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A Bigger Splash 

I was lucky enough to visit the Hockney exhibition at the Tate this weekend, where it was a privilege to spend time amongst such an extensive range of impressive and uplifting work. It was moving to experience the incredible colour in his painting that makes its audience feel rather euphoric. However what really struck me is the artist’s versatility, especially how he has embraced new techniques, styles and ways of working to continue to produce work that is every bit as fresh, innovative and exciting today is it was in the 1950s. Wandering through the twelve rooms, it dawned on me that perhaps there is much we can learn from David Hockney’s career and make parallels with primary education.

I started teaching in 1993. It doesn’t really seem that long ago, but during this time things in education have changed considerably. Ideas have come and gone, priorities from the Department of Education have changed and the technology available to teachers is unrecognisable.

As a Newly Qualified Teacher, the National Curriculum was in its infancy, the SATs were about to be trialled for the first time and it seemed as if teachers could pretty much teach what they wanted. In the case of my parallel teacher, who did most of the planning, it was mostly story writing, comprehension exercises or working through a maths textbook in the morning, with French, entrepreneurial projects or PE in the afternoon. Teaching was on the blackboard, plans were handwritten and there were no emails to respond to and teachers tended to leave school at a decent hour. That’s not to say the teaching wasn’t as good as it was today; much of it was excellent and creativity flourished – it was just different. Children at Osidge Primary School made good progress and left for secondary school confident, ready and prepared, with a whole range of life skills to fall back on.

Since then we’ve seen the introduction (and subsequent abandonment) of the National Strategies, the introduction (and subsequent abandonment) of National Curriculum levels, the arrival of academies and free schools. We’ve adapted to new legislation such as Every Child Matters and Workforce Remodelling, and coped with numerous rewrites of National Curriculum. The world is different, the technology is different, expectations are different and the way in which we teach has changed.

And like Hockney, with each change we adapt and embrace the new ways of working and the new technology. We build on what we know and what we do best, and the children continue to create new and amazing things. We play with change and explore what works best in the classroom. But with all this change, is our teaching better today than it was back then? That’s a hard question to answer, after all, are Hockney’s digital depictions of the Yorkshire landscape created on an iPad better than his Los Angeles swimming pools?

William