Anna Cutler

Art education

Anna Cutler, Issue 112/11, p18, 01.11.2012
43p per child does not inspire
Last month, the director of the Tate, Nicholas Serota, urged the government to reconsider the decision to implement the new English Baccalaureate certificates (EBacc) designed to replace GCSEs, without including the arts as part of the core subjects.

His comments were the result of mounting concern over the fate of cultural learning in the UK. We have seen reductions in teacher-training places within the arts, a decline in arts provision, and the removal of drama from the primary curriculum.

In light of the limited information from government, we ask: what exactly is the game-plan for the future of cultural education as well as for children and young people today?

In the Henley Review of Cultural Education that was published earlier this year, education secretary Michael Gove said: “Every child should receive a strong, knowledge-based cultural education.”

In response to the statement from Tate, the Department for Education (DfE) said: “We are spending £15m over the next three years to ensure that every child has access to the arts.”

There are 11.5 million children in the UK – will a mere £5m a year for three years really be enough to give them all the access to the arts that they need? This sum would represent 43p per year, per child. Can the quality of experience that is needed across all arts really be achieved for this amount?

There was £10m lost from museums when responsibility for them moved from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to Arts Council England, and more than £20m removed when Creative Partnerships was cut, depriving the most disadvantaged children in the country of the benefits that it had provided. How will the pledge to ensure that every child has access to the arts now be honoured?

The DfE has said that other subjects are valuable, that pupils will continue to study them and that the EBacc will not prevent any school from offering qualifications in art, design, dance, drama and music.

The problem is that this is exactly what has happened already and will continue to happen in the future. The introduction of the EBacc will, if not prevent, then put schools off or make it difficult for them to include arts subjects as part of their timetable.

There is already a reported 43% decrease in arts activity across schools. Gove has said that the government will listen to the profession, in order to make sure that these reforms are implemented effectively.

But this implies that the government has already made a decision about subjects without holding to the “pledge” for arts for every child. Now it is asking arts professionals, teachers and those working in cultural organisations, how to solve the problem that this has created.

It is asking us to provide the answers with less money available in general and all without spending more than 43p per child.

Learning through, with and about the arts enables young people to make, create, and express themselves. It is a complex experience that demands the capacity to be able to take abstract ideas and make them manifest as an art form (or vice versa).

The arts are the currency of social capital – we saw their worth transmitted across the world during the London Olympics in the summer. Experience and confidence in the arts develop skills for participants in team work, problem solving, risk and tolerance, key attributes treasured by business, creative industries and society.

Cultural education is vital for the development of individuals and of society and it should be delivered through schools as part of the curriculum to ensure both equality of opportunity and quality of experience. It should not be regarded as an optional extra.

Anna Cutler is the learning director at Tate

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