Nick Winterbotham is the chairman of GEM

Jury still out on education review

Nick Winterbotham, 01.04.2012
My colleagues in the Group for Education in Museums (GEM) welcome the Henley Review of Cultural Education. It is seen as a timely and wide-ranging summary of cultural benefit in learning and many of its proposals chime with our values.

Including cultural subjects in the national curriculum is valuable, although what constitutes these will be debated. Cultural learning should be an entitlement and the cross-Whitehall arrangements will be essential to the creation of the national plan.

I am not convinced that a passport approach can be made to work. Entitlement needs to be delivered through a student-centred approach. A centrally administered tagging system could dissipate the vital energy that any cultural agenda will rely on.

However, passport initiatives can bridge formal and informal learning and may serve to validate and accredit individual learning and engagement.

Exactly how school governing boards can be wooed into this cultural process might present interesting challenges. However, it’s hard to imagine any school leadership in the country that would turn away from a cultural opportunity – so long as it’s broad-based and not too obviously top-down.

Culture is best recognised when it is rooted in communities and not superimposed. Local cultural partnerships could offer much.

Design, dance and drama are all valid aspects of culture, but then so is a flair for science and technology. It will be vital that Ofsted takes a keen interest in the evaluation of the impact of the new initiative; especially so if there is to be a new cultural framework for teacher training, CPD and mentoring.

While dance and drama have been singled out for awards and attention, I believe that the success spotlight should be far broader. The award-culture can distort what would otherwise be a far broader-based engagement with personal development.

I would need convincing that a culture week would be useful. It could ghettoise cultural learning when it should be spread through the year. As for cultural ambassadors, if this initiative is not be dismissed as a luvvies’ talking-shop, the questions must be: who are they and what powers will they have?

The new £15m funding from the government is something miraculous in the current climate, although given the ambition of the review, this money will have to work very hard to have an impact.

There may be an alarming disconnect between the £1.2m benefit for 30 people each year in dance and the many museum education departments that are losing the staff and expertise that could deliver huge cultural impact for a fraction of this sum and for a far greater number of beneficiaries.

It is reassuring to see the re-establishment of an educational initiative through English Heritage’s Heritage Schools. With £2.7m over three years, this could be very effective, especially if it engages other museums, cultural sites and learning organisations.

GEM will engage with the National Plan for Cultural Learning that the government is embarking on. It represents a new opportunity akin to the Anderson reports at the end of the 1990s and Renaissance in the Regions of the past decade.

The rhetoric is similar, the opportunity is as enthralling. However, the explicit support for museum education has yet to acquire even a notional budget for museums themselves or for the organisations such as GEM.

However, there is everything to play for and our organisation intends to be a standard-bearer for its success.

Nick Winterbotham is the chairman of GEM

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