Over the next few weeks we'll be hearing from a series of guest bloggers. This week's guest blog is from Jude Smallwood, a secondary school textiles teacher who has been teaching for around 14-15 years in Leeds.

By Jude Smallwood, 10th May 2021

I worry that textiles is dying out in schools. Students in the younger years in secondary schools increasingly appear to have little to no knowledge even of the term ‘textiles’, let alone the wide variety of skills the subject involves.

I have been a textiles secondary school teacher for the last 14 years, and in that time I have seen the subject squeezed out of the curriculum at a number of schools, until it has become almost invisible.

The introduction of the EBACC (European Baccalaureate) qualification limited the choice of options for further study for students within the whole Arts curriculum beyond KS3. It favoured other subjects deemed ‘more academic’ ie mathematics, sciences, languages and the humanities.

However, to me this narrowing of the curriculum has come at a huge cost to children and young people’s motor skills and mental health.

I read an article in The Guardian newspaper a couple of years ago which really rang true with my experiences. It highlighted the lack of creativity in schools, and lack of hobbies outside school. It also drew attention to the world beyond school, citing one career in particular.  Lack of excellent motor skills was leading to medical students and trainee surgeons being deficient in the practical and tactile skills necessary to pursue their chosen careers.

This is not surprising given the time allocated to practical subjects in the curriculum. I also can’t help but feel that the increase in mental health issues amongst teenagers is partially due to the lack of practical subjects.

I have seen first-hand the positive impact on a student’s confidence when, after being taught the necessary skill-set to realise their ideas, they take a variety of materials and create something unique to them.

The subject of Textiles had its own GCSE (Textiles Technology) up until 2018. After that it was no longer a separate choice, but was bundled in with either Design Technology or Art. There was no real option to cover textiles in the depth it used to be. Design Technology focussed heavily on hard materials, and the Art curriculum didn’t cover the requirement for students to understand the structure or origins of fabrics; its emphasis was on creative ideas and exploration.

With these changes in the teaching of the subject, I can understand why a lot of young students favour ‘Fast Fashion’ items. They no longer understand the origin of the materials used in making these clothes or the impact making them has on the environment. Also, the poor working conditions people in manufacturing have to endure in order for the garments to be so inexpensive, or why it is important to look after each item of clothing to ensure it lasts, and why no textiles should be thrown in the bin!

I believe if students understood more about these factors, they would make different choices, but where will they learn these important lessons if not in a textiles class?

My one hope is that with the impact of the current Covid pandemic, and the increased activity around sustainability, schools and colleges will redress the balance, and increase the time allocated on the curriculum to more creative subjects.

Obviously, I would favour textiles, because the important thing is that students have the ability to discover the techniques needed to make something unique, and the patience and persistence to follow a project through to an end product. In addition, they will learn to improve fine motor skills and reduce the amount of textiles going to landfill. They will become more confident in their ability to repair, recycle and reuse.