Chapter 9

Analysis of the Synchronic Data 1:

School Experiences From RNIB Colleges Before and After the 1981 Act





Aims and objectives of this chapter

This chapter is the first in the section analysing the synchronic data. Its aims are to:

·        examine the experiences of fine art education of two students who attended RNIB New College , Worcester after the 1981 Act

·        develop an examination of three issues raised in the diachronic section. These issues are:

- Legacies of how the social and cultural attitudes to exclusion of students in schools for the blind have affected contemporary art teachers’ attitudes

- The experiences of students on the process of inclusion, which was influenced by factors unrelated to disability

- The attitudes of art teachers to students in mainstream schools who were not trained to include students who were blind in art education

·        examine the notion that their experiences have directly affected their behaviour, rather than been affected by their tasks

·        test the validity of Doyle’s theory of ambiguity and risk used in an earlier analysis of art education and blindness (Hayhoe, 1995, 1995b, 2000)


The objectives of this chapter and section are to examine whether:

  • there is an observable linkage between experiences in early art education and students’ experience in art education
  • socially and culturally influenced attitudes to blindness and art can influence later behaviour in education


The background to this section

In keeping with the model of analysis presented in chapter 3, diagrammatic illustration of this section’s analysis is presented in diagram 9.1 below. This diagram shows the time line bisecting the period before and after the 1981 Act in red. It is the experiences of art education of individual students who were registered blind either side of this redline, and their consequential behaviour that this section of the study examines in particular.


Diagram 9.1: Diagram illustrating the synchronic analysis of the theory of art for people who are blind in red



Diachronic analysis of the history of the education of students who are blind after 1690 until the present day






Adapted from de Saussure (1972)


This model was developed to test the validity of Doyle’s theory of ambiguity and risk presented in chapter 1. To reiterate, Doyle states that ambiguous tasks will be avoided by students just beginning new tasks or subjects, but will be attempted despite their risk by experienced students. This theory also finds that the basic element of all class activity is “the task,” i.e. behaviour is only a product of tasks students are given in comparison to their stage of learning. The following analysis tests this theory against the hypothesis also presented in 1 and 3, which finds that students’ behaviour is a product of the quality as well as the quantity of experience.


The structure of this chapter is now examined below.


The structure of this chapter

This chapter presents analysis of two students as separate case studies. These segments are described below:

·        The first case study is of Emile, who was registered blind and educated in a mainstream school and then RNIB New College, Worcester after the 1981 Act

·        The second case study is of Anna, who was registered blind and educated in a mainstream school and then RNIB New College, Worcester after the 1981 Act

·        Conclusion


Before beginning the analyses of these case studies, however, a brief description of New College, Worcester is given below. This description is designed to provide the reader with a context to the case studies, the teaching the students received, and their personal histories in the school.


A background to New College, Worcester[1]

The students featured in the following case studies were admitted to New College’s upper school, which evolved in the 19th Century from the amalgamation of other RNIB schools into the original Worcester College, previously called Worcester College for the Blind Sons of Gentlemen[2]. The legacy of this original school still exists, as it is a registered charity, its funding comes in the form of fees – mostly from local authorities – and the school is a member of the Headmaster’s Conference (HMC).


The whole school has regular student numbers, and in the years of research this was just over 100 (Ratcliffe interview, appendix 8). All of these students have a statement of special educational needs related to their blindness, and they are assessed both before arriving at the college by their local authorities, and by the college after they arrive. All of the students board on campus, and are supported by “live in” help assistants – many are college students.


New College now teaches students up to nineteen years old, although this is not common. Most students either leave at sixteen or eighteen. Class sizes are small, with often a maximum of five in each class. The school’s curriculum is broad, and covers a range of humanities, sciences, technologies, sports and the arts, including fine art, drama and music. Special resources are available to allow for adapted learning practices, such as large screen computers and special sports equipment. All of the subject departments offer GCSE courses for fourteen to sixteen year olds, and most offer A Level courses from sixteen years old onwards.


