Freshers’ week welcome meetings, Experience Barnsley Engagement Trust Board, Bishop’s breakfast, cultural festival proposal writing, an official opening event and a visit to an art studio were some of the entries in my diary for this last week. What came out of the meetings has been a mix of inspiration, stimulating debate and positive actions balanced with the realisation that we are overly influenced by oppressive centrally managed systems and out-dated policies.
It is always an exciting time when a new set of students arrive to start their studies, their enthusiasm and questions after the long summer break, the groups blocking corridors trying to fathom the room numbering systems and the freebies at the events and parties each night of the week all make for a whirlwind of experiences. This week has been full of new experiences for me as well, some which made me feel optimistic and others that were initially disheartening but could be changed eventually by some major political upheaval.
I was very impressed by the short talk given by Simon Duffy from The Centre for Welfare Reform http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org who made a powerful argument, using the government’s own statistics, for the implementation of major changes to the welfare system in this country rather than the tinkering in parts that has been the norm by successive governments. The amount of lost revenue from benefit fraud is small compared with that lost from tax fraud yet news items are far more prevalent about the former than the latter (it would be an interesting comparison to see how much is spent on detecting these frauds as well). The figures he used also showed how the disabled would be far worse off under the system that is being implemented at the moment, another item of news that is rarely reported, and introduced another group – The Campaign for a Fair Society http://www.campaignforafairsociety.com/the-campaign/manifesto/ that is trying to raise awareness in this area.
The positives came from the inaugural meeting of the Experience Barnsley Engagement Trust Board. The members were full of ideas for collaborations, community involvement and volunteering opportunities that all bodes well for the future of the museum and archive, its’ programme of events and the promotion of this in the future. Another event I was invited to this week was the official opening of Horizon Community College. http://www.horizoncc.co.uk The spirit and keenness of pupils, staff and supporters to welcome and show what they do in the college was infectious and the future prospects for these pupils will be enhanced by the ethos and environment they are now enjoying. The results in the summer were 16% better than the year before and next year’s promise to be better still.
Some strong words of caution regarding how education is planned and assessed have recently been published in Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. On both sides of the Atlantic politicians have introduced the measurement of knowledge in certain subject areas and publish the results, by institution, in simple league tables. One of the arguments in the book looks at the fixation with tests and an education system based on the feeding and consumption of some knowledge that, rather than raising overall standards, promotes the average. Teaching innovation and creativity (difficult to measure and test) through the progressions of “play to passion to purpose” will foster the imagination needed for this century’s workforce is a key message in the book. This teaching is generally found in the extra-curriculum offer in most schools, the argument is that it should be the curriculum.
The final part of the blog this week is in admiration of the inspirational art, sculpture, ceramics and photography that was produced by alumni from the University Campus in Barnsley (full blog post of details Artists Extra posted on the 18th September). These artists have gone through the UK system of measurement – rebelled, fallen off, been let down and yet succeeded in producing exquisite works. Most have achieved despite, rather than because of, their time in school and hopefully institutions like the Campus will be there to support this talent for many years to come.