3 key risks to cultural education in the UK

The government believes that cultural education forms an important part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and that children and young people should be provided with an engaging variety of cultural experiences throughout their time at school. Policy Paper, cultural education DFE, July 2013

This week I was asked what I thought were the main challenges in the UK facing those of us who support a holistic cultural and arts education within our schools and local communities.

The obvious answers would of course include cuts to local authority budgets and national funding, which are now affecting some of the biggest arts venues in London as well as community venues, libraries and museums across the UK.

Or the EBACC, which as this article from Deborah Annetts, chief executive of Incorporated Society of Musicians and founder of the Bacc for the Future campaign suggests, negates the potential impact of the recently announced £96m of funding, promised to support the most gifted students with access to arts education. Music for a few not for many.

But in answer to the question I chose the following:

  1. The risk of forgetting those at the very end of the journey to opening access to arts education-the students.

In the UK there are a huge range of organisations all wanting the same things. To find ways to open up access to the arts for all. Many of these focus on work with teachers and schools. However, the danger is that funding can quickly be eroded by getting people round a table to talk about the issues and reach agreement whilst actually making things happen takes much longer.

How can we ensure that initiatives and projects are needs-driven and learner-driven and that data is used not just to measure effectiveness, but to identify key areas where diminishing funding and support for arts education can have the maximum impact for those who need it most?

2) Communication.

It’s difficult to reach the people who can most easily affect change. Where are young people? They are in schools. Where are parents who are part of their local community? Many of them engage with schools.

Schools are a central and vital part of the local community and provide a huge opportunity to open up access to organisations trying to engage and work with local communities.

Yet we constantly hear of organisations trying to reach teachers and teachers trying to reach organisations and still a gulf that lies in finding the right language, the shared aims, the pressures of time and knowing how to reach the right people to make those conversations actually translate into practice.

It would be great to find ways to create more relationships that truly work in partnership and establish a balance that responds to local need and the sharing of expertise where it’s most needed. Without doing so then the challenge of communicating the right information to the right people in the right way remains a key barrier to making things happen.

3) Sustainability.

Many arts opportunities are often high quality, large-scale events and those who participate (or watch) never forget them. However many can be ‘one hit wonders’, expensive to run and once over, there is little evidence of or support for sustainability and impact over time.

The question of how to reach more people and to engage them for longer has long been a key focus for organisations looking for solutions to the challenges we face in the UK around arts and cultural education and opportunities in the current climate.

It’s great that there are structures in place that support collaboration and shared aims and values for arts and cultural education such as the Arts Council funded Bridge Organisations, The Music Education Council, the recently announced Youth Music National Alliance and the grass roots campaign to save East Sussex Music Service from threatened cuts.

But perhaps the greatest risk of all might be a failure of more arts organisations to find success in working together. If ever there was a time that this was needed, it’s now.