conference day three

Four snapshots from the conference…

(1) One of the things we’ve been presented with at the conference is a heuristic for thinking about quality in arts education. This is a hot topic, with Arts Council England for example opting for a set of “quality principles” that can be used to both plan and evaluate programmes. What we saw was a working idea, so not yet finalised. It’s divided into three sections, inputs, process and outcomes. I think the idea behind it is that quality only exists if all three are working together.

So, the things that matter in input quality are to do with: money and resources; time for planning/research; qualifications/skills levels and suitability of practitioners and their rigour, discipline, professionalism and history/experience and so on. Process quality is to do with: methodology; the appropriateness of space and resources; the assessment practices; appropriateness of decision-making; trust; responsiveness to location… Output quality is related to the : impact on participants (new identities, changed relationships, sense of agency); documentation; quality of reflection; skills acquired; the art work or performances; social improvement and more.

Some of these things are clearly incommensurate and need further unpacking, but as a provocation, they certainly started me thinking. It was refreshing to be presented with something that was at least more than about outcomes or just about process.

(2) One of the group’s represented at the polylogue is INRAE, a group of arts education researchers that was established some years ago. I’m not part of this group so haven’t been party to all of their conversations. These have recently mainly centred around a crowd-sourced anthology subtitled “The Wisdom of the Many”. One of the early chapters offers a five part heuristic for thinking about arts education:

1. An art specific approach. This works within disciplines to produce skills, often to professional levels.
2. An economic approach which focuses on the arts as a means to producing creativity, and creative workers for the creative economy as well as the economy more generally.
3. A social approach which emphasises the capacity of the arts to assist social integration and wellbeing, as well as other health associated outcomes.
4. An educational approach which stresses “bildung” – the development of selves and an enriched biography as both arts producer/participant.
5. The political approach which emphasises citizenship and the promotion of particular social values. Global citizenship, regional heritage and nationalist sentiment all reside here.

(From Ernst Wagner, “Local-global concepts in arts education”p24-29 in Schonmann, S Ed 2015 International Yearbook for Research in Arts Education. Munster: Waxmann. )

Of course, many policies take up more than one of these. So it’s not uncommon to see the art specific approach combined with an economic and a political. However, I’m not sure I agree with the definition offered here under an art specific approach; I see arts outcomes as being much more than simply the production of professional or semi-professional skills.

Still, it’s good to have this typology laid out to respond to.


(3) Jazz. Matthias Schreifl’s Multiorchester. I must admit I’d never heard jazz played on two alpenhorns before. This was a fifteen strong group with members from all over Germany and Austria. Each of them plays about five instruments. They haven’t played together for 18 months because people aren’t prepared to actually pay for all of them, they usually play as a subset of five or six. Our conference did stump up for the full troupe, and we enjoyed the performance as much as they did.

(4) Some of the group are attempting to set up a process for monitoring the state of arts education across Europe.  The difficulties of trying to construct a comparative survey of arts education are numerous. Definitions of what counts as arts vary enormously from country to country, so it’s almost impossible to devise universal survey questions. The alternative is to ask a range of questions about the kinds of things that might constitute arts education. But even here, for instance, what is a subject, what counts as training for staff etc etc are very different in different places. And then, who would fill in such a survey? How many people actually know enough about their national situation to answer a comprehensive set of questions about arts education? Do you have several people as survey respondents, and if so who and who  decides on them? Debating this issue took up a couple of hours this morning!

Footnote: The Finland contingent were very sad to be missing the Eurovision semifinals tonight, with their entry a punk band of men with diagnosed learning difficulties. A double first for the competition and the product of an Helsinki music college.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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