Labour sets outs culture plan

Consultation document proposes plan for cultural learning and calls for an end to unpaid internships. Gareth Harris reports
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Gareth Harris
The Labour Party closed a public consultation on its policy review, Young People and the Arts, in July.

The review, according to Harriet Harman, the shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, addresses why cultural learning is in decline and points to what is described as a marked fall in participation in primary and secondary school level.

Harman writes in the introduction to the consultation: “Our creativity in the future will be diminished if it becomes increasingly restricted to those who come from families who have the means to pay for it in communities where it is the norm.”

The consultation document criticises the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which has led to “less choice in arts subjects, as schools have removed arts courses”, stressing that the government continues to focus on the “theoretical over the practical and creative in its curriculum reforms”.

The document cites evidence highlighting that creative subjects boost attainment, drawing on the Culture and Sport Evidence Programme (a three-year research project launched by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2008).

Also, the review calls for an end to the “exploitation of unpaid labour” under internship programmes, and says that more National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) funded by Arts Council England (ACE) should have agreements to deliver against ACE’s goal of “high-quality arts and culture” for children and young people (the current proportion of NPOs required to fulfil this criterion is two-thirds).

National service

The most ambitious proposal, however, is Labour’s intention to publish a national plan for cultural learning. “Governments must be accountable, so we need transparency about our plans and how we will measure our progress,” says the paper.

John Holden, a visiting professor at City University, London, says: “I think a national plan is only part of the solution. Grand plans have a role, but we need coordination through the whole system, from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education, to the non-departmental public bodies, to cultural organisations, the third sector, individual schools and local authorities.

“There are things that need to be refined – being clearer about the difference between ‘experiencing’ and ‘participating’, for example – but overall, it is clear, sensible and timely. Maybe the one missing element is encouraging schools themselves to take cultural education seriously.”

Responding to the policy review, the Museums Association (MA) has called for closer links between education policy and cultural policy, particularly in the curriculum.

The MA’s response says: “Local provision of services near to where young people live and go to school is vital. Supporting and ensuring adequate funding of local and regional museums and galleries is fundamental to guaranteeing that all young people have access to rich cultural experiences.

“However, funding alone is not enough. Museums and galleries need to be publicly committed to providing accessible cultural learning opportunities and to engaging with all young people in their local communities, not just those that already visit.”

Helping hand
The association suggests that England could look to other areas of the UK for examples of best practice in cultural policy: for example, culture and heritage bodies in Wales are working together to broaden access and participation to culture in ways that contribute to reducing poverty.

With local authorities, the MA says “a local strategy for inclusion would be useful, as would a commitment to maintaining levels of funding and support for museums and galleries, which have been hard hit by budget cuts”.

But Labour’s warning that it “will not be able to stop the cuts or turn back the clock” may raise concerns across the sector.

Key consultation questions

  • Should children visit a theatre/gallery/museum in their local area at least once every academic year or term?
  • Should a school be rated outstanding (by Ofsted) if it does not provide an outstanding cultural education?
  • Should every local authority lead on developing a strategy for local arts and culture with a particular focus on the inclusion of young people?
  • Should every arts organisation of national importance that receives public money offer a certain number of paid internships for local people from disadvantaged backgrounds?

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