The Art/English course at Exeter College

(or, as it was better known, C.L.P.)


The origins of the Art/English course, which eventually ran in one shape or another at Exeter College for 31 years, are really to be found in what happened at the lower school of Queen Elizabeth's, Crediton, when a young art teacher called Graham Rich started working there, at the outset of the seventies.

There are two things you need to understand about Graham. The first is that he is intensely competitive (he was a world-class dinghy sailor). The second is that there is nothing he will not do to make sure that he succeeds, which, in the case of a run-down and under-funded art department, meant the success of his O level students (at that time, the school-leaving age was still 15, although about to be raised to 16).

Bill and Graham 10th Anniversary 1983

Graham was very systematic about the art department. He worked out how much paper he had been allocated for the year, and divided it up so that the older pupils had a far greater proportion. Thus, when it came to producing their art-work for assessment at the end of their four years at the school, they were able to produce huge, colossal images, squared up from photographic sources. There were two effects. The outgoing pupils were able to produce something so startlingly large that the actual size of the images galvanised them into great work. And their work knocked the moderators and examiners out. The results rocketed upwards.

He also did something else. He removed the sign which read ART from the door of the art-room, having noticed that the prospect of “doing art” was somehow less than inspiring to the pupils who trudged his way. He replaced it with a sign which read C.I.D. He re-named the art department – from now on it was the Creative Investigation Department. There was a marked increase in enthusiasm.

In 1972, he came to the new tertiary college in Exeter, the first of its kind. The idea of a tertiary college was to knock down the distinctions between sixth forms, FE colleges and technical colleges, to collect under one roof everything that was post-16. At the time, a report had come out which suggested that Foundation courses (pre-degree courses) in Art Colleges should really be transferred to sixth forms. Art A-level was a strange and rather tired beast, depending on one final 18-hour stint – three hours of drawing, and fifteen hours of painting to set subjects. Graham was more interested in creative investigation than Art A-level – more interested, in effect, in the creation of a Foundation course. By the start of his second year at the college, he had roped in an English teacher, Rob Brown, who had a similarly maverick streak. What Graham and Rob negotiated with the college was a new course, on which the students took English A-level (this was its respectable feature), whilst Graham, with the assistance of one of the competing Heads of Art, John Mason (no-one had quite sorted out who was the Head of Art), ran a non-examinable Art course with these same students. Most – but not all – also took Art A-level, but this was in addition to the course Graham was running.


Bill and Graham May 1986

Graham didn't want the course to be called an art course. So, drawing on his experience in Crediton, he called it the Creative Learning Programme. This was the early seventies. You could get away with terms like this quite easily. Within a year, the course was simply known as C.L.P., and it continued to be called that for at least twenty years, and perhaps longer. In point of fact, by the end of the third year of the course, nobody except Graham (and the new English teacher who joined) really knew what the letters stood for. Most people thought the P was for Process. But the term survived on timetable after timetable, until the 1990s brought it into the world of databases, and gave it the snappier title of AAP06/1/A.

The course was housed in buildings (“York Wing” – which is why, again to almost nobody's knowledge, the rooms were called Y1, Y2, Y3 and so on. Everyone called it “St. David's”) which had originally been a school for the blind, but which had housed, until 1972, the foundation course of Exeter Art College. It was large, semi-derelict, freezing in winter, damp, and a fire hazard. To start with, in 1973-74, CLP (I'll drop the full-stops from this point) had more or less the run of these buildings, although the carpentry and construction sections also had a stake there. By the end of the first year, however, the rest of the art department was scheduled to move in. And at the same time, the course faced two major problems. The English teacher resigned; and the ‘Head of Art' was given a sabbatical (from which he never returned). Graham was therefore on his own.

