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Arts bodies urged to target schools

The Cultural Commission's report, due to be presented this month to ministers, is expected to recommend a more strategic, centralised organisation of the education programmes of Scotland's national arts companies.

Sources suggest the commission may propose that back-office functions - including education - should be merged in a bid to improve the dissemination of the companies' work across Scotland.

It is also understood that Learning and Teaching Scotland, with its considerable information technology resources linking schools and authorities, could be given a key role in improving access to cultural activities and resources.

Within the arts sector, fears have been expressed that the commission may recommend a rationalisation of the national orchestras, particularly in the wake of Scottish Opera's funding crisis.

However, any move to centralise the education functions of the national companies would, it is suggested, be a recognition of the fact that currently each can afford to reach only a limited number of schools or authorities.

One source suggested that while the educational work produced by national companies was often impressive - Scottish Opera's education programme inspired by its Wagner Ring Cycle being a case in point - only a limited number of schools were able to benefit.

To prevent pupils' access being sometimes dependent on ad hoc relationships between schools and arts companies, there is speculation that the resources of Learning and Teaching Scotland may be used to ensure a better partnership.

John Mulgrew, director of education for East Ayrshire and a member of the Scottish Arts Council board, said he would welcome any moves that allowed pupils to access the arts. It was essential for arts organisations and funding bodies keep a clear focus on supporting education initiatives.

"If that requires a separate focus, that would be helpful," Mr Mulgrew said.

He also called for the National Theatre - now that most of its key appointments had been made - to develop a presence in this area.

"Again there is a question of how accessible that would be. I believe the use of technology is absolutely essential to allow access to performances and individuals," Mr Mulgrew said.

The report is also expected to recommend that the Scottish Executive set out an "entitlement" to culture for all Scottish pupils.

The commission's board has been investigating how this works in Scandinavia and the Low Countries and it is anticipated that its recommendations will include a proposal for cultural "smart cards", along similar lines to the sports and leisure cards provided by some authorities, which might allow pupils entry to dress rehearsals and first nights.

There are suggestions that schools in outlying areas might be offered financial aid to transport young people to performances.

Tasked with establishing Scotland as a "vibrant, cosmopolitan, competitive country and an internationally recognised creative hub", the commission is also expected to target teachers. They would be offered an improved framework of continuing professional development in areas of culture and heritage via Scotland's higher education institutions.

James Boyle, chairman of the Cultural Commission, who began his career in the BBC's education department, declined to comment on the report ahead of publication. He did, however, say that he would like to see schools given a greater role as community hubs. He also predicted that the curriculum review would offer greater access to culture-based activities, resources and opportunities.

"I am not talking about producing artists but fulfilled citizens among whom are artists. Culture completes us as human beings whether we are scientists, doctors, journalists, whatever," he said.

Mr Boyle called for schools, individual performers and companies to work in partnership. And he praised the Executive's initiative to give all primary pupils access to tuition in at least one musical instrument by primary 6, although he warned that this was "only the first clearing in the forest" and it would undoubtedly lead to greater demand.

"If that happens we will have to think about how we pay for it as a nation -there are no free lunches," Mr Boyle said.

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