Jenny and the vanishing art classes

Jenny and the vanishing art classes

How does it feel to be head  of art in a school where  creative subjects aren’t valued, redundancies are underway  and you’re teaching subjects well  outside your specialism?

Jenny (not her real name) is 45 years old and disillusioned. She’s been teaching art at a state secondary school somewhere in England for 20 years .  A head of department, she also teaches some classes in English, history, personal social health and economic education (PSHE)  and religious education (RE). These are subjects  she hasn’t studied since her own O level days.

Her local authority school  was forced into becoming an academy because it was  failing. It has been taken over by another academy  and from September  becomes part of a two-school  multi-academy trust (MAT).

Jenny doesn’t believe her creative skills are valued. “The students appreciate it, but at a level above that – a level above me – management don’t appreciate what goes on in the classroom.  All the creative subjects at our place are located right at the back of the building. No-one comes.”

There is a “complete lack of interest”  at management level  in the work of her department, she says. “We get paraded out when people want to show the ‘amazing’ stuff that goes on. But on a day to day basis it’s not appreciated at all.”

What impact will this change to being part of a MAT  have on the provision of creative subjects, in her view?  The hours allocated to art and other creative subjects are being reduced at Key Stage Three  (ages  11-14) from September.

She added:  “We’ve  lost an hour a fortnight  (for art) for key Stage 3. That’s equivalent to a part-time member of staff.  My groups for AS and A level are being put together to reduce classes. Music and drama are also being dropped from two hours a fortnight to one hour a fortnight for Key Stage Three.”

Jenny says the loss of hours for creative subjects and reduction in the number of classes is not a sudden new development, but has become more common recently  –  “especially since the English Baccalaureate (EBacc)  came in”.  The government wants all pupils who began  Year  7 (11 year olds) last September to take five core  EBacc subjects – maths, English, Science, a language and history or geography – at GCSE. The EBacc is not a qualification as such, but schools will be measured on and held accountable for the proportion of pupils who take the subjects.

Jenny says she’s always had to teach a few lessons a week that have been outside her specialism such as PHSE or RE. “But in the last four or five years it’s gradually building up. I’ve taught history, and I’ve taught English to a bottom set  of  low ability students. It  just  happens to be a group  that I also teach art to. They like that they get to do an extra lesson of art, but we have been using it to engage them in their English a bit more.

“I have taught history to a bottom set  Year 9, It’s thought they are not going to be choosing it anyway, so it doesn’t matter that they don’t have a specialist (teacher). Some-one else is making an assumption that they are not going to be choosing to continue with history.”

She says she is being asked to teach challenging  groups of pupils subjects she has not trained in. “I don’t even have A levels in these subjects, because I went on and did a BTEC after O levels. These students are getting a teacher who only has the equivalent of an O level in English, History or RE.”

Morale at the school is low because of a number of voluntary and compulsory redundancies involving support staff .  “That includes office, admin, teaching assistants and technicians. They are having a really big cull on those.

“The atmosphere in the school is awful at the moment. We’ve already had 12 teaching assistants told they  will go at the end of the year. We’ve got other technicians and support staff who have gone and who won’t be replaced. We’ve got 12 staff in the admin office doing a huge variety of jobs and they are going down to five jobs. They are having to pitch themselves against each other when they apply for jobs.”

Teachers  in subjects including technology, drama, and outdoor education are leaving  and not being replaced. “So we’ve had a reduction in time in design and technology lessons as well as PE. The attitude of those making the decisions is that these are hobbies and kids can do that at home.”

In art, four groups are going into GCSE classes from September. But she says very few of the pupils who are most able at art have opted to do art. When many of the best students tried to opt to study it, “they have been told they shouldn’t take it as it’s not seen as a good qualification to have when they want to get into a Russell Group University”.

This week  MPs debated the decision by the government to leave expressive arts subjects out of the EBacc. During the debate Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on art, craft and design in education, made a cross-party case for promoting the creative arts in schools.  She said “all of these (creative arts) subjects provide a space for young people to push boundaries, widen their horizons and explore what it means to be human”.

Creative industries contributed an estimated £84.1 billion to the UK economy last year, she added. She concluded  that the “EBacc’s narrow-minded approach and prescriptive nature is sadly leaving very little space for creative subjects to flourish.”

Jenny’s experience offers a look at the consequences  for pupils and teachers at one school  of the new focus on EBacc subjects.

These include fewer opportunities for younger secondary pupils to find out if expressive arts are their strength, talented pupils being actively discouraged from studying art to GCSE level and the skills and experience  of well-qualified specialist teachers going to waste. Finally, what’s the impact on the pupils being taught by teachers without any qualifications in a subjects beyond a rusty O level? How many of those young students aged 11-14  will lose faith altogether in the value of education?

How open is the Education Funding Agency?

The register of interests for the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA)  Executive Management Board and Audit Committee has finally seen daylight (sort of).

