 days ago

You know where I am come the revolution.


1661 days ago

‘Dissident’ – best term for a group of art educators. Sobering thought though that we have to keep challenging for another 5 years but we will!


1661 days ago

Thank you for everything you do for us and our young people, a very thought provoking post.
It baffles me that the framework schools are judged by continues to be so contradictory: encourage staff wellbeing, prepare young people for the outside world coupled with: hierarchy of subjects, more Testing (and marking), and cost cutting when it comes to experienced staff.
Bring on the next 5 years….


1661 days ago

I read the words and I’m proud to now see myself as a dissident in the fractured world of education.


1658 days ago

It’s so hard where I work. It is in an academy chain. We are micro managed all the time, questioned all the time, art treated as if it is the same as history or geography which it isn’t. Not allowed to display art on the classroom wall, have to photograph it and share on a screen instead. But the principal wants framed art work in her office.Kids taken out for extra Maths and English then we get told same kids not making enough progress in art, erhhhh well, they wont be will they? I am in my 4th year of teaching art and will leave in the summer. thanks for all you do. Save some souls if you can. Maybe not mine. I might be back if the right job turns up. This is what Gove has done to schools.

durham academic guy

1646 days ago

thanks for posting this! provocative and informative as ever- I enjoyed reading it!!

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