Manifestations (by Ken Baynes)

It can’t be often that art, craft and design education are the subject of two important manifestos. But the Crafts Council and the National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) both marked the end of 2014 by issuing policy statements. Both are essential reading for anyone interested in design research or design education.

My dictionary (Readers’ Digest/Oxford ‘Complete Wordfinder’) defines a ‘manifesto’ as ‘a public declaration of policy and aims, esp issued before an election’. When bodies such as the Crafts Council and NSEAD join in, it is usually a sign that something has gone wrong somewhere. The Crafts Council Manifesto identifies a serious symptom:

 ‘… craft education is in jeopardy, as policies steer subject choice in schools away from arts, craft and design. Take-up of craft-related GCSE’s dropped by 25% between 2007-2013. This is critical as the GCSE is an indicator of both investment in earlier craft education and the pipeline of future makers and innovators’.

Behind the NSEAD’s proposals is the inspiring idea that every child should experience art, craft, and design education as a central element in their schooling: the Crafts Council believes that ‘every child has the right to discover their talent for making’.

It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the two manifestos have much in common.

The NSEAD puts forward seven policy proposals for art, craft and design education:

  • A curriculum across all phases and levels that is inspirational, aspiration and makes explicit the distinct value and future of the subject;
  • An entitlement to a high level of subject-specific professional development for teachers and educators;
  • An entitlement to a high level of teacher education in partnership with HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) and partnership schools;
  • An accountability, assessment and progression system that supports and not restricts the subject;
  • A strategy for access and underachievement that recognises the inclusivity of art, crafts and design;
  • Effective and creative partnerships with museums, galleries, arts organisations and practitioners that will provide a bridge into the creative and cultural sectors;
  • Champions and advocates from the creative, cultural and education sectors who will champion art, craft and design education.

The Crafts Council Manifesto has a five point programme:

  • Put craft and making at the heart of education. Offer opportunities to make throughout education. Revitalise learning with hands-on experience and stimulate take-up of GCSEs in art, craft, design and technology;
  • Build more routes into craft careers. Make visible the diverse career opportunities available through craft education. Create equality of access to training through apprenticeships;
  • Bring craft enterprise into education. Promote enterprise at every stage of learning. Make more opportunities for craft businesses and educators to work together;
  • Invest in skills throughout careers. Invest in teachers’ training in craft skills. Create more opportunities for makers to develop their skills throughout their careers;
  • Promote world-class higher education and research in craft. Invest in cutting-edge artistic and scientific research in craft and making.

As would be expected the NSEAD (the professional body representing art and design teachers) takes a more school-centred approach than the Crafts Council (a QUANGO representing both craft education and practicing makers) but they both look forward in similar ways. Both recognise that the subject is not fully valued in the contemporary curriculum; that teachers require excellent initial and continuing training; that support from higher education is required and that there should be a dynamic interaction between education and related industries and business. The Crafts Council also highlights the importance of apprenticeships as a form of education and training.

All this is admirable. It is to the point, timely and much needed. We think, however, it could have been even stronger and more wide ranging.

Cries of distress are to be heard from all areas of arts-related education including drama, dance and music. Language teachers identify a move away from imagination and creativity in the official approach to English. Adding these to the constituency calling for change would create a more powerful lobby. And, of course, there is Design. In our ‘Better Together’ blog we called for Art and Design and Design and Technology to act together to identify the unique value of Design as the focus for a future-orientated curriculum. Science and Technology teachers also call for an approach that is more practical and which celebrates the creativity and imagination of scientists, technologists and engineers. We guess that such a broad grouping would get powerful support from business and industry: They are clearly unhappy with a curriculum that is essentially backward-looking. This isn’t the diet for entrepreneurs, Nobel-prize winners or world-class artists and designers.

We also believe that a stronger educational case could be made for the value of art, craft and design as an essential part of everybody’s school experience. Take for example the activities of drawing and making. Of course these are celebrated by the Manifestos but both have great pedagogical significance outside any particular subject area.

