Ed Vaizey has asked Darren Henley to carry out a review of cultural education and in turn we are invited to give our views. Before addressing the questions we’re being asked in the survey, I’m reflecting on the terms and assumptions of the review as set out in Vaizey’s commissioning letter to Henley, and hope to stir a bit of debate.
So first to look at the purpose of the review: to consider how every child can have a wide variety of high quality cultural experiences, ensuring both quality and best use of public investment.
- Is there a risk that both wide variety and high quality will be cancelled out because of the difficult funding context and because of the Coalition’s emphasis on academic/verbal studies?
- Is ‘cultural experiences’ the same as, or as big as, ‘Cultural Education’? For many respondents, the term ‘cultural experiences’ may preference notions of culture as ‘something that is given to you’ (culture) or ‘something that happens to you’ (experience)? Respondents may need prompting to consider active participation in cultural production and interpretation.
- As the cuts deepen then cultural provision by schools and educational provision by the culture sector will both be seriously etiolated. That is the chewy problem at the heart of this review, at this critical juncture. The Cultural Learning Alliance’s Get It report has already answered the questions posed by the survey. However, this was in 2008-9 before the Coalition regime so there is a need to update this by really tackling the resource issue. The Get It report also lacked reference to two key contextual drivers that would bring a review of cultural learning fully up to date: namely, the massively upward driver of digital communications (and with it multimodal, global, open, social culture) in combination with a massively downward driver of environmental stability.
So I believe this review should address how Cultural Education can thrive in a world of less money but more communications, and most importantly, how it can positively help children become resilient and skilled for the extreme challenges never before faced. The solutions must be urgently sought, unswayed by ideology. And the review must acknowledge that some aspects of the solution will necessarily involve (effective) bureacracy.
The letter also outlines some assumptions. I’m picking on those which seem problematic:
There is an assumption that this will build on Henley’s review of music education, taking into account the delivery models already adopted or planned for music. This is problematic because many dimensions of Cultural Education are very unlike music, partly because they are not all artforms, partly because cultural subsectors are structured so differently. For example, Local authorities tend to have music education services. They don’t all have structured provision for education in architecture, design, creative technology, cultural aspects of Citizenship and so on.
There is an assumption that public funding is the main way to address Cultural Education priorities. This is worthy and encouraging, but still problematic because it contradicts Coalition policy, which is to encourage more funding of culture through philanthropy, enterprise and community participation. Many services are already being reduced or axed.
There is an assumption that Initial Teacher Training and Continuing Professional Development can enable Cultural Education partnerships. This is problematic because Teacher Education is changing to become even more based in schools, rather than universities. This means it is more likely that professional knowledge will be informed by patchy practice within one or two schools, rather than trainee groups exploring Cultural Education with specialist lecturers. CPD opportunities are also being cut.
There is an assumption that the review should consider what schools/parents, rather than cultural delivery agencies, see as priorities. This is problematic because it wrongly puts schools/parents and delivery agencies in opposing camps. Many delivery agencies have sound expertise in school and child needs. All parties should be seen as forming collaborative communities with the future generations of adults as their mutual interest. (One problem with the initial establishment of Creative Partnerships was that it did not trust cultural organisations to host or act as brokers. If the Government had targeted their expenditure on a nationwide system of information, awards and teacher training, whilst funding cultural organisations to deliver outputs building on that infrastructure, Cultural Education now would be much less a mix of ‘initiativitis’ and local drought.)
The letter also asked three subsidiary questions, all of which raise concerns:
1. What cultural experiences should be included?
My concern here is that the overall terms of the review limit the frame of reference, encouraging most respondents to see cultural experiences only as artform-based enrichments to the core curriculum. The survey is likely to yield a random smorgasbord of bits of experience bearing no relation to a well-structured National Curriculum with culture and creativity integral to it.
2. How can cultural organisations create a cultural offer which reflects the needs of schools to offer a broad and truly rounded curriculum?
My concern is the extent to which the Coalition is dismantling requirements for schools to deliver “a broad and truly rounded curriculum”, judged by the likelihood of stripping many cultural and creative practices out of the National Curriculum and conversely making the National Curriculum only statutory for Local Authority schools (encouraging more schools to leave Local Authority control with the carrots of money and freedom).
I also quibble with laying the responsibility on cultural organisations themselves to ‘create a cultural offer’. The DCMS under Labour had been slowly realising their national responsibility to create a cultural offer (or cultural entitlement) through Find Your Talent/Creative Partnerships, Strategic Commissioning, Artsmark & Arts Awards, and other schemes, many of which are now being cut. They, with DfE, also started to develop plans for a digital ecosystem of educational services and content, also now gone with the axing of BECTA. The DCMS with ACE & MLA (until it winds down) urgently need to draw together all the national infrastructure that remains (e.g. Artsmark and Arts Awards) and work with the DfE, Cultural Learning Alliance and CCE to restore the cultural offer.
The recommendations could be unworkable for many organisations if this review takes the music education review as a micro model and replicates it for other, and more fundamental, aspects of Cultural Education. (More fundamental aspects involve understanding human cultures and transforming humanity through creative practice.)
3. How can we ensure that all opportunities are the very best?
This question isn’t problematic in itself, but there are two possibly contradictory aspects to the answer. One is a non-materialist view: that quality is not dependent on amounts of funding that can buy materials or encounters open to the elite, as it is dependent on fundamental shifts in thinking about the purpose of education. The other is an economic view: that it is impossible to deliver egalitarian, consistent, varied and exciting Cultural Education services without adequate funding.
Finally, to summarise the questions you are being asked in the survey:
1. How would you define cultural education?
2. What is the value of cultural education and how do you define this value?
3. What cultural education do you think a child should experience at each key stage?
4. What is that works best about the way that cultural education is currently delivered? (Include research/links)
5. What is that could or should be working better in the way that cultural education is delivered?
6. If we had a blank sheet of paper, what would be your view of the ideal funding and delivery structure for cultural education?
7. Further comments, anything not addressed by the questions above.