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National curriculum 'downgraded the arts'

Most policy-makers do not understand what the arts are or their importance to education. Instead, they think they are a spin-off from the leisure industry, it was claimed last week.

Ken Robinson, professor of arts education at Warwick University told an Arts Council forum in London that the new slimmed down national curriculum framework had downgraded the arts, with drama becoming part of English and dance having to be "smuggled" into the physical education curriculum.

"I am convinced that it's not an Olympic activity. The Royal Ballet is not going to Atlanta," he said Professor Robinson said he'd been continually frustrated by the gaps between the rhetoric of educational policy and practice. Sir Ron Dearing, for example, in his solution to the overcrowded curriculum, made arts optional at 14 and cut them back by 50 per cent.

"Then he talked about how the curriculum was designed to promote spiritual and moral development - it's that kind of gap," he told an invited audience of around 40 people from the arts and education world.

Pressures of the national curriculum, local management of school budgets and the collapse of local authority advisory services had caused a scaling down of the arts in recent years.

"This is not just a matter of resources, but of attitudes and perceptions. You don't get politicians storming out of the House saying it's a disgrace that children can't play the violin. And they talk of ability in maths and talent in music. It is not party-political as Labour, if anything, has a worse track record than the Tories."

The arts had a low status in education, but a high one in the outside world - not just in this country. He had just completed a Council of Europe project on arts education in 22 member states. "Practitioners said they were badly provided for, but all politicians and administrators said everything was tickety-boo."

He said the Arts Council had a major role to play as an advocate of arts education by working with the education and heritage departments and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

More research was needed to see how beneficial the arts were to personal development, the economy and to learning other subjects, referring to recent research which discovered that musical children did better at maths - "the Mozart effect".

Christopher Frayling, rector of the Royal College of Art, thought that education was poised to be a major item on the arts agenda for the next five years. "Not just a bolt-on."

Education was firmly on the political agenda in any case and new changes to the National Lottery rules allowing cash for non-capital projects to encourage young people to take part in the arts added to that, he said.

The forum was called to discuss the Arts Council's consultative Green Paper on education and training published last month. Submissions should be sent before August 16. A White Paper combining consultations on this paper and another on the council's Lottery changes will be published in the autumn.

Education and Training Green Paper, Education and Training Department, The Arts Council of England, 14 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3NQ

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