The school buildings are on a single campus on the outskirts of Worcester, a small, historical city in the English west midlands, and were built for the purpose of educating students who were blind at the beginning of the twentieth century. It has large grounds surrounding it, sports fields and it looks onto the nearby Malvern Hills on one side, and the western suburbs of Worcester on the other. The school can be accessed by the nearby motorway or the frequent buses that pass close by its entrance.


The first of the case studies is now presented below. N.B. When this chapter refers to interviews and field notes the relevant excerpts can be found in appendix 9. The two case studies are also reproduced in part from an earlier paper in Hayhoe (2001).


Case Study 1: Emile, A Level Art Student at New College, Worcester. Educated at school after the 1981 Special Needs Act


Emile’s educational background

Emile[3] was eighteen years old, a year older than most students in his year group, when I began my fieldwork at New College. He was registered blind and came from a middle class family that lived in south east England. His blindness was caused by an atrophic condition called Congenital Optic Nerve Hyperplasia, which was degenerative. However, during this study he still had enough vision to be able to do art tasks such as photography, and could also see pictures if he held them very close to his eyes.


Optic Nerve conditions are described by RL Coakes & PJ Holmes Sellors (1988) in terms of the three factors listed below.

Disease of the optic nerve or chiasm usually results in:

1.                  Decreased visual acuity

2.                  Visual field loss

3.                  Optic atrophy.

Coakes & Holmes Sellors (1988: p.36)


Atrophies such as Emile’s are also thought to cause either loss of peripheral or central vision, and reduce colour perception (Coakes & Holmes Sellors, 1988). Emile would therefore have only seen blocks of limited amounts of colours. His eyes also appeared to flicker a great deal and could not focus as normal eyes do.


Emile (Emile interview 1, Emile & Anna field notes 1) began at New College in its junior school at around the age of eight years old. He had transferred from a mainstream school system after his mother lobbied his local authority for him to change. She felt that he had had suffered exclusion within his earlier mainstream classes and New College would provide better facilities for him. Before going to New College, Emile (Emile interview 1) found himself side-lined in many of his classes, as his family felt that his teachers did not have the experience or resources to deal with students who were blind or visually impaired.


During his period of study (Emile interview 1), it was noted that Emile appeared to refer a great deal to his negative experiences in early mainstream art classes. He particularly took pains to explain that whilst being taught to draw and copy he was singled out for special treatment.


In addition, Emile (Emile interview 1) also stated in his interview that his teachers at his early mainstream school felt he was incapable of using pencils and other materials. Furthermore, he stated that his teachers did not attempt to assess his work as they did his peers with sight. He felt as if it was as if he had to attend the art lessons, but his teachers believed he could not get much from them. He explained that this made him feel that he could not practice these forms of art.


Unwittingly, Emile (Emile & Anna field notes 1) also let it be known that he had also had negative experiences of literacy in his earlier mainstream classes. In particular, during these classes he stated he had no access to large print materials, and so could not read effectively. As a result, Emile stated that he was left hating tasks involving high levels of literacy, as he could barely read when he entered New College. Emile added that this was the reason he had to be put back a year in all of his subjects when he first transferred schools. Gerard confirmed this in a later interview with me.


In one observation, Emile (Emile field notes 2) stated that he became interested in art after starting at New College. He especially enjoyed the molding of clay masks and sculpting. He felt he particularly enjoyed the self expression and that he did not have to write in this subject. He subsequently took GCSE art (Emile interview 1) and, after he passed, decided to take A Level fine art. Emile also stated that he began A Levels in biology and chemistry in the same period, but abandoned chemistry shortly after beginning the course. During the course of participant observations, it was noted in the field notes that Emile was going to abandon his biology course as well (Emile & Anna field notes 1). Eventually art was his only A Level.


Emile stated that he abandoned his A Level biology because he did not have the sufficient writing skills for the subjects (Emile & Anna field notes 1). However, Emile also argued that he had a passion for biology in particular and had an affinity with animals. During conversations (Emile field notes 1) during this period he also referred to his difficulty in writing, confirming his beliefs that these skills were not sufficient for advanced academic studies.


