Maurice Davies

Education, education, education

Maurice Davies, 28.02.2012
Maurice Davies: blog
The Henley Review of Cultural Education in England is admirably clear - quite an achievement bearing in mind that it covers the normally jargon-infested areas of culture and, especially, education. It does of course introduce one neologism: the term "cultural education" itself.

The review makes simple and straightforward proposals for a national plan to join things up better nationally and locally. It even has a clear list of all the cultural education a child should get by ages seven, 11, 16 and 18.

My favourite of Henley’s recommendations is to make things far easier for teachers by bringing together all the information about cultural education on a single website. Sadly, the arts council has already pointed out the practical difficulties of achieving something that should be so simple.

More positively, the report pays full attention to museums, heritage and history alongside the more obvious cultural areas such as dance, drama and music.

Darren Henley, the author of the review, says: “I was particularly impressed by the museums and galleries sector, with many… firmly planting education at the centre of their activities.”

Encouragingly, he calls for renewed funding for museum and gallery education, particularly to reach “children from more disadvantaged backgrounds”.

The review has a solid, even old-fashioned air. Its tone is very different to the at-times gushing hyperbole that surrounded some of the previous government’s initiatives, like the apparently now forgotten Find your Talent and Creative Partnerships. But perhaps they were “creative learning” rather than “cultural education”.

“Learning” has of course fallen from favour, with the government much preferring the good Tory values implied by “education”. And Henley warns that what he calls the “creativity agenda” may not “place sufficient value on the development of a child’s understanding of cultural practice or of fact-based knowledge about culture”.

Cultural education does value people being creative, but on a solid basis of knowledge, analysis and practical skills achieved through repetitive practice. Under the last government it sometimes felt as if we were all artists, everyone was creative; now it appears you need to earn that right through study and hard work.

Refreshingly, the review insists that subjects such as art, history, music and drama “are worthwhile in their own right” and add to the sum of academic achievement and knowledge of a pupil. It even talks of their “intrinsic worth”.

However, confronted with the evidence, Henley acknowledges the wider (some would say instrumental) benefits of studying what he rather awkwardly calls “cultural education subjects”.

He remarks on the wider impacts cultural education can have on school improvement by boosting learning and behaviour and “engaging many children with their general schooling”.

He also notes that cultural subjects “are strong influencers of wider academic attainment” in areas such as reading and maths, quoting several pieces of research from the US to reinforce the point.

He talks of the benefits of heritage in particular giving children a sense of their identity and role in the world and “an understanding of a sense of place”, so reducing vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

The Henley review endorses what we in museums and galleries believe: what we do matters and has a valuable range of impacts.

And it’s good to read something sensible at a time when, according to Kids in Museums director Dea Birkett, some museums ejected under-16s during half-term on the ludicrous grounds that they weren’t accompanied by an adult.

As Birkett comments, shopping centres seem to be far more welcoming to children.

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