Every Child Does Matter

27/01/2023

As the dates for teachers strikes were confirmed, and signs of industrial action began, I couldn’t help but be moved by some of the tweets from teachers about the complexity of the decision to strike.

The national narrative is about key workers demanding more / fair pay. The recent change in algorithms in Twitter seems to ensure I see the likes of Kelvin McKenzie and Sophie Corcoran’s tweets – posing questions about the validity of these decisions, whether it’s greed, whether they were actually ok because they were paid through lockdown and others weren’t. There is a simplistic narrative that these strikes are about greed.

Reading the narratives across Twitter made me reflect on my own experience of the education system since Bounce started 15 years ago. When we were setting out, art workshops were a popular sell in schools. Every Child Matters was on the national agenda and there was an extended schools infrastructure that meant children had places to go after school. There were collaborations with Sure Start Centres. There was an integrated effort to ensure children were healthy, safe, could make a positive contribution, enjoy and achieve economic well-being.

We actually built a lot of Bounce off the back of it. We were commissioned to deliver drama projects in schools which we grew into a community youth theatre. This enabled us to build new relationships with funders and housing associations, the military, early years services, other artists, and schools. Some of my happiest memories of the early years of Bounce were rocking up to an estate with a tiny community room and somehow packing it out with the loudest, most energetic group of young people I’d ever met. They went on to perform in theatres including Tara Arts, The Rose, and Soho Theatre.

Gove became Education Secretary under the coalition. Every Child Matters quietly disappeared. The funding for extended schools provision evaporated. The Department for Children, Schools and Families was renamed the Department for Education. There was a shift from wellbeing to academic achievement. I always remember running a workshop in a school in Barnes afterwards. I asked the children what made a good story. One enthusiastically put his hand up and said a certain number of adjectives and verbs. My creative heart wilted a little bit in sadness.

We stopped trying to sell workshops to schools after a while. They didn’t have the money. If they did have the money they also couldn’t justify enough to pay someone for a day. We are not a greedy company. We’ve never actually raised our prices in 15 years. So, when I say they didn’t have the money, they really didn’t. There has to be enough for freelancers to take home to spend on more than lunch, travel, tax, and NI contributions.

We do continue to work with schools, but we usually find the funding first. We also often buy our own materials. Teachers often look quite relieved that we just need scrap paper, scissors and a pencil, as budgets have shrivelled so much they didn’t have a lot of money for paint.

A teacher recently chatted to me about a new project. They made a comment about having to teach children knowledge rather than skills. It really resonated with me as some of our sessions have been hard lately. In one devising session, we abandoned the plot we had developed, as we were reliant on giving knowledge to make it. Instead we focused on character development, things that mattered to them and suddenly we had multidimensional stories born out of their own lived experiences and ideas. We could facilitate knowledge alongside their own lines of inquiry into storytelling.

So, when I think about the teachers’ strikes now, I don’t actually think about teachers asking for more pay (which they deserve). I think about the proposition for schools who have to find it from their own budgets. What then for the classrooms already in disrepair, the equitable access for children with additional needs, extra curricular activities and the little things like being able to experience painting a really nice picture? What happens to this in a system that has long been drained?

There is an excellent website here highlighting the cuts made to education over the last 12 years: School Cuts

I also think about well-being. Every Child Matters may have had its imperfections, but over the last 12 years we have seen a rising mental health need in our young people, who feel the stress and pressure of attainment.

A reset is needed for the health and well-being of our children – because every child does matter.

~Louise

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