Despite abandoning A Level biology, it appeared that Emile attempted to incorporate his love of animals into his pieces. For instance Emile's passion for reptiles later took the form of molding a reptile form onto his coursework’s sculpture (Emile field notes 2). He also subsequently found a part-time post in a local reptile shop where he had earlier conducted work experience. He stated in his interview that he enjoyed working with these animals. Emile also told me that he planned to apply for a course in the study and care of reptiles when he left school (Emile & Anna field notes 1).


Emile’s projects during the study and his behaviour during the tasks

            During the course of the study, Emile was initially observed and sporadically interviewed / recorded a diary for two short A Level projects involving the making of clay pieces, such as jars and pots. These were not part of his final examination assessment however. These first pieces of coursework were followed by two larger projects that formed a major proportion of his final A Level grade. I observed these and also recorded their processes through photographs (see appendix 9). The assessment for these projects was not only based on the final piece it also included his workings (photographs, drawings and so forth) and a written description.


Emile’s first project: The first of these projects was the development and modeling of a clay sculpture of a cliff face with small water reservoirs and a lizard climbing its rough face. Emile (Emile field notes 2) explained that this project was initially inspired by his study of lizards conducted mainly through reptile magazines. Emile began by making maquettes of the sculpture in clay and simple technical drawings of the sculpture's making process. These were to include notes on measurements and technical aspects. Emile (Emile field notes 1) appeared to do these only reluctantly after a long period of time and only on the insistence of Gerard.


After planning his work, Emile made the final cliff face in three discrete pieces, each made of large clay slabs. The middle section of his sculpture had a small reservoir with a hole in the bottom (Emile field notes 2-5). This represented a lake. Inside the sculpture there was to be a further reservoir in the large bottom section, which would have a small electrical pump to carry water up through the model. Emile said that he wanted the water to emerge from the top section, trickle down the front into the outer reservoir. However, by the end of the project this element was unfinished.


The timing of this project relied on self motivation, as it was carried out individually during lesson times and Emile's individual study time. Emile was supposed to have minimal supervision or instruction, although he had been taught many of his skills previously. Emile also appeared to prefer relatively little didactic teaching, appearing to rely on experimentation instead (Emile field notes 3-5).


Despite not having a large didactic role, Gerard appeared to provide a great deal of practical supervision (Emile field notes 2-5). For instance he helped to lift the clay and provide advice on its quality. He also appeared to help with basic chores such as arranging instruments and tools. It was also noted that during the project Emile wanted to make a clay lizard to be placed on the face of the cliff (Emile field notes 2). To make this lizard feature he firstly photographed a real animal from his shop and made a copy on his own. However Emile did not appear to be pleased with his lizard model, and Gerard stated that it was not up to A Level standard. Consequently Gerard suggested that they buy a toy model of a lizard, and from this they mold a clay model.


Emile’s Second project: The brief for Emile's second project was an individual study of a form of art he had not previously encountered. Emile chose Raku pottery (Emile interview 1, Emile field notes 1-5). This was an ancient form of pottery originating from Japan, which dated back thousands of years. The brief of this project (OCR, 2000) stipulated that the students were allowed less supervision, and were supposed to do more writing.


During the observations Emile appeared to do noticeably less work on this project than he did on the first (Emile field notes 2-5). This appeared to be counter to his initial plans, which were recorded during his initial interview. For instance I noted that during in interview and diary reports Emile planned to dig his own clay from the school grounds, as he had done for a similar project before. He also said that he was to build a Raku kiln just outside of the class (Emile & Anna field notes 1), near a nature area he had worked on for an earlier biology project.


However none of Emile’s elaborate plans came to fruition. He did make some Raku pots on the classroom wheel from clay which Gerard had ordered through a supplier, and beat the outsides in the traditional style. He also conducted Internet research and made contact with a local Raku potter, who was to help him research this technique; although he (Emile field notes 2) did not stay in contact with the potter or conduct the required amount of further research.


As in the first project, the Raku pottery was carried out only partially during lesson times by Emile. Emile appeared to reserve the remainder of his time for this project during individual study periods and evenings. Gerard again appeared to provide practical help with this project by, for instance, showing Emile how to use the modeling wheel and demonstrating the Raku beating technique (Emile & Anna field notes 1). Nevertheless, Gerard provided no direct didactic teaching during this project.


