As someone who has spent half a century gazing curiously at the world around me, I feel strongly that the black and white world of my youth has become one filled with an abundance of colour. And not just in a neutral way. Our young people are growing up in an age where visual literacy is a vital filter in interpreting the images that bombard us all in both the real world and the virtual where the digital revolution has revolutionised the capacity for others to influence our judgement.
What does this mean for education? This is a compelling question for those of us with responsibility for educating young people. Vast quantities of time are eaten up discussing standards and qualifications; far less time is given to assessing the impact of our visual culture which is more real to the young generation than a C grade in any subject.
Visual literacy is of course embedded within the curriculum and is not the sole preserve of the Art department. Critical faculties, aesthetic judgement and self awareness are crucial when interacting with our visual culture. This very twenty first century literacy is about breadth, about viewing the curriculum as an integrated whole rather than silos of subjects. It is about an individual joining the dots in their segmented learning enabling them to view the world through a lens of understanding and enquiry.
As a school, we are very mindful of the visual learning environment. I have observed that changes to the design of our spaces in recent years has materially impacted upon our perceived identity. We seek to capture our creative, innovative approach in the design of the school Eco-system. A cool, vibrantly coloured dining room has become a lively social hub where good behaviour is now a given; the creation of a dedicated Visual Arts Centre with specialist rooms for fine arts, textiles, printmaking, digital art and pottery with an inspirational sixth form art studio has transformed the presence of the visual arts within the school boosting exponentially numbers taking the subject; and the decision to graffiti a drab wall has created the iconic image of our school.
My belief in the importance of the school environment was re-enforced recently when I visited the Chelsea Academy in London during a city-wide architectural open day. As part of the Building Schools for the Future programme, this school had to present an educational vision to underpin the design of the learning spaces. As a Christian school, the vision was clear and was translated brilliantly in my view by the architects. On a one and a half acre site, an academy was created which is all about the play of light in what could be cramped spaces. Externally the building looks like a small block of flats; internally it looks like it is soaring towards the heavens.
So visual literacy in education is effectively two sides of a creative coin. Whilst being mindful of the importance of equipping students with an education which makes them visually literate, the school environment can at the same time be signposting the values the school believes matter. Not easily measurable, but important.