Rob Brown had timed his resignation so that it fell in the last possible week, at the end of May, permissible for announcing you were leaving. This was a fortunate coincidence for me. In the same year as CLP started, I did my stint as a student teacher at Exeter College. I'd soon heard of CLP; but I didn't know much about it. I had applied for a full-time job at the college, to begin in September 1974, when I was still just 21, teaching ‘Liberal Studies' to craft apprentices, although I'd been teaching English A-level on my teaching practice. I was given an interview for the Liberal Studies job; but I emerged from it with a job teaching English as well as Liberal Studies, since the panel decided to take a punt on my English teaching rather than advertise Rob Brown's post. I was very fortunate (to this day, I have never applied for a job as an English literature teacher). As a matter of fact, during the interview, when asked the usual closing question – did I have any questions? – I asked “What is CLP?” There was a horrible silence. Plainly I had asked about something unspeakable. The interviewers brushed the question aside.

Art English December 1976

But nevertheless, on my first timetable, there it was: “CLP1”. I was to teach English A-level to the second intake of students on to Graham's course (a more experienced English teacher, Mary Browne, was given the task of helping the first intake out of their creative learning, and into English Literature A-level itself). Graham, just a little bruised by the defection of his first two co-workers, was not brimming at confidence at working with a completely untested 21-year-old. He viewed me with extreme suspicion when we were first introduced. I viewed myself with much the same suspicion, because, for a start, I had not the faintest clue how to teach English A-level; and because I had never done any art at school after the age of eight (two terms of sewing). The past, says L.P. Hartley, is another country; they do things differently there. Art teaching is another galaxy. Any resemblance between what Art teachers said and what they did was pretty fortuitous. They used long, almost incomprehensible words. And in any case, I was being teamed with a Creative Learning teacher, not an Art teacher (the off-the-course Art teacher was Chris Garratt, now well-known as the image-half of the cartoon-strip Biff).

English A-level was at that stage “terminal”. The assessment was by “sudden death” examinations at the end of two years. This gave you, as a teacher, a fair amount of latitude at the start of the course. If there were six terms, then the first, at least, could be spent avoiding any one of the (seven) set texts, most of which I only dimly understood. So I did the obvious thing. I became a Creative Learning teacher, too. I suggested to Graham that we both work on a first-term project called “Metamorphosis”. This is a word with five syllables. It is an art-teacherly word. It is also the title of a brilliant, and short text by Kafka, so I had some literary oomph to add to the project. Over the summer, having passed some sort of initiation test with Graham, I sent him a sequence of postcards covered with ideas for the coming course. These postcards cemented our friendship, which persists, a third of a century later.

On the day before my first Monday as a full-time teacher, a happy accident occurred. Struggling with what to do with the new students – after a protracted week of bureaucracy, in which millions of never-to-be-seen-again forms were filled in, in duplicate or triplicate, by the new recruits to CLP – the Sunday times colour supplement ran a feature on the IRA associate, Bridget Rose Dugdale. In it, she cited a little extract from Mao's Little Red Book as being her favourite text. It was about revolution, but it was the implication for teaching that interested me. “To understand the meaning of an apple, you must first change the reality of the apple by eating it. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.” That was it. I went out and bought a bag of apples. My first class consisted of a group of students taking 45 minutes to eat an apple and to write about the process (yes, they were metamorphosing the apple). Luckily, they were all apple-eaters. They produced a great deal of writing, which I typed up the same night, and photo-copied (it was the dawn of the Xerox age). They compared what they had written. This, you understand, had nothing to do with English A-level. But it did have a lot to do with students getting to know each other. It was a roaring success, and I repeated it as the first lesson for a good decade or more, eventually finding more constructive things to do with all the apple-eating pieces.