An analysis of Emile’s behaviour

            In light of the findings in the previous diachronic section of this thesis, the attitudes shown by Emile’s teachers in his early mainstream education appeared to show the negative affects of his teacher’s lack of training and resource provision. Even though they had to include students with disabilities in their classes, it seems that either they had not been provided with a weight of evidence that students with disabilities could undertake tasks as other students could in their classes, or they were not interested in helping him because they did not know how or were afraid too.


This provision can be contrasted with the experience and training that his art teachers in his school for the blind had received. This appeared to have led Gerard to believe his students were more capable of undertaking art tasks, and there was strong evidence that he held a framework with which to include them in his art lessons, by initially introducing them to imaginative, experimental projects.


In terms of this study’s examination of Doyle’s model of analysis, it would seem that Emile’s behaviour highlights issues Doyle appeared not to observe. In particular, it seems that Emile’s extremely negative early experiences of freehand drawing and literacy had led him to display what in Doyle’s terms was negative learning behaviour. For instance, he was particularly reluctant to take risks in academic tasks that involved freehand drawing or literacy.


In many ways, despite his experience, Emile appeared to react as an inexperienced student would. He approached ambiguous tasks and assessment criteria – which could have been interpreted in a variety of ways by the examiners - by showing little self confidence and actively avoiding tasks he had negative experiences of as a child.


At the same time, it was observed that he would enjoy tasks and behave with confidence in tasks he had only learnt since going to New College, such as sculpting clay. It can be conjectured that he pursued such new tasks as they had provided him with the self esteem and confidence that the others denied him. He would therefore concentrate on these tasks at the expense of the others, knowing that this would risk his final grade.


For instance, Emile appeared to display negative learning behaviour and a lack of self confidence by not reading or researching for his Raku project, and by only drawing simple, often rough engineering-style drawings for his sculpting project. This behaviour was in marked contrast to his confident approach to the creation of pottery, which he had no experience of at his early mainstream school.


In addition, eventhough Emile was well aware of what was expected of him in his coursework, he chose to sacrifice marks as a result of his elaborate experiments with clay. Consequently, this concentration drew away from the drawing elements of his coursework, which would have been lucrative in terms of his marks. As a result, it seems possible that Emile’s behaviour itself rejected the logical notion that he could achieve a higher mark in his A Level.


As a result, even when Gerard disciplined Emile and made him draw (Emile field notes 1), these sketches appeared merely to present the dimensions and measurements of his sculpture. He did not attempt three dimensional visualisations as he was supposed to. In his field notes (Emile field notes 1) it was recorded that when asked about these drawings, he replied by giving what were arguably low opinions of his own graphic ability.


There is an alternative explanation to his behaviour. It may have been that Emile simply did not like drawing, for personal or aesthetic reasons. However given his extreme reaction to such tasks and knowing how this would affect his marks, this seems unlikely. Furthermore, it would appear that even though he became frustrated and did not enjoy certain elements of his sculptural construction, he continued with them, seeming to know they would present a nicer final artifact, whereas the same motivation was not shown with his drawing tasks.


A further possibility is that, as Emile had experiences of personal educational success after attending New College they had become “habit forming” as a means of self expression, particularly as they had greater tactile qualities and were easily acceptable forms of communication.  He could hence enjoy this form of art not just as an expressive outlet but also as an instance of academic achievement. This could then have become a self-fulfilling cycle of increased self-esteem in this field, as he concentrated on this form of educational task at the expense of others in subsequent educational projects, appearing to increase in confidence as he continued.


For instance, Emile substituted drawing for clay work in early exercises at New College (Emile field notes 2). During these tasks he particularly adapted figurative representation, which he said he found very difficult, into exercises involving the abstract moulding of clay, such as his series of clay masks. However, during the same period Emile found Gerard set projects that assessed him on his use of freehand drawing skills. As a result he argued that he renegotiated the terms of these tasks to favour his new clay techniques.


