Review by Ged Gast of Eileen Adams: Agent of Change

Review by Ged Gast

Past president, NSEAD

The National Society for Education in Art and Design magazine,  Spring 017, Issue 18, pp 32-33

Book cover for Eileen AdamsEileen Adams has worked at the leading edge of art, design and environmental education for the past 40 years, as a teacher, examiner, researcher, freelance consultant and project manager. This book marks a point of self-reflection and reappraisal by the author on the value and outcomes from these projects, and their contribution in shaping and defining art, design and environmental education. It is also a very timely publication in that it informs our reflection on the current attitudes held by society regarding the misunderstanding of the value and purpose of art, craft and design, and the design of learning environments.

This book is a thoroughly engaging read throughout, starting with a chronology of life influences and experience, observed with an experienced educator’s eye for detail and the analysis of a researcher. The author recognises the significance and shaping factors from her earliest memories of family and school life, helping us understand the formative characteristics that have driven her principles and values. Her descriptions of professional training and early teaching experience clarify how her belief in child-centred learning, personalisation and individual discovery were shaped by the research and educational reform of the time.

The educational, social and political contexts are eloquently set out in the following five chapters, which detail the major areas of Eileen’s work and the projects she has led, or within which she has played a significant role. Each of these projects has made a significant contribution to help shape our understanding of drawing, learning through the landscape and the built environment, contexts for linking art with craft, design and technology and the teaching of architecture, the design of learning environments, public art spaces and visual literacy. These have all led in turn to improvements in pedagogy, but also informed improvements in the scope and depth of the curriculum itself.

At the current time we are adjusting to a reduction in professional development, and published guidance to support curriculum innovation and the leadership of learning. This publication reminds us of the immense value invested in the authority of national projects, which engage teachers directly in research and debate, supported by a drip-feed of ideas and the dissemination of progress reports and guidance publications. The project details illustrate the value they brought to classroom practitioners, investing them with the responsibility to develop their practices and pedagogies.

Essential to the narratives are the excellent images and photographs that document the process, but also the work of the children and students. The author is prolific in her recording of process as evidence, recognising the value and power of an image to communicate an idea, or explain and define an expectation. This publication is image rich, confirming the importance to those of us engaged in visual learning and with a preference for this style of communication. As an equally prolific disseminator, the author details the many pamphlets, reports, videos and beautifully illustrated small publications from these projects. The final chapter lists all of these and includes in some detail; for example, the series of Power Drawing books which I know have been seized upon by teachers hungry for clarity and understanding of the purposes of drawing, and for their exemplification of approaches and expectations.

The reflection section at the end of each chapter confirms that the author is still analysing and processing what she has learned, and the benefit this has brought to our understanding of visual learning. These reflections explore impact and legacy, but also review the research in the context of more recent attitudes and political contexts, identifying clear lessons for the future for educators and policy makers.

The acknowledgements and list of schools reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of some of our most radical and creative schools and colleges from this period. We can see from the project details how these teachers and their educational establishments have grown through their engagement in the ideas and opportunities these projects promoted. It is testament to the author’s effectiveness in the dissemination of project outcomes that so many of these areas now seem natural and fundamental elements of our curriculum. We cannot imagine a time when this would not be so.

This is not then a book just for those who were part of the journey, but most importantly it is for those young teachers who have yet to join the debate and take up the baton for the next phase of development. It will certainly become a key publication for those engaged in future research in visual and design education.

It transcends any notion of phase and age in the same way that the author has explored the concepts and principles that underpin these areas of investigation, through early years, schooling and pathways into further and higher education. Trainees, teachers, college lecturers, examination assessors, and those engaged in educational policy making, the design of learning environments and with a responsibility for public art, will find this a rich resource to better understand the scope of responsibility we have as educators, policy makers and designers in shaping the future of creative and cultural learning.

The policy recommendations and conclusions in the penultimate chapter emphasise ten areas for change, distilled from the experience gained from a lifetime in research and educational development. This book defines the importance of these projects and the lessons learnt, both to practitioners (in all phases from Early Years to Higher Education) and to the politicians, curriculum shapers and senior leaders. The author sets out her principles and vision for the effectiveness of purposeful research, the development of educational policy for learning, teaching and the curriculum, the learning environment and the realignment of the purpose of assessment. These are all areas essential to the future health of visual and design-based learning, but also for visual literacy, creative and cultural well-being of society

View the Book Page for Eileen Adams: Agent of Change in art, design and environmental education 
Download Sample Pages


ISBN: [hardback, colour] 978-1-909671-13-3 … £55.00 RRP
ISBN: [paperback, B&W] 978-1-909671-14-0 … £15.99 RRP
ISBN: [ebook, mobi] 978-1-909671-18-8 … £14.99 RRP

These different versions are also available from all good book stores (eg Waterstones) and online book sellers (eg BOOKS etc).

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