I’m scratching my head at the moment over a new methodology that will be a key tool for our work at Flow Associates. We hope this will help our clients (museums, arts and science organisations etc) understand their users in ways that are more about needs than niches. It’s motivated by my belief that cultural sector programming and marketing are too narrowly based on a notion of ‘audiences for arts’, which doesn’t really take into account the full range of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations that people have. The Flow approach is informed by the emerging practice of service design, which in turn has been informed by systems thinking. We hope to be testing this new model with user research we’re doing for the West Midlands Museums Hub, in their development of an offer of Black Country Collections.
Firstly to say I haven’t blogged here for a while, partly because I’m busy writing a book in my spare time and partly because I’ve started another blog on Ecology in Cultural Heritage – see http://ecoch.wordpress.com
But, here comes something that has niggled me enough to blog today, despite a deadline looming. The last 2 days have seen the collapse of the cabinet, following the MP’s expenses scandal, and an election in which nobody voted Labour. But the story that really bothered me is something much smaller but quite symbolic for me.
The story was simply that the school my daughter used to attend had sent home a note to parents asking them to vote on making school uniform compulsory. I tweeted that I felt compulsory school uniform was a violation of children’s rights, and that led to a bit of attention and criticism. Someone said that introducing compulsory uniform would be the start of making a better school. That claim seemed highly contestable so I dug around to find research on whether there were proven links between uniform and performance. It’s not easy to find any research done in the UK but the majority of international & US studies show that there is no proven link and that overall the effects may be negative.
The DCSF policy is strongly in favour of uniform. Their guidance says that it is acceptable to exclude students for repeated flouting of uniform rules, taking all circumstances into account. It seems to me highly ironic that a child can be punished or excluded from school if they vary from the strict visual norm by choice, poverty, cultural difference or accident, at the same time that so much Government lip-service is paid to upholding the rights of children, to the need to tolerate diversity and the importance of creativity in education. The Government has not arrived at this policy after rigorous research but simply in response to a conservative consumer market, a creeping orthodoxy, which assumes that uniform is a good thing. Most people who don’t like uniform accept for one reason or another that it probably is a good thing. The DCSF have only really listened to the economic argument against uniform, that it is expensive for poor families, and so have conducted research and measures to make it cheaper.
One of the main arguments that makes people believe that it is a good thing is that we believe uniform prevents bullying. Again, there is no real evidence to prove this is so. I have personal evidence that the opposite is true, at least for myself. I was bullied at secondary school. My family was too poor to buy a new uniform that complied with current rules, so I wore a threadbare blazer and bleached-out blouses, a non-regulation skirt and an out of date summer dress. My shoes were always scuffed. I felt like rubbish. When I was older I started making my own clothes and flouted the uniform rules quite clearly. The bullying from pupils subsided because I felt more confident and independent. A key reason I felt more confident was that instead of being bullied by the pupils I was bullied by the teachers, for not wearing uniform. I was then seen as brave and rebellious and more accepted by the crowd.
I know that my daughter is much happier at her new school where she doesn’t wear uniform. The school has better results than the voluntary-uniformed school she went to before because it is more creative and has more inspirational, child-centred leadership. The children thrive because they are treated as expressive individuals, which is precisely what our Government says they want.