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Cutbacks on the arts will widen class divide, head warns

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 12 November, 2010 | By: Michael Shaw

Cuts to extra-curricular arts activities will widen the class gap in education, a head feted for his work in inner-city schools has warned

Cuts to extra-curricular arts activities will widen the class gap in education, a head feted for his work in inner-city schools has warned

Sir Alasdair Macdonald, head of Morpeth School in east London, warned that after-school projects and the arts would be a soft target for those making cuts.

“The big, big danger of the next few months or years is that we are seen to have a ‘core’ of education, which is what happens in the class, and then we have ‘additionality’, which is the things that happen outside the class,” he told a conference on the achievement gap.

“The core is seen as the critical bit and the additionality is the soft target – and that’s where the cuts will take place.

“I believe very, very strongly that if that is what happens, we will then – in five or 10 years’ time – find that the achievement gap isn’t even keeping pace, the gap is going to be widened.”

Arts education charities already facing funding cuts include Creativity, Culture and Education, which will see its budget effectively halved next year after the Government scrapped all its direct funding. The body has had to be rescued with a £19 million grant from the Arts Council.

Sir Alasdair, who was knighted for his services to education in 2008, said that middle-class children benefited from “educational capital”.

“All of the things they do – the theatre, the galleries, eating out, what they read, where they go, the nursery groups, the playgroups, the scouts, the guides, social activities, birthday parties and sleepovers – all that stuff is giving middle-class children an educational advantage.”

Morpeth School, which serves an area of high social deprivation in Tower Hamlets, places a heavy emphasis on extra-curricular activities and the arts to give pupils experiences that middle-class children might have routinely with their families.

The only way schools could help pupils from deprived backgrounds to catch up was to ensure they offered them too, Sir Alasdair said.

He added: “You raise achievement in the classroom – but you narrow the [class] gap outside the classroom.”

Sir Alasdair was speaking at the Closing the Gap conference in London, organised by the extra-curricular charity Filmclub and sponsored by Save the Children and The TES.

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