One of our associate practitioners, Jack Stancliffe, is about to start a collaboration with a school involved in our ‘What you shouldn’t do in a school’ project. We asked him to reflect on the journey ahead . . . .
Beginning this project “what not to do at school” I’m excited by the scope of what the project may enable and from initial conversations had, to what depth the schools is wishing to explore the concept. The statement immediately conjures a variety of questions in regards to what should you do in school, what doesn’t happen in school and perhaps most importantly what are the rules surrounding these things, and how does that affect the daily experiences of all that exist and operate in such a setting.
From a distance there feels there can be two overlapping categories of rules that operate in such settings, those that are explicit presented in school handbooks, printed out on big red signs, created in compartmentalised spaces around the school, and repeated on a daily basis, and those that are implicit, hidden or embedded within patterns that are not only related to a negative correcting or caution, but those that are in place to supposedly support or improve through positive action.
At this stage I believe there in scope for experiments into both, with explicit rules being explored in potentially more meaningful and situated ways, with grand cinematic utopias being created at the end of such with pupils throwing books in the air having being released from their temporary “repressors” in a supposedly radical act. Or perhaps maybe more meaningfully a more subtle and slower focus on those that may be implicit. An example of this coming from an initial discussion with staff at the school around the rules embedded within their reward systems. With one rule particularly being noted “the sending of a pupil to tell the headteacher of their achievement within class”. Through a simple consideration of how this may enable and restrict experience, we were able to quickly unpacked a few points a) how does this rule enforce a hierarchical system within the school b) how does this action contribute to how a pupil may reflecting on their own achievement and purpose of their completed activity c) if the pupil created their own rules around their reward, what would it be and indeed who would they share it with. Although small and easy to overlook it becomes startling clear how something of this size suddenly locates itself in broader school experience, both effecting and being affected by the other elements at play around it. It is massive.
What feels particularly interesting at this point and responding to this, is for me to then consider “what an artist shouldn’t do in school”. This seems particularly relevant given the context of the school and its achievements both academically, socially and within the eyes of the public sphere performing well. In many ways the traditional rules or expectations of my artistic function in this setting quickly become diminished. Returning back to the potential layers of rules in school, it is perhaps this that provides me with new parameters to create rules from and respond through. I start with the question therefore of how firstly I can utilise my arts practice and pedagogical approach to bring out those implicit rules and make visible those dominant hidden ideas, and secondly how do I create situations in which these can be challenged, reconfigured and brought to trial. I am excited to begin this investigation and to discover to what extent I can truly do this; how the methods of doing this (that are often antagonistic, provocative and unsettling) situate themselves in a setting that would normally shut their doors on such elements, and most importantly in doing so what impact can be made on the school and their pupils learning and daily experience.