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Michael Gove

Firstly I wanted to ensure that this blog could be understood by people outside of education, as it affects so many people in different places, so I make no apologies for not focusing on Data and Levels! It also will be a difficult read for some in certain areas. But I wanted to keep it real.

This movement is important for many reasons, all of which I don’t have the time to outline here. There will be many people wanting to quickly point out the fact that the Department Of Education and OFQUAL are only considering axing PE and the Arts at GCSE, not at every level. So I want to ensure that we are factual as well as opinionated. But I want to share with people why it’s important to me as a person and as an educator.

The Issue

The Times newspaper published an article last Sunday stating that ‘soft subjects’ such as PE and Drama were at risk of being axed at GCSE level by the Department of Education and Ofqual. Immediately I was incensed as were many others on twitter. We have since come together to fight this and received big named backing which we will reveal soon.

I’ve thought about this long and hard. The ramifications of what they are proposing, extend to many depths of education and society. Take the opening and closing ceremonies of London 2012 for example. I bet the majority of those people participating in the ceremony have qualifications in sport or the Arts. Whether it be GCSE or a Masters. Arts and Sport are embedded in our culture and identity as a nation. Being British means we are tolerant, non judgmental and accepting of all cultures and communities. I’m making a bold statement here but does that stem from sitting behind a desk and having Pythagoras theorem forced down your neck? Or does it come from socializing on the track with an international student at university, or staying behind every Tuesday in school to participate in an inclusive extra -curricular dance club which incorporates children with SEN and social and emotional needs?

The issue I have with this proposal is that the people outlined above may not have chosen to go into their industry and follow their passion at any level because we as a nation and as an education system are sending a message that Sport and the Arts are not worthy of equal footing when it comes to qualifications. I see many parents that don’t allow their children to choose P.E and the Arts at GCSE level because they don’t believe that they carry enough weight or are taken seriously enough by employers or universities. Can you imagine if this reform goes through, how that will only worsen?

 We run a real risk of creating a divide within our schools and elite performance systems in both Arts and Sport. If this happens and you’re a 14 year old wanting to study P.E or the Arts, you can’t because your school don’t offer it. You have to go to college. Problem is that the college don’t accept many on early college entry because their provision doesn’t always cover it. So if you’re a talented sportsperson you then realize the only way you can do your subject and passion easily is by applying for a private school scholarship which are few and far between. Percentages of Olympic teams privately educated are already high. This reform could push it higher.

Another issue is that our Talent ID systems in both Sport and the Arts usually become prominent at the age of 14. If this reform goes through many will not pursue their passion and ability and not progress to represent their county, region, country. Even if they are picked up later on, the window for development has had to be pushed back two years because they can’t fit in their performance and training alongside their rigorous and ‘hard subject’ choices at GCSE.

GCSE P.E and Performing Arts gives students the licence to use their passion and talents in an educational context. For practical and theory elements it allows students to tailor their subject according to their area of sporting and expressive excellence. This is unlike any other subject and one of few subjects to incorporate an individualized curriculum. It is vital we keep it.

 I also work in the area of alternative education. Alternative education is already at a stretch and the drop out rate will undoubtedly go through the roof with these proposed reforms. Young people will come into the alternative education environment where we use the above subjects to engage them in the learning process and offer qualifications.

 So the Department of education are basically saying that although they are soft subjects and haven’t got a place in mainstream education qualifications, when all else fails these two mediums are the best to engage young people? Slight contradiction I feel.

Personally

I wasn’t in school too long ago. A large teenager (tall and well built) with a life at home that was far from the norm. My family fostered. And not just fostered, we only took children that were extremely damaged and in need of a lot of nurture and care, as well as large amounts of behavioural regulation. It was nothing for me to come in from school one day and see a new face standing in my kitchen, or a window put through and even on a few occasions flooding in the house due to one of them kicking off. But I grew to love it. However there were times where I struggled, due to the fact that we went through some very dark periods with these children in order to support and show them a different way of life.

This had a direct correlation on my behaviour and attainment within education. I was a run of the mill student; what we would call working at national average.

But at the age of 14 i tended to spend most of my time in the corridor or head’s office. I had a mouth on me and was very angry most of the time. Not just because of multiple issues my family were facing at the time, but because I didn’t see the relevance of some of the subjects I was learning. 

     I remember one particular incident where I was sent out (again) of my English class. The teacher came out and proceeded to tell me what I was doing wrong in an aggressive and irrational manner, which in fairness i had provoked. It took her around 5 minutes before she asked me why I was disengaged with the subject. I didn’t need any time to reply, it spontaneously arrived on my tongue. ‘Thing is miss that whilst I appreciate Shakespeare is important, he’s not relevant anymore. I have no interest in it and i’m not going to use him at any point in my career. I know you have to teach it but i hate it, and quite frankly it’s not reality. Why don’t you sit down and tell me how to deal with a child that has been horrifically sexually abused? Because they’re the things that I need to learn to get through life at the moment.’

