What is the Role of the Art Teacher in State-Funded Secondary Schools in England?
For many years, and particularly since the 1980s, the state has taken an interest in the curriculum of state-funded secondary schools. This interest has focused largely on utilitarian imperatives for employment and economic sustainability. A consequence of this utilitarian conception of state education is that art viewed, as a less useful subject within the curriculum, is threatened by this. Against an historic discourse about the nature of art itself and why it is taught and its value in society, the question of ‘What is art?’ and ‘What is the role of the art teacher?’ continue to defy a consensus that is useful to teachers. Concurrently, these important arguments have inevitably impinged on the practice of art teachers who find themselves distanced from cherished liberal and social imperatives, and confused about what is expected of them. This study looks at how these pervasive arguments make an impact on teachers who, although studied as artists and trained to teach art, now find themselves dubbed ‘art and design’ teachers as the requirements of the state and its increasingly utilitarian system exerts more control over their working lives. More than twice as many art graduates (3.4% of fine art graduates in 2016) enter teaching than design graduates (1.3% design graduates in 2016) (Logan and Prichard, 2016). A piece of qualitative research was completed with a combined sample of 23 teachers. Building on Efland’s streams of influence underpinning the development of art education: Expressionist, Scientific Rationalist and Reconstructivist; and Hickman’s rationales for art education: Social Utility, Personal Growth and Visual Literacy, a tentative theory is proposed and hypotheses explored. Some teachers questioned revealed sadness at a perceived reduction in time for lessons devoted to self-expression, art history, cultures, critical evaluation, experimentation, imagination, risk taking, and creativity. Some teachers felt deeply that they and their subject is misunderstood, undervalued and under threat. Many were not comfortable with a role that was at variance with the one they had been trained for. Some teachers suggested their role was no longer concerned with developing children’s individual talents but had become too design-based, too predictable, too linear, and too concerned with measurable outcomes and results. Capturing the words of 23 teachers in interviews and surveys contributes to the literature and provides teachers, policy makers and future researchers with vital insights into what an art teacher is and why they teach art, and how this is at variance with National Curriculum aims. These insights are vital because the present lack of consensus about such fundamental arguments has contributed to a devaluing of art in the curriculum to a point where the future of art in state-funded secondary schools is no longer guaranteed.
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