Furthermore this process allowed Emile to adapt his clay modelling techniques to create clay relief[4], which served as a substitute for his drawings. Although he had not experienced this task before entering New College, he appeared to hold fewer negative expectations about it, which appeared to suit his aim of finding a form of art that would allow him to avoid drawing.


Little evidence allowed “clear cut” conclusions of these possibilities. It can only be from observing many more students that more definite statements can be made. What follows is the case study of the second student at New College, Anna.


Case Study 2: Anna, A Level Art Student at New College, Worcester. Educated at school after the 1981 Special Needs Act


Anna’s educational background

Anna was registered legally blind as the result of Cone Dystrophy. This condition restricted the number of cones in her retinas, distorting her visual acuity radically and causing photophobia and eye stigmas. As a result she found it difficult to focus on images, and was completely colour-blind. A description of a condition with similar symptoms was made in Sack’s (1996) Island of the Colour Blind (Anna’s own description is also available in Anna interview 1.)


Anna was sixteen at the beginning of the study at New College. She had been to mainstream schools when she was younger. The learning experiences she had there were positive, she explained (Anna interview 1). In her interview Anna reported that she only moved to New College when her sight deteriorated substantially and her mainstream school could no longer support her. Her local authority also appeared to support sending students to special schools – although this was later said to be unusual by the Principal of New College (Ratcliff interview 1).


Anna (Anna interview 1) said that she was encouraged to do all of the art tasks of her peers at her early mainstream school, and was given help in undertaking them. She explained that she had initially faced difficulties at mainstream school because of her sight problems, and had particularly had problems when using colour in her work, but, after a long period of practice when she reached the latter stages of her compulsory education, she had little problem fitting in with all aspects of art lessons.


For instance, Anna (Anna interview 1) explained that in order to use colours, a system of labeling her pens and pencils was designed for her drawing lessons. This enabled her to relate objects to colours. She also explained that, although she had problems focusing on watery, coloured paints she persevered with the problem, and eventually adjusted to making some sense of them through finding verbal metaphors for the colours.


Anna (Anna interview 1) also explained that, after transferring schools to New College and studying GCSE art and design technology (graphics), she had overcome many of the remaining problems of representing colour that her previous system had not addressed. After studying this issue earlier on, Anna found that during her initial A Level studies she could find different analogies of colour with tone in her clay work, which had helped her with the recognition of glazes in particular.


Anna (Anna interview 1) said that she had been drawing throughout her school career, and had drawn and painted at home for as long as she could remember. In addition, she also felt that she was treated relatively normally in her other subjects at her first school. She stated that she was taking A Level art as she enjoyed this form of creative activity and was successful in both of her similar, previous GCSE courses. It was later recorded (Anna field notes 4) that Anna had been accepted for an art foundation course at university. Anna was also heavily involved in theatrical activities and continued with two other A Levels during this research.


Anna’s projects during the study and her behaviour during the tasks

            At the beginning of the observations Anna was just finishing a life drawing and a ceramic tile project - they did not contribute to her A Level assessment (Anna interview 1 and the photographs of her pieces are in Appendix 9). Her ceramic tiles were colourfully glazed designs featuring dolphins leaping out of the water. The life drawings were a series of outlines of a naked woman, which were also presented in different colours. She presented this series on black sugar paper, which she felt would highlight its colours.


Anna’s First Examination Project: After completing these short projects, Anna began her individual A Level coursework projects. The first of these was based on an interpretation of a sculpture by Canova, about two Greek gods, Cupid & Psyche. The original featured the God and a Goddess staring into each other's eyes and was sculpted in marble. Although Anna had not seen the original, she said that she had taken a photocopy of its illustration from a textbook she found in the school’s library. She also said that it stood out as soon as she saw it because of its enchanting theme.


Anna began this project sketching figures in the same position as the sculpture (Anna interview 1, Anna field notes 4). She then developed further drawings, which abstracted the two bodies into a single, flowing shape. Anna then chose her materials for the sculpture. It was noted (Anna field notes 3-4) that this included a process of experimentation in which she worked with various media and coverings. She eventually chose to try the first sculpture in clay.