Art English course of January 1978

But the course, CLP, was in trouble already – within weeks of my starting, and not because I was proving to be as maverick as Graham (well, not quite). The tertiary college had settled down. It wanted a bit more structure, and the huge, non-examinable element of the course didn't look too promising to the new, genial head of department, Tony Robinson. Nor did it look too grand to the Head of Art (this argument having been settled). After a month, news came that the course was to be cancelled in the following year, and that there would be a group of students who took Art as their main subject. The flimsy, nascent Art/English course would be dropped. There followed about five weeks of frantic on-the-back-foot action, in which I produced plan after plan after plan, and compromise proposal upon compromise proposal. What gave us a lifeline was an exhibition of the Metamorphosis work (apples and a great deal else). The Vice-Principal was impressed. A deal was struck. If there were very few applicants, there would be one Art group, no English attached. About 16 students (this was the 1970s) would set in motion a hybrid course, with an impossibly complex interlocking stricture. Get to 20 students, and there would be an Art course and a separate Art/English course. It all depended on recruiting the numbers. Whatever happened, if there was to be a third Art/English course, or CLP #3, then it would have to be split down the middle, and the Art A-level integrated. The non-examinable course would have to go. It would be a two A-level course (and the talk about foundation courses coming into sixth forms had in any case receded). In the event, it all hung on our waiting, in September 1975, for a phone-call from Nairobi, which would tell us whether an expatriate student had decided to come to the college to do Art and English. The phone-call occurred. The lad had decided to arrive. The Art/English course was rescued. (The Nairobi boy never transpired, by the way, but by that time, it was too late – the presence of the Principal's daughter on the Art/English course may have helped, it has to be said, in preventing the course from being dismantled once it was under way.)

Art English group May 1980

And we went from there. After the first year, in which I wasn't involved, Graham and I continued to run the course as a duo from 1974 to 1987. Graham continued to be the Art teacher till early retirement in 1994, after which Carol Kennedy, Anna Murray and Kathy Taylor successively took over; I continued to teach all or some of the English until 2001 (promotion in 1986 started to reduce my teaching commitments, always the way in education; Fran Jenkin and Helen Armstrong were, for some groups, the main English teachers). The course had a short after-life, with a 2002 intake, who left in 2004. Thirty-one years: not too bad a record for a course which was given notice to quit less than eighteen months into its original incarnation.


Group of 1981 - 83

The character of the course changed in the third year, not least because both Graham and I were now A-level teachers, and split the time exactly. It also changed because the students applying for the course were being chosen because they wanted to do both subjects (the chief criterion for selection in 1973 and 1974 was that the students were considered in some vague sort of way to be ‘creative'). There were lots of advantages. Because they were in the same group for Art as for English, they got to know each other much better; they bonded more easily; although they were predominantly art students at heart, they were able to see another side of themselves in the English lessons; they had two teachers in common – and that meant that Graham and I were able to sort out any misconceptions we had. Parents evenings were a pleasure (and always good fun, because Graham, by common consent, looked like the English teacher, whilst I, being about as unkempt as was permissible even in those permissive times, with a rope of hair down my back, looked like the Art teacher. Caught off-guard, parents never had a chance to take against us. And there were huge benefits for me as an English teacher. I knew all my students were art students. By and large, that meant they were quite happy to experiment; and that suited me. We didn't just read Chaucer: we built room-size three-dimensional versions of it. We didn't just read The Waste Land ; we created it (there is a comic version of this in Gene Kemp's novel No Place Like , which derives from a visit she paid to the course). And for Graham, he had the advantage of knowing that here were students who were ready for conceptual ideas, and who might even be persuaded to write about them.

May 1982

It was one night at Graham's house in 1974. He asked me what I was obliged to teach. King Lear , I admitted. It would be unfair to call Graham antagonistic to books. He had read his favourite books several times over (Sartre was a speciality). Equally, it would be unfair to call me well-read. I had read a high number of books very quickly. These included King Lear , and at that stage, I hadn't the foggiest idea how to teach it. Graham wanted to know what it was about. I replied with a list of themes – typical, this, of a relatively recent A-level student and undergraduate. I was still learning about the complexity of texts, that they weren't a bag of examinable themes (as I had certainly been led to believe). It's about – ‘about', that dangerous word – power, and loss of power, I said; about the chain of being from the divine to the animal; about sight and insight; about the paradox of madness and insanity; about age and youth; about folly and wisdom. About resignation. And so on.

May 1984

It was enough. I was talking abstracts. I should have noticed the gleam in Graham's eye. Without realising what I was doing, I had pitched King Lear into art-teacher territory. Without telling me, Graham started enthusing about King Lear 's themes, and started to work on them with our students. In one room, there I was, flogging tediously (and incompetently) through the text. In the next-door art-room, Graham was interrogating them about the play, and getting ready to load them into his car. He drove them to the nearby woods, where he had them compose living triptychs of themselves in amongst the trees. He had them stage photographs of roped-off portions of the wood which represented what they told him were the three stages of the play. He had them making drawings and three-dimensional models of the three stages. He hadn't read the play, but they were having a great time interpreting it – in Art lessons, not in English lessons. It was a huge lesson for me, one I should have learned for myself. They were enjoying themselves in Art. They were learning. They were making sound-tapes. I was flogging through the set book. That year, 1974-75, was when I learned from Graham that teaching had to be active.

