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Lib-Dem pleads for end to arts disparity

Arts education should be a central part of the national curriculum, not an optional extra, Robert Maclennan, the Liberal Democrats' national heritage spokesman, urged last week.

Speaking to party members in Twickenham, he said the arts should be as fundamental to education as maths, English, science or a foreign language. The flexibility in the curriculum had inadvertently caused "an enormous disparity between schools, where some offer integrated programmes of study, achieving recognisable and important results, while others are unable or unwilling to offer even the most basic level of provision".

Arts education had a vital relevance. "It does not have to be highbrow or elitist. Far from it. I have no wish to force young people into strait-jacketed conformity. I envisage an education which allows people to explore themselves and how they relate to the world. Arts education can allow young people to express their feelings, their frustrations, even their anger, in a positive and constructive way."

Every child should have the right to attend concerts, plays, opera and ballet performances, and visit galleries and museums, without charge as part of his or her education. "I am appalled that the Government has now proposed that this sort of activity should be funded by the National Lottery. Such experiences are not, and should not be seen to be, an optional extra supported by a voluntary levy."

Mr Maclennan feared that arts education would become the preserve of middle-class children whose parents could afford to pay for such tuition as they recognised its value. "This isn't excellence for all; it's excellence for the few."

He wanted local authorities and regional arts boards to work together to provide tuition and opportunities for performance throughout the country, so that access depended neither on income nor on a school's location.

* Welshpool High School in Powys has been awarded Pounds 240,000 by the National Lottery towards a Pounds 320,000 project to develop its hall into a performing arts centre.

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