It was initially noted that Anna made a small maquette of the clay sculpture to see if her design was possible (Anna field notes 3-4). She acknowledged she had to be certain the wings were not too heavy. After successfully creating the maquette she continued to make the full size sculpture in the same way. Unfortunately this sculpture proved impractical, as its wings were too heavy and fell off. As a result, Anna changed the material to mud rock on newspaper.


In addition, Anna told me, after further experimentation, that she found the mud rock was suitable for the bodies (Anna field notes 3) but not the wings of the sculpture. However, after conducting further unsuccessful experiments with real feather wings, Anna said that she felt it was more prudent to make the wings from stiff card, which she also used for the halos. After making these objects, she decorated them with gold paint and patterns of broken CDs.


Anna found that during this project she could be increasingly creative and take risks. Consequently, as she made the main bodies of the sculpture she noticed that they resembled tree trunks (Anna field notes 1) and liked this similarity. As a consequence, Anna decided to abstract the figures into a single form, similar to the original drawings she had made, forming the arms into branches between the two bodies (Anna field notes 1). This whole form was then sprayed with a golden brown paint, and the faces of the sculpture were developed (Anna field notes 1-2).


Anna’s Second Project: The second project was Anna’s individual study (Anna field notes 1-4, Emile & Anna field notes 1). This was a black and white photography project focusing on the subject of people's body parts. She began this project during her holidays. At first she said she had chosen this subject because she had become fascinated with photographing people's hands. She then said that her photographs often appeared to compare people’s bodily wrinkles to tree bark – she remarked on this in particular.


After these initial experiments, Anna (Anna field notes 4) said that she persuaded her friend and then her mother to have their hands photographed.  She felt that she was particularly pleased with the photographs of her mother's hands, as they were older and more wrinkled. When asked why she liked these wrinkles, she answered that it was their tonal qualities. This topic, she argued, appeared to permeate other work on this subject too.


Anna (Anna field notes 4) also said that she was learning how to develop her own work using the school's darkrooms. It was noted that she enlisted outside help from a local professional photographer to give her advice about the processes involved in this. This expert also took Anna out to learn about landscape photography, and this later project culminated in a portfolio of written descriptions, research of processes and photographs. All of this information was submitted to the examination board and was later exhibited at the college for a short period in recognition of its high quality.


During both of these projects, Anna appeared to receive little didactic instruction from Gerard, and he only appeared to intervene with the practical engineering elements of the sculpture’s construction. Consequently Anna appeared to work through many of her own creative problems, and learnt through many experiments, in common with the aim of the A Level course’s syllabus (OCR, 2000). Indeed, only two instances of Anna receiving practical help were recorded: the first was when she asked Gerard to help her physically stick the wings to her sculpture; and the second was her choice of mudrock to construct the body of the sculpture (Anna field notes 3).


An analysis of Anna’s behaviour

            In terms of this study’s examination of social and cultural influences on attitudes, it could be argued that Anna’s early “mainstream” teachers’ attitudes had not been overly affected by negative social or cultural expectations or their lack of training. The expectations Anna had been given were high, as her teacher included her in the assessed exercises with the rest of her class mates (Anna interview 1).


A possible explanation of this phenomenon is that her early school teachers, despite their lack of training, had previous experience of teaching a student who was visually impaired. In particular, in her interview Anna (Anna interview 1) argued that she was not the first student with a visual impairment in this school. Therefore, unlike Emile, she also said that she had access to some learning materials that were designed for students with visual impairments.


It is a possible alternative that Anna was simply extremely gifted at art tasks. However, this would not necessarily have given her confidence, as many others without talent have had unfounded confidence. This would suggest that confidence is not necessarily a product of talent. However it seems that a more probable explanation is that Anna’s school had managed to adapt teaching strategies and adapted realistic expectations of students who were blind and visually impaired before Anna attended, and that their approach instilled her with confidence.


Hence in terms of their development of a strand of expectation, it seemed to be important to Anna that despite their lack of training in this field, Anna’s “mainstream” teachers had developed more “normal” expectations of Anna as a student with visual impairment. It was this “historical” factor that had affected her later classroom behaviour.


