A solid cultural education
I’m having a really confusing day, because almost everything on my To Do list, for several different projects, paid and unpaid, is to do with the review of the English National Curriculum and the role of culture and creativity in it. I’m contributing to the Cultural Learning Alliance response to the DfE consultation on the National Curriculum. I’ve been at a project pitch this morning about the role of art in Primary National Curriculae across the four home nations (and the fact that we have four National Curriculae, with culture & creativity placed differently in each, is confusing enough in itself). We’re about to start a project looking at how the review of the National Curriculum and changes to teacher training will affect provision of museum education. We’re also looking at how teachers network online to develop professional practice in the arts.
And now, in a very timely manner, I hear from the tweets of the RSA/ACE conference State of the Arts 2011 that Darren Henley has been asked to follow up his Henley Review of Music Education with a second review on cultural learning. The task of this next report seems confused as it was described in two ways; ‘how children can receive a solid cultural education’ and ‘defining creative education’. These scraps of information raise more than a few questions that I hope will soon be answered. Is this review intended as a diktat on the need for a Hirschian cultural canon, ensuring that children emerge from school knowing the story of their island nation and how it rests on the finest artefacts and ideas of human civilisation? Or is it intended to be a restatement of the value of creativity in education and for the economy, given Ed Vaizey’s talk today promoting a ‘creative ecology’ – a context in which value can be more rapidly propogated from the public and commercial creative sectors? Or, both?
The background to all this is the Government’s three priorities for cultural & creative education, which were stated to be: That every child should have access to a good music education, that every child should learn to sing, and that every child should have a solid cultural education. If we translate this to Science as a metaphor to explain why this is category-oddness, it would be like saying: To have a sound education in human biology (above all); to have a chance to conduct experiments in human biology; and to have a solid scientific education.
It might have been more sensible to review the whole domain first (‘a cultural education’) then to ensure the health of each subject which helps delivery of cultural learning, including music. Instead, the Government focused first on one particular artform and have assumed that lessons can be applied to all other domains of culture, as number 36 of recommendations for the Music Review is: “As suggested in the recent White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’, it is recommended that the lessons from this Review be applied to other areas of Cultural Education including Dance, Drama, Film, the Visual Arts, Museums, the Built Environment and Heritage.” (Notice, by the by, that literature, libraries and design are missing from this list.)
It would be interesting if they actually did extrapolate the lessons from the Music Review, although I doubt it would extend to pledging to spend £82.5 m spending on each area.
Is it possible to apply these lessons in similar ways to two distinctly different categories of culture: a) forms of art practice (including the histories of those practices) and b) institutions or environments in which we can experience culture and find their histories archived?
Is this about creative practice in schools or is it about the role of cultural organisations as service providers?
I welcome the fact of a review of cultural learning, and in particular I like the fact that it is embracing the MLA & heritage sectors alongside the Arts to consider cultural and creative learning in a broad way. This is essential in the light of the merger of the MLA into ACE, and may be a great opportunity to consider consolidation of infrastructure to serve providers and schools. I think it is possible to consider creative learning and cultural partnerships in synthesis, as long as care is taken not to conflate them. The danger is that the terms of the report will use music as its starting point, and open out to describe ‘the arts’, without addressing the cross-curricular role of the nation’s extraordinary cultural and heritage resources. So, despite welcoming this news, I’m concerned about its scope. It seems not to be a neutral consultancy exercise but an extrapolation of lessons from a synecdoche (music) to the whole (culture), in order to generate a neat statement about the need for cultural knowledge.
Moreover, what kind of power will this statement hold if the arts become non-statutory subjects in the new National Curriculum and if the capacity for delivering cultural learning beyond the classroom is diminished by cuts? I think that’s another blogpost.