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

Posted in Education Education Education

I attended the Westminster Education Forum on Thursday last week, with Lesley Butterworth and John Steers from NSEAD.
Details of the agenda and speakers

I had been invited to attend as a response to the Rainbow Project and through the support of my fantastic MP, Sharon Hodgson. I was allowed to have time to put the case for art and design as being essential in young people’s education. I am pasting the text below, you will all be pleased to hear that the talk was illustrated with images from the rainbow project and that the response was positive and supportive. Although Mr Gove did not attend, we had reps from DFE there, including Marc Cavey who is overseeing the response to the curriculum review group suggestions. He did promise to include us in talks in the next few weeks.

“I’m standing up here today to talk briefly to you about the value of the visual arts in our education curriculum models. I quite like the fact that I’m described as a campaigner and activist, which I am. But, I also represent the views of many people in education, and that includes the ones who are rarely mentioned these days, the children in the classrooms. I would also like to confess publicly that I am, as many of you may also be, an E-Bacc failure.

Let me tell you about Rainbow for Mister Gove, a campaign I organised last October, which invited art educators across the country to create a letter for Michael Gove explaining why they thought art was an important curriculum experience. We expected a few hundred people to get involved but, in fact, thousands did and many many school children also took up their paints and their pens and their pritt sticks to write to Michael. I’m pretty sure that the DFE were overwhelmed as the letters and packages arrived in that first week of November…the messages were inspiring, moving and heartfelt. Not that we ever expected to change the world but we did want him to know that we have a strong collective voice. And, we are not whispering, we are shouting.

But of course, art has changed the world– bear in mind that we now have evidence that human beings first started to create art for arts sake between 300 thousand and 700 thousand years ago….what an amazing thought…… and just think, not a textbook in sight!

So why does it help prepare children for the 21st century? Well firstly, we are living in a capitalist society where value seems to be judged through possessions and money rather than feelings and thoughts.

Art in schools develops creative thinking, the ability to reflect, risk taking, it gives opportunity for enjoyment, pleasure, and also teaches ‘making’ skills. Uniquely, it does not have a right and wrong answer.

It empowers the young artist to develop their own view of the world and use art to show and share that view. Art allows young people to express opinions, emotions, statements and wonder and….. curiosity. I think children should be curious. I think we should all be curious. What a wonderful world that would be. And, as Eliot Eisner said we should be preparing our young people for a contemporary society where they have to be able to ‘make judgements in the absence of rule, to cope with ambiguity, and frame imaginative solutions to the problems we face’

I do not believe that learning a chronological list of the Kings and Queens of England will equip anyone for the 21st century. But I do know that a heavily knowledge based curriculum will strangle individuality and creativity and make this generation into the Stepford wives and husbands of the 21st century. The legacy of this would cause irreparable damage to the Creative industries….

Everyone in this room will recognise the economic importance of the Creative Industries. You can’t ignore it actually. But it isn’t just about creating bucket loads of money – it’s about creating ideas and being innovative and being able to move forward with this new century and the amazing way that technology is changing our world. We need artists, we need craftspeople, we need designers and we need them more than ever because of the exponential growth of the era of technology.

We are constantly being told of the need to master numeracy and literacy. But, what about visual literacy? How many different images does a child see each day in 2012? A hell of a lot more than they we ever saw as children.

How do we teach them to navigate them, to evaluate them, to use them to communicate? Remember that this is a hugely important transferable skill in education and in life….I will say that that’s another extremely essential rationale for embedding the visual arts in our school curriculum models.

Art will help them to become viewers, consumers and critics of visual information—from which there is no escape. We cope with a tsunami of imagery in 2012. Every day. Everywhere.

Art will allow them to create and design meaningful visual information, themselves, in both an expressive, and innovative way.

But most of all, do you know what art does? It protects our own psyche, it makes us individual, it gives life multiple meanings, it gives great pleasure, it allows the “f” word to stay in education (F-U-N)- we simply don’t hear that word enough anymore. Shout it out please because our esteemed minister seems to have forgotten that it exists. His curriculum models avoid the “F” word and the “C” word (that’s creativity folks).

Let me end with a quote from George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984, and the eerie mantra of Big Brother;
“There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent ………there will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed.“

Don’t let this happen. I won’t.


Eliabeth Kane

4361 days ago

Well done Susan for continuing to put forward such a passionate (and common sense) case for art, craft and design.

I believe Michael Gove was talking about adoption on that day and for once saying things I could wholeheartedly agree with.

I look forward to seeing Marc Cavey’s response to the issues you raised.

Your continued efforts and energy are amazing and inspiring!


4361 days ago

I’m wholeheartedly behind you, because it is essential that children learn to read images and cope with the digital world. I think the argument for art in the curriculum has gained ground though, even Gove knows he can’t let it go. We have to get head teachers on board.

Juliet Bravo

4360 days ago

United we stand, how good to have such advocates for the subject. Very pleased to know you are rooting for us all and thanks.

Philip Johnson

4353 days ago


Juliet Bravo

4345 days ago

when will we hear what they have decided about art in key stage 3 and 4 ?


4331 days ago

Juliet- there will be some interim statements in May.

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