In terms of the examination of Doyle’s theory, it also appears that Anna’s behaviour was more in keeping with his early observations, and in keeping with Hayhoe’s (1995, 1995b, 2000) earlier application of Doyle’s analysis in art education for the blind. In particular, she appeared to behave as an experienced student in mainstream education would.


In particular, Anna took risks in an attempt to find the most workable and attractive piece in each project. She had a genuine love of drawing despite her earlier difficulties, and this seemed to have resulted in no instances of task avoidance, even during tasks she said she found difficult, such as painting or glazing clay pieces. Therefore, it is a further possibility that her confidence arose from the insistence of all of her teachers and parents that she should have similar expectations to people with “normal” sight, therefore providing her with high visual and cultural expectations.


For instance, Anna (Anna interview 1) said that she felt she was capable of taking part in the same tasks as her peers who were sighted. Consequently, Anna appeared to take further risks with colour in her drawing tasks, and even when she said she found them hard was never discouraged. This, it could be argued, was vital to her artistic development as it allowed her to negotiate different techniques with her teachers and assessment schemes, and ameliorated many of the negative physical problems caused by her blindness.


In addition, Anna was willing to risk sketching out her ideas as both representational and abstract sketches in her assessed coursework (Anna field notes 3-4, Anna interview 1). However she must have realised that it would risk being judged more severely as a consequence. Similarly, Anna had no fear of taking risks with colour in her work, and it appeared that she did not avoid her tasks related to this aspect of her work, eventhough the potential for this avoidance existed – her brief stated that her sculpture did not need to contain colour but she chose to ignore this instruction.


During these tasks it was noted that Anna again experimented with techniques during her projects that eventually provided her with a different understanding of colour. In addition, Anna explained (Anna interview 1) that she found her approach to clay work in her mainstream school and New College had largely negated her disability. Although she admitted that she encountered problems because of her visual impairment, this did not damage her belief that she could succeed.


Furthermore her success in this and similar tasks and her willingness to take risks appeared to make her even too ambitious at times, which led to its own problems. Furthermore it was felt that such risk taking on occasions threatened her academic success and eventual grade. For instance, Gerard stated her willingness to try too much led her to experiment with objects that could not be assessed as part of her coursework (Anna field notes 1-2).


A particular example of this observed behaviour was when Anna described the complex process of producing the wings of her sculpture (Anna field notes 3). Even though she had changed techniques twice, she took further risks by making the wings with different materials. She used real feathers at first, and then, when these proved impractical, she experimented with card and spray paint. These, she said, provided a more practical and stunning result -although she also felt that it was a great deal of work to achieve what could be regarded as a frivolity.


Finally it could be argued that Anna’s success in, and positive experiences of, aesthetic art tasks appeared to provide her with the confidence to try new experiences and take high risks with new subjects, even during her assessed A Level projects. This suggests that self esteem can be transferred to new forms of artistic tasks. Thus in Anna’s experience of art, risk taking appears to be a valid learning technique in task performance.


For instance, despite never having tried photography before her A Level coursework, Anna was very willing to risk experimenting with tasks and developing photographs, and enlisted the help of a local photographer without fear of risking her self esteem (Anna field notes 3). Anna felt that in this project she had learnt how to develop film and had gone on visits with the photographer to search for sites, with relative freedom and without fear of failure. Even though these tasks involved a discourse with an expert that would highlight errors in her project, again in Doyle’s terms she seemed unafraid of taking such risks.




In terms of the model of analysis there appears to be evidence to suggest a complex picture of experiences exists in Emile and Anna’s case studies with few conclusions presenting themselves. Emile appeared to be excluded from many art tasks that his fellow students with sight undertook, even though he was physically included in their classes. This might have been a result of the lack of training, which remained unconsidered in the 1981 Act, although it is also possible that their style of education was fundamentally different. In addition, a similar reason could be suggested for Emile’s lack of resources in school, which left him lacking many educational skills.