1985- 87

But we did have a shared brainwave. What if the play – the whole play – was pasted flat, on a board? What if we tore the book up, and made it ‘a flat book'? The next day we – the students Graham and I – started to rip the text apart. It took up surprisingly little space, and sat on an easel between the two rooms. Gradually it was filled with coloured mapping pins (it was in the days before the database. Every reference to eyesight had a green pin pushed through it. Everyone who passed the play, as a flat book, read it. The caretaker started to quote from it. Graham had an art-speak phrase for it – “the random access board”. He also had an alarming tendency to label the themes with slightly suspect names – “bestiality”, for instance, for the recurrent images of animals. That was the only worrying moment in parents' evenings: when Graham explained that King Lear was about “bestiality”, and that he had the pictures to prove it.

CLP Xmas party 1986. Tracy Scagell (standing) is actually from the 1984-86 group; in front of her is Clare Harvey, who is from the 1986-88 group (and is the one who is looking the wrong way in the group photo).

By the second year of teaching, and the third CLP group, I'd cracked it, thanks to Graham. The Art/English course was about learning through doing. CLP always was Graham's genius in action. Working with an art teacher transformed my teaching – they even started to pass their English A-levels, too.

Fran and Bill 1987

CLP started out life as a concept; it grew into a much simpler, more amenable thing. It was course of students who were like-minded individuals, and whose shared interests allowed the content of the lessons to cross boundaries when and if appropriate. It probably took me a decade to realise that the boundary-crossing was appropriate for anyone I was teaching. In the meantime, the course existed almost as a family affair, with first- and second-year students co-existing, getting to know each other rather better than their friends who took A-levels completely separately.


Group of 1987-89

When the move from the decrepit buildings to newer buildings (actually, the re-decorated end of an old building – and ironically, the first buildings are still standing, whilst the newer ones have recently been entirely demolished), it became a little harder to sustain the more obvious links. Nevertheless, and especially at the outset of the course, I could always count on my English A-level students to come up with art-work, and the sense of identity persisted.

Three sisters passed successively through the course; so did other pairs of siblings. In the last group I taught, there was the nephew of someone from the sixth group. (That's when it is time to feel ancient; although by that time, another former student was teaching my daughter, which was another clue that it was time to move on).

Graham and Fran 1987


Jon Boxall, Belinda Jones (BJ) and Rachel Temple in the summer of 1986. Belinda is now a highly successful writer, with seven novels and a memoir already published, and a new novel on the way.

There are a couple of tiny signs that the course existed. The painted hands which Lou Mason put up the side of a building are still there. And in 1978, Graham chalked the directions for a parents' evening – an arrow to Y2 and and an arrow to Y3. Ten years later, Y3 was re-named Y2, and Y2 was re-named Y3. But somehow, the chalk-marks have evaded everything. Over twenty-five years later, Graham's (now misleading) chalk-marks are still there.

Art English Group 1988-1990

The 1988-1990 group. This was one of the first to study an issue of Granta for A level. Kate Rochester (bottom left) is now Granta's advertising manager.


And we went from there. After the first year, in which I wasn't involved, Graham and I continued to run the course as a duo from 1974 to 1987. Graham continued to be the Art teacher till early retirement in 1994, after which Carol Kennedy, Anna Murray and Kathy Taylor successively took over; I continued to teach all or some of the English until 2001 (promotion in 1986 started to reduce my teaching commitments, always the way in education; Fran Jenkin and Helen Armstrong were, for some groups, the main English teachers). The course had a short after-life, with a 2002 intake, who left in 2004. Thirty-one years: not too bad a record for a course which was given notice to quit less than eighteen months into its original incarnation.



Art English group 1993

Art English group 1995


Art English Group 1996 - 1998

Art English Group 1998-2000


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