I emailed the Department for Education on March 2 to request the document under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. I was told to call at the offices of the EFA in either London or Coventry to “view” it (I’d asked for it to be sent to me electronically).

So off I went to collect it. Luckily I live in London. I pity any poor FOI sleuth who might have to bus it in from Plymouth.

The document shows that one member of the Audit Committee, Jon Gorringe, has also declared a paid directorship of an insurance business that sells terrorism insurance to universities and colleges in the UK. Another Audit Committee member, Mark Sanders, has also declared his membership  of the board of the Northern Education Trust multi-academy trust (MAT).

The EFA is an hugely important organisation with a massive budget. It manages the running costs and capital needs of  all state-provided  education for 3-19 year olds in England.

In 2014/15 its supply of funding was £55.9 billion  – most of it from the Treasury. In that year alone the money  included funding for 1,007 new academies,  83 new free schools, 12 studio schools and 13 university technical colleges.

The EFA sets strict rules for academy members, trustees, accounting officers, chief financial officers and auditors.  As recently as July 2015 it said in its “bible” for academy trusts – The Academies Financial Handbook – that trusts  operating schools must  publish on their websites  relevant business and financial interests of members, trustees and local governors. This must be published in a “readily accessible format”.

This must include, for each member who has served at any point over the past 12 months, their full names, date of appointment, the date they stepped down (where applicable) and relevant business and financial interests, including governance roles in other educational institutions.

But when I went online to search for a “readily accessible” copy of the  register of financial interests for the EFA’s own board and committees,  nothing was available.

What does this say about how committed the EFA  is to the culture of openness and transparency it demands from  its academies and multi-academy trusts (MATs)?

Fifteen working  days after submitting the request,  I got the email response telling me that the “public interest lies in disclosing the information”. It said a register was maintained, and it could be “viewed”.

So there was no chance of the information just being submitted electronically, and the open and transparent option of the EFA just popping the information up on its own website was not on offer….

I turned up at the Sanctuary Buildings offices of the EFA, and following a 45 minute wait an EFA representative brought down an A4 sheet – an undated document outlining the register of interests of  the Executive Management Board and the Audit Committee. Here it is.

EFA register of interests Page 1EFA register of interests Page 2

Here’s a link to a copy of the document

What does it show?  EFA Audit Committee member Mark Sanders has declared his remunerated chairmanship of the board of Locala CiC. He has also has declared his membership of the board of the Northern Education Trust multi-academy trust (MAT).  The MAT operates 10 secondary academies and 10 primary academies. A search on that MAT’s website shows he is also a member of  the MAT’s  audit and risk committee.

Sue Baldwin is on the EFA’s Executive Management Board and  has declared her membership of the board of governors of  Barnet and Southgate College as a miscellaneous and unpaid interest.

Jon Gorringe, a member of the EFA’s Audit Committee,  has  declared his paid directorship  of “terrorism mutual insurance (business) UMSR”.  According to a 2012 Insurance Post article, Mr Gorringe was appointed chairman of “UM Association (Special Risks), a terrorism insurance mutual” providing terrorism cover for 111 universities and colleges in the UK.  Prior to that he was deputy chairman.

The other  remunerated employment  he has declared is his role as financial advisor for new university start up NMiTE (New Model in Technology and Engineering) – a private university planned for Hereford.

Stella Earnshaw, a EFA  non-executive director and member of  the Audit Committee, declared  a holding in HSBC exceeding £20,000. Under family members’ interests she has declared her husband  – who is not named – as a senior executive in HSBC until 31/3/16 and after that date he continued with his non-executive role on the HSBC Subsidiary Board. Her son  – who is not named – is employed as a senior associate at the Birmingham office of Deloitte’s.

A search on the Companies House website shows that  Ms Earnshaw,  an accountant,  was appointed a director of Partnerships for Schools (PfS) Ltd in 2005. The company  helped identify, evaluate and acquire sites for free school promotors. The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme remained a large part of PfS’s portfolio. She is listed as a non-executive director and chairman of the audit committee  in PfS’s annual report and accounts for the year ended March 31, 2012. In 2011 it was announced that PfS  would close and its functions transfer to the EFA from 1 April 2012.

Will the EFA now choose to publish this register as part of the transparency data on its website? As of today it still hasn’t appeared.



The Blog is back!

It’s been a while. In 2013/14 I blogged about foodbanks in my area of London.

My aim was to focus on real life stories and why people needed to rely on charity donations to feed themselves and their families.

After some  consideration I’ve decided to start blogging again. I’m hoping to publish some more blogs from the foodbanks shortly. I will also be publishing some occasional blogs on aspects of education and health – the areas I focus on as a freelance jounalist.

The first blog will be about Freedom of Information and transparency.

It will look at the people who oversee the £57 Billion (2014/15) that is spent on compulsory state education in England.

It’s nice to be back!