Anna, however, appeared to have positive experiences of art during her mainstream career. Although it appears that her teachers had also not received formal training, her school had educated a student who was visually impaired before she attended, and so it could be argued had a greater understanding of Anna’s potential. As a result, and with the support of her family, Anna negotiated and developed methods of overcoming her disability, and negated her lack of extra resources.


It cannot be claimed, therefore, that the amount of evidence presented in this study has shown significant patterns of behaviour. However, in terms of Doyle’s model of analysis, the evidence gathered in this study shows that he did not consider the effects of exclusion from different subjects in the same subject, and its effects on behaviour. The fact that there was such a marked difference in behaviour between Emile and Anna, despite their same “quantity” of experience, shows that this factor in isolation cannot explain avoidance or risk taking.


For instance, even though Emile was not beginning art when he first attended New College, Emile avoided tasks that he recognised as those he had bad experiences of when he was younger, and, in an apparent reversal of Doyle’s model, appeared to attempt to make their frame of reference more ambiguous. However, at New College he attempted tasks he had no experience of, although they were ambiguous, i.e. had no definite subject or brief.


Emile avoided drawing eventhough he had experience of studying this subject. In addition when presented with a new form of task, moulding clay masks to form two dimensional reliefs, he appeared to approach the task with less fear. He also attempted to make the subjects of these exercises more ambiguous, making shapes that referred to abstract subjects, and allowing him freedom from reproduction exercises that were part of his previous drawing exercises.


Furthermore, counter to Doyle’s theory it is possible that Emile’s striving to find a subject he could excel in led to a further motivation to attempt tasks that bore no relation to those he had previously had negative experiences of. For instance, as soon as Emile had positive experiences of clay work, he emphasised this element of his art work at the expense of drawing and research involving high levels of literacy, even though he knew in assessed exercises this would lead to a reduction of his grade. Secondly it could be argued that this led Emile to choose art as a form of media in which he could pursue his passion for reptiles, rather than studying biology which required high levels of literacy.


It can also be suggested that because Anna was presented with “normal” expectations in her early, mainstream art classes, she behaved in a way that was similar to Doyle’s mainstream students. Therefore, in terms of the development of Anna’s “normal” learning behaviour, it seems that she had to negate what were potentially the disabling factors of her education.


For instance, although Anna had no colour perception, she worked and experimented with colour confidently during her observations, and appeared to have what Doyle described as a sense of high self esteem in such tasks. This ability to work with colour, seemed to be at least partly because her family and teachers found methods of analogising colour, allowing her to develop a notion of what colour could represent in art. This, she said, also made the subject of colouring a less difficult and confusing task to understand – for example, she knew that the label green represented grass and the label blue sky – until she had developed enough knowledge of its use to experiment with its use on her own.


Finally, it also appeared that, in terms of Doyle’s analysis, experimentation became a task she appeared to generate herself, even when her assessments demanded a more difficult approach. In this way, Anna appeared to develop so much self esteem that she was willing to go beyond the tasks she had been set in order to develop what she felt were alternative educational goals.


For instance, during the observations Anna took a great deal of time experimenting with different materials and media in order to perfect her wings. This appeared to worry her teacher, Gerard, because he was concerned that she was not concentrating on other aspects of the sculpture’s design, eventhough it appears she was wholly capable of pursuing these tasks and attaining a high grade. As a result, it appeared that when she reached a certain point in her experimentation, Gerard steered her back onto the assessed task at hand and away from what she felt were her real goals.



In the following chapter we now examine evidence from students and teachers from other schools in England and the US using:

·        different sources of methodology,

·        a case study of a similar student who had recently finished a degree in illustration and was working as a professional artist, and

·        interviews with art teachers from England and the US (who also underwent a similar process of including students with visual impairments during the 1970s) from different schools, and a US peripatetic teacher who had worked with children in mainstream schools in the US.


© Simon Hayhoe 2005, 2007


[1] A description of the school is featured in its latest OFSTED report.

[2] See previous chapter for a fuller early description of the significance of this school.

[3] Photographs of Emile and Anna’s work during their project can be found in Appendix 9, Photographic Records.

[4] This is a quasi two dimensional reproduction technique using partially raised surfaces.


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