Materially inventive

17th March 2000 at 00:00
Time and money are always in short supply, so teachers of the creative arts are having to come up with resourceful solutions. Gerald Haigh reports.

All teachers - and perhaps particularly teachers of the creative arts - have at some time been influenced by a charismatic tutor or colleague to the extent of swearing by their method or favourite material. There may be nothing wrong with these ideas, but growing up professionally means thinking new thoughts, looking at new materials and finding better ways of using old ones. This is given urgency by the twin pressures of time and money.

There is some Standards Fund money for specialist instrumental teaching in schools but generally speaking schools have to run the whole creative arts area from their basic formula funding. Art departments in particular find this difficult because, as Ann Andersen, head of art at Finham Park school in Coventry points out, her subject runs on materials that are consumed in quantity every day.

"A GCSE student will get through at least one set per year of five tubes of PVA paint at pound;1.60 a tube, for example. These relatively small amounts add up," she says.

She fights to keep these consumable costs down and examination groups are asked, in a voluntary scheme, to buy a pack of their own art materials. There are still lots of things she wants to do, though. "We need more powerful computers. We've got some nice programs but can't run them because the machines won't take them."

Bob Hopcraft, head of Norton St Nicholas CE primary school in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, does use his computers for art. His problem is time. It is not so much that creative work might disappear from the timetable: art is in the emotional fabric of the primary school and no one can contemplate it not being there. Mr Hopcroft articulates the general view within primary education when he says: "Art is a means by which young people make sense of the world around them and to very young children in particular it is as important as developing their literacy and numeracy skills." And it is a national curriculum subject. Doing it justice, though, is something else. Says Mr Hopcraft: "It has almost been marginalised in school by the concentration on literacy and numeracy."

Noticeably, in primary schools, creative work is being pushed into the afternoon. Peripatetic instrumental teachers, as a group, are finding that the mornings - prime literacy and nmeracy time - are off limits to them. Part of the answer for Mr Hopcraft is to look beyond the end of the school day. "One of our parents who is a graphic designer has started an after-school art club. The parents pay a fee for buying materials. It's been so successful that we've had to ration access to it."

Even after-school activities can succumb to time pressure. Pat Lee, head of Claremont infants school in Moss Side, Manchester, where music is a great strength, says: "We're having the poet Val Bloom in school. In the past we would have made it into a big evening event, with the children singing and African drums. But I really don't feel I can ask staff to give up an evening like that. It's a constant dilemma. The Government is all target setting, and numeracy and literacy, and we only have a certain amount of energy and time."

Arguably, though, having less time and money makes it more important to spend just a little of both looking for shortcuts and more efficient ways of doing things. For example, heads and teachers like to show their children's work in classroom and corridor displays. A bit of research will turn up products and techniques that make the job easier and more effective.

Music teachers might find it worth looking for ethnic instruments, thinking about new ways of teaching the recorder, looking for a knowledgeable supplier of electronic keyboards, dragging old instruments out of the cupboard and finding the firm who supplies the spare parts.

In art, it could be as simple as keeping a continuous eye open for good basic materials at prices that are value for money, or finding collections of great art on postcards with supporting text.

And all the time there are the possibilities of technology: three dimensional design software, digital imaging, artwork on CD-Rom or downloaded from the Internet, keyboards linked to a computer for musical composition work.

The Education Show seems a good place to start your investigations - see some products and pick up catalogues, web addresses and telephone numbers. And take some time to talk to the exhibitors to sound out ideas.

Keyboards in Action stand IT40IT42 Schools Music Assoc stand AV5 Schott amp; Co stand PV211 Percussion Plus Novara stand R40 Goodwill Art Service stand U51 Specialist Crafts stand T51 Brian Clegg Educational Products stand U50 Art Projects for Schools stand U44 Alternative Display Co stand N72

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