There has recently been a significant revival of interest in drawing, partly thanks to the successful Campaign for Drawing. In October we shall be publishing a ‘Big Book’ by Eileen Adams (leader of the Campaign’s educational programme) which will tell Eileen’s story and demonstrate the extraordinary versatility of drawing both as an end in itself and as a medium for learning.

Understanding how children develop remains fundamental to successful teaching, even though just at the moment this approach is rather unfashionable. However, appreciating the role of drawing in the imaginative and intellectual lives of young children opens up a wider perspective on its value. Drawing is usually identified with art but its cognitive power reaches into science, mathematics and, of course, design.

In ‘Design: models of change’, I reported on some research carried out by Krysia Brochocka and myself in a Loughborough nursery. It involved digitally recording and re-running a record of the drawing process carried out by a group of three to five year olds. Later we discussed the drawing process with the children. We were deeply impressed by the developmental value of the activity, even the simplest scribble. Mark-making turned out to have many different intellectual and emotional routes and did not lead only to ‘drawing’ in the sense of a representational image.

I wrote:

Early children’s drawings display the origins of a whole range of adult attainments where marks are used to explore, model or communicate meaning:

  • Written language

    Graphicacy and Culture: Refocusing on visual learning

    Mark-making is a central aspect of Xenia Danos’ book

  • Mathematical notation
  • Maps and symbols

As well as the more familiar:

  • Recording observations
  • Expressing feelings and ideas
  • Recovering memories

Mark-making is a platform for creating meaning.

Making has similar broad significance as a medium for learning. Although it is absolutely essential in art, craft, design and technology, it can play a positive role in many other subject areas. Making is closely related to the idea of active learning – learning through doing. This was once a key pedagogical approach in primary schools. It also found a place in secondary schools in, for example, Home Economics and Science. The fact is that active learning engages the pupils because they are playing a role that is realistically related to ‘real’ life. It is useful to understand the sweep and sequencing of history but equally fascinating to carry out historical research in your own town or village. Actually ‘doing it’ highlights, for example, the difference between primary and secondary sources and the possible role of ‘living memory’. The outcome is likely to be something ‘made’, a book, an exhibition, a web-page, a play, or a piece of public art.

The made thing is difficult to achieve. It demands perseverance, intellectual, technical and design skills. It involves imagination and planning ahead. It engages with the future because the made thing does not exist yet.  When it does exist, it can be tested against realistic criteria. It is not an abstraction but a realisation.

Making is a medium for engagement, imagination and problem resolution.

Art, craft and design education face the problem that they are different. They share with Drama, Music and Design and Technology, the fact that they are not mainly about information, learning the ‘right’ answer or remembering a formula. Instead they are about the imagination. The way to study is by practice. Just as with driving a car, brain surgery or cooking, the only way to gain skill and   mastery is to work alongside someone who ‘knows how’ as well as ‘what’. In many school subjects there is only one right answer and the aim of the pupil is to get it right. In art, craft and design the number of right answers is only limited by the imagination and skill of the students. Of course, there are qualitative differences – some ‘right’ answers are better than others. But making qualitative judgements is in itself an essential skill – one not much encouraged by contemporary schooling.

A better, broader case could perhaps have been made. And wouldn’t wider support have been useful?

A final grumble. The Manifestos contain a lot of what might be called ‘Target-speak’. They have (perhaps inevitably) been invaded by the language of government and the civil service. A really trenchant exposition of the ‘difference’ and therefore the educational and cultural value of art, craft and design would have been welcome.

On 1 April 1919 the Bauhaus issued its first ‘Proclamation’, a manifesto in all but name. It was short, sharp and challenging and ended with a visionary paragraph:

‘Let us create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist. Together let us conceive and create the new buildings of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will rise one day toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.’

They don’t write them like that anymore.

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