Letter in response to Hockney and his views on Ofsted's 'Drawing together'

This is a letter sent to the Guardian newspaper, following David Hockney's reported comments on boys under achievement and Ofsted's 'Drawing Together: art, craft and design in schools':

In 2008 I was Head of Art and Design in a South London secondary school participating in a training programme called Watch This Space. Ian Middleton, HMI was invited to speak. I came away from this training excited and with evidence that offered a better understanding of the international trend of boys' underachievement in Art and Design. Ian Middleton was referring to the report that would become Drawing Together: art, craft and design in schools. This report is as encouraging as it is informative. It explores best practice in schools and summarises key, if not vital, recommendations for teachers, management teams and government to consider. It is essential reading.

David Hockney's comments ('David Hockney condemns Ofsted report on art' suggest that the report's recommendations have not been fully appreciated. In many schools, year on year, twice as many girls as boys take GCSE Art and Design and of those, twice as many girls as boys achieve an A* grade. Do the boys have the 'boring' and 'ignorant' teachers described by Hockney? The HMI report is clear that when there is a range of starting points, media and processes, and when young peoples' interests and skills are allowed to flourish, Art and Design has a relevance which turns into engagement and enthusiasm for both genders. The report highlights best practice: where students have the opportunity to experiment and draw adventurously, to be creative and to express their ideas and feelings, themes and observations. The breadth and range of experience recommended by the report can hardly be deemed as 'swindling children' or as 'incompetent'.

Access to technologies and to training for Art and Design teachers, so that they feel more confident with ICT, is an essential recommendation of the report. Hockney's joyful discovery of the iPhone as a drawing tool and his explorations with photography will switch young people on to drawing, not off it. Another recommendation, learning out of the classroom, encourages schools to visit more galleries and meet with artists, both of which inspire and make learning relevant. A school visit to Hockney's most recent show would inspire young people to view creative technologies as equally relevant to both their lessons and their lives. Encouraging young people to draw with confidence with a range of tools, just as Hockney has, is a key recommendation of the report and a key to raising boys' achievement in Art and Design.

Sophie Leach

20 May 2009