It wasn’t a comment I threw out there to rub in her face, I was genuinely needing help. She took a minute to respond and simply said ‘You have to do it, it’s part of the syllabus.’ I never told my parents this story because I didn’t want them at the time to worry about me as they had a lot on their plate. So Mum and Dad if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for not telling you!

From there on I realized that most subjects were the same. However sport and the Arts allowed me the outlet to escape, move to learn and solve real life problems. I’m not in any way dumbing down other subjects or saying that one is more important than the other. But these two subject areas happened to be the way that I learnt. I had always played rugby, lacrosse, football and other sports from a young age but didn’t discover the arts until my mid teens. The school ran UK Rock Challenge. An initiative that I have been involved with ever since. UKRC gives young people ‘a drug free high’ through performance of Dance, but also has teams for stage crew, choreography, costumes and much more. It was within the stage crew team that I learnt how to communicate through different mediums, think outside the box, and be tolerant of others from all walks of life. Because for that 7 minutes on the stage, no matter what part of the team you belonged to, you understood that everyone depended on one another. 

Mrs Winter and Lesley Alexander who to this day I remain very close friends with had two rules. 

You show everyone respect and don’t judge anyone in this team’ along with; ‘you show yourself respect and don’t worry about others judging you. Because if you follow both rules everyone will be free to express themselves.’ 

Lesley happened to have wrote the first performing arts GCSE. Random fact. Years later performing arts has allowed me to go to Dubai twice, Africa and in two years, Japan.

When I was 16 I began coaching within the high school and moved up very quickly to national governing body work, as well as working on many initiatives in and around the community. I loved it and it was here that I discovered I had a real knack for ensuring that young people could engage with the subject no matter what age, ability, or walk of life they were from. I was particularly good at teaching those that were facing multiple social and emotional challenges, had additional educational needs and funnily enough… Looked after children. Sport was my chosen career path. People including my mum said that because I was ‘academic’ I should do something more meaningful and ‘use the brain I was given’. I will add that my mum after seeing how happy it made me and how good I became at it, soon changed her mind. But those judgments exist because of people like Mr Gove. Sometimes I wonder if he defines intelligence with an abacus.

As an educator

When I left school following my A levels it angered me that I was made to conform to the standardized system of education, and worst still…the children we looked after were made to do that too. I thought to myself, ‘how can we expect children that have seen unbelievable atrocities and been subjected to the worst abuse imaginable, to sit behind a desk and made to believe that their whole existence and future hinges on them remembering algebraic equations, the importance of french tenses or as Mr Gove would desire – Latin. It’s unrealistic and sets them up to fail and be rejected once more, which is much of the time, all they have ever known.

 Imagine you are one of those children.

 You’ve never been shown any care or love (albeit in completely the wrong way), you’ve had to regulate your own behaviour and emotional responses because no adult was able to do that for you, you’ve been kept away from interacting with other children and adults (unless its in the form of abuse), not fed properly, think of every adult as a threat and prefer to be rejected rather than interact with adults. These children arrive at school often at the age of 6 because they’ve been hidden away from society. We then (because we have to) make them conform to a system of education that is build on the ethos of ‘one size fits all’. Well the fact is that those children are not the norm and can’t always cope with the norm.  This size will very rarely fit. Sometimes, much later on these young people go on to achieve and gain qualifications but often we set them up to fail.

I set up my own business and worked within health, children’s services, education and sport. But every time my task was the same; to ensure that the arts and sport were used effectively to rehabilitate the children outlined above, back into education. And even in the worst case scenarios a lot of the time it worked. But I will never forget one child I worked with in this capacity, saying to me at the age of 11, ‘Mike if I could do all my school through sport I’d be good all the time’. I have no doubt that he wouldn’t have managed to be good ALL of the time 🙂 But i had to tell him that there was no such school unfortunately. It seemed unjust.

Currently we have a Secretary of State for Education that believes employers are looking for highly academic and fact remembering robots. Our young people are growing up in an ever changing world where they have to be the most adaptable and innovative generation we have ever produced. Are we really saying that this current education system is going to prepare them for that? If we look at industries that want to involve themselves in young people’s education, yes they need young people to read, write and do Math, but they also state regularly that our young people lack personality, adaptability, resilience, creative capacity and other things. Long term Youth unemployment is at an all time high. If we axe these subjects, this situation will surely only get worse.

 I leave you with this thought from Sir Ken Robinson;

My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Well Mr Gove I hope you are ready for a fight. Because this movement is not going away anytime soon.

#savePEandtheARTs

@mikearmiger

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