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

Posted in Education Education Education

and I did fail it… so many others- if you apply the judgement retrospectively- as was done last week. In some ways, it’s worse than that. One size fits all simply doesn’t work….are you listening Michael Gove ? I went to an academic school, I failed to make the grade. I could not “perform” in exams, or under pressure, despite leaving primary school at what was the “top of the tree”, with huge expectations of me all round. Secondary school was big, frightening and alien. At the age of 15 (I was an August baby, the youngest in my year so even worse) I only passed three exams at GCE. That means I failed in 5 of them. I even failed my favourite one: Art. Inevitably, resits followed, 4 attempts to get that French qualification, at least I managed the Art second time round. I never got History and to be honest, it hasn’t changed my life. At the same time I started A level courses, in subjects that I loved and was motivated by. At the end of that I even shone, certainly compared to the two years previously in terms of “attainment”.

I found school difficult because it never allowed me to learn in my way, in a visual and kinaesthetic way. I spent hours and hours learning and then forgetting facts and dates, just blue wiggly lines written inside the neat margins of my exercise books. I spent hours feeling inadequate as the Physics teacher expounded theory after theory but never “showed” me what she meant. In Maths lessons I felt my throat dry up, my heart beat faster, and the tears well up in my eyes as I failed to comprehend complexities such as the laws of algebra, and my only respite was that I was able to draw the diagrams well. The isosceles triangle was my friend only because I could use different colours to show it’s structure. Latin lessons were the most fearful time of my week and, to this day, send shivers of anxiety and fear down my spine. Amo, Amas, Amant….and who really gives a damn ? I did have two inspirational teachers, one who taught me Art for 2 years and one who opened the doors for me to English Language and Literature , and then mainly through books she recommended, rather than what was the usual exam board fare. But, the rest was just a long drawn out nightmare. The only good thing about school was friendships. And when you failed to make the grade, nobody asked you how you felt, they simply told you it wasn’t good enough.

So, now I have a first class degree, a post graduate distinction, a Masters with a distinction….not trying to blow my own trumpet here but trying to just say that these exist because I was able to find the things I was good at and exploit them fully. I have once more been at the top of that proverbial tree in terms of being a teacher, totally involved with the advocacy for a subject (Art and Design), which is now called “soft”, which may even slip from view in the new curriculum, despite all that it offers and represents. For goodness sake, people were creating art and artefacts before language even existed. I despair for those who go to school and find they simply can not connect with the standard “menu”, because I have been there and know what it feels like.

All I want for young people is choice, and if they have that flair for learning a body of knowledge and then regurgitating it, fine, give them that chance to do so. If they need to move about and think for longer periods and use their hands and bodies and create rather than learn facts, then give them that chance. And if they need to learn a skill because vocationally that will allow them to survive and thrive in the 21st century, then give them that chance. And if they need to concentrate very hard on just the basics of mastering their own language rather than being told to acquire a new one as well, then give them that chance. And if they fail to make the grade in all of these or any of these, what right do we have to label them pass or fail ? Find something that they can do, support them and show them that the judgement of success in our society is that you have responded in a positive way to opportunities that you have been given-opportunities which just give you the chance to do what you can do as well as you can do it. Every human being is unique. We simply can not classify and label and create a system where one solution is seen fit to judge. We have a predominantly capitalist society where education seems to be set on creating drones, the bees without a sting, where creativity will be swamped by facts and state led dogma and where the beautiful unique qualities of each individual human being will be of no consequence any more.

It is now time for us all to stop and reflect, remind ourselves of what our own values are and get out there and make our voices heard. I want to see the offer of a curriculum in our schools which suits all children.


Claire Bland

4926 days ago

Thanks so much for the wake up call. Your blog about education helped me rediscover a side of myself i thought i had maybe lost, made me realise just how much i really miss being creative :-)


4926 days ago

Hi Susan,
Hey, guess what? I’m joining your club, I failed it too!
I can’t believe what you have written, It was like reading my own story, of early academic failure and the feeling of being stupid and hopeless at secondary school. (I only discovered I was dyslexic whilst doing my second degree!) Thank God for the wonderful, encouraging and inspirational Art and English teachers I had, who allowed me, to believe in me and my unique skills and talents. (I hope I’m now one of them!) You are right every child is an individual and has the right to the best educational opportunity suitable for them. (isn’t that what Every Child Matters is all about?)Equality, inclusion and fairness for all?
Thanks again for your wisdom and eloquence.
Kay : )

Claire Bland

4922 days ago

woah just read your blog re education- absolutely loved it, really really struck a chord –

I didnt realise just how much my ways of thinking had changed until i read that

Really made me stop and think and re asses my values around my current job/employer/lifestyle etc,

Susan M Coles

4920 days ago

Thanks for the comments. I just wanted to make people stop and think. You have !

A teacher

4908 days ago

Love your total honesty.

Kate Buttimer

4322 days ago

Agree as a dyslexic who found out at 30ish… exams made me panic and shake.. Coursework gave me time to contemplate and make better. How can learning things parrot fashion help?? I think we will be going back in time!

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