There’s plenty of advice around to artists about how to engage with schools, comply with their cultures and generally cope with the myriad of policies, initiatives and behaviours which swarm through school classrooms. But where’s the advice to schools which will help them get the best out of their visiting artists? This is a start and it looks initially at the employment process. Employing artists in schools is frequently couched in terms of preparing the workforce of the 21st century (ie children). It’s a pity then that its the employment practices of the 19th century which are used to bring about this transformation. In order to bring schools’ employment practices into the 21st century, please try and take note of the following.
1. Provide a focused project specification in advance to the interview with the artist which is realistic and doesn’t expect aforesaid artist to deal with all your school’s long term intractable cultural problems. Don’t try and attempt to raise your SATS levels in the core curriculum on the basis of 2 hours a week.
2. When artists apply for a role in your school, however short-term, do the decent thing and reply to their application and give them an idea of when they are likely to hear the results of their application. A short email is all it takes.
3.After the interview, give some constructive feedback as to why the artist was unsuccessful. Yes, this can be difficult if you can’t articulate the reason why you haven’t employed them – but there must have been some reason, however tenuous. Also, please try and do that before the end of the month. Leaving it upto 6 months is neither use nor ornament to anyone.
4. If you have a preferred supplier, don’t waste everybody else’s time in establishing long, fake procedures which you know you won’t honour.
5. Once you do employ someone, please be aware that this is likely to be part of their freelance portfolio and that their daily fee cannot be translated into the equivalent of an annual salary. They do not get paid holiday pay, do not get paid a pension and cannot claim sickness benefit. What might look like a large fee to you has, more than likely to last a few days – and the planning and evaluation time that will also be necessary to work with your school.
6. Please try and stick to the timetable you have agreed with your artist. There is nothing more frustrating than agreeing a ten weekly project only to be informed in week seven that the class has a sponsored bouncy castle event to attend that week, so putting paid to your carefully co-constructed schedule. If your school has to fit too many activities into a limited timetable, there is something wrong with your timetable, not the artist.
7. Please try and engage with the sessions the artist is running. This means not sitting back doing your marking; not using it as an excuse to leave the room; and not being passive-agressive when asked to join in.
8. If you would like the project to include a training component for your permanent staff, warn the artist, allocate extra time or specific sessions for such training, and pay accordingly! Simply allowing teachers to sporadically sit in on/“observe” and interrupt the children’s workshop time, without allowing the artist to plan for and integrate their presence, is counterproductive for all concerned. (Thanks to rhshelley for this fab addition!)
There will no doubt be lots more advice to follow from other colleagues; they’ll be added as and when.