A final farewell fanfare as the bands play on

24th November 1995 at 00:00
Willis Pickard looks at the questions that remain unresolved about the arts and schools after next April's changes. When the creation of 29 mainland Scottish education authorities out of the existing nine regions was mooted, the threat to arts provision was one of the first concerns raised. In Lothian, less than five months before the region's four successor councils come into being, the picture is still unclear.

Next week, however, the region will mark past achievements rather than worry about the future. But the week of activities called Lothian Celebration will tacitly demonstrate the benefits of scale: could a smaller council fill the Usher Hall, Edinburgh's premier concert hall, with a musical programme of a high standard? Would a small council, having made the political commitment to the arts which Lothian has in the past decade, be equipped to resource it?

Fanfare for France is the title of the Usher Hall concert involving more than 300 pupils. It will mark the 700th anniversary of the Auld Alliance between two countries that shared, in England, a common enemy. There will also be a performance by the 14 to 17-year-olds of Lothian Youth Theatre of the Greek tragedy The Golden Masque of Agamemnon. "Best Feet Forward" will feature classical, jazz, Indian and Scottish dance.

The celebration, however, is only the gilt on the gingerbread. Lothian is anxious not to appear elitist: star performers should have their day, their talents should be stretched. But the "arts in education" is principally about giving all pupils an opportunity rather than turning the spotlight on the gifted. Since 1992 the region has had an arts policy which emphasises a commitment to individuals and the community and in particular to those with special needs or belonging to a minority culture. The transition from school to adult involvement in the arts is another priority.

An arts unit headed by Mary McGookin forges links with national and local arts companies. More than Pounds 500,000 is given in annual grants, and there is funding for the Edinburgh International Festival, some of whose artists each year work with groups on the region.

One project involves pupils from primary schools in Leith preparing a music gift for children in Kyoto when the Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays there next week. The children's responses to living in Edinburgh form the basis of a piece of music created along with a group from the SCO.

Mary McGookin's unit helps arts companies to tailor their offerings to suit the needs of schools, for example, in interpreting how Scotland's national 5-14 guidelines in expressive arts can lead to an input by professional artists. The region also funds education posts; in film, at the Royal Lyceum Theatre and with Scottish Ballet Politically, a balance in resources has to be struck between offering a range of experiences to as many pupils (and citizens) as possible and nurturing the talents of the gifted. Lothian is one of the few authorities in Britain to have a specialist music school, or rather two special units, a primary one at Flora Stevenson School and a secondary one at Broughton High, both in Edinburgh. (The city also boasts St Mary's Music School, directly funded by the Scottish Office.) Last year when Lothian won, along with Birmingham, the National Local Authority Music Award from the National Music Council, it did so because of the breadth of its music coverage. All primaries in the region have teachers who are music specialists. "Music for all" as part of the ordinary curriculum in both primary and secondary means that all pupils get the opportunity to try their hand at an instrument. More than 11,000 pupils get instrumental tuition during the school day.

The breadth of provision, which impressed the award judges, has obvious beneficial effects: a range of divisional and regional choirs, orchestras and bands for symphonic music, wind, brass, jazz, strathspey and reel. The West Lothian Schools Brass Band has won the British and European championships.

But the emphasis remains on music in the curriculum, and that message is now being conveyed to improbable new territory. Andrew Kerr, the region's music adviser, and Nigel Osborne, professor of music at Edinburgh University, are engaged on a series of visits to Bosnia to show enthusiastic teachers the therapeutic as well as educational value of music as schools strive to return to normal.

National acclaim for musical achievement reflects work in the classroom. Lothian cannot claim to be in the UK vanguard with specialist drama or dance teachers, although where these exist, pupil enthusiasm and involvement in performance show what would be possible if resources were available. But, for example, secondary heads faced with a squeeze on staffing find it hard to contemplate taking on a drama specialist where none has been in post before. Preserving past commitments is problem enough for schools. Therefore with the decline in drama provision available to individual primaries, the region has concentrated on maintaining Dr Bell's Primary Drama Centre in Edinburgh, where a small group of specialists offer programmes such as a recent one on Second World War themes.

The region is also one of only a handful in Britain which has kept a theatre in education team and a theatre arts centre. The centre in Edinburgh's Davie Street is also home every August to Nottinghamshire education authority whose youth productions have for years been among the reliable highlights of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. With the recent creation of Lothian Youth Theatre and the continuation of the Edinburgh Youth Theatre, the region would like to aim for the kind of provision annually demonstrated by the likes of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire on the Fringe.

Dance in Scottish schools is in a strange position: the 5-14 programme lumps it in with physical education, and it thrives or languishes depending on the commitment of individual primary class teachers or on PE specialists, some of whom know more about rugby scrums than entrechats. In Lothian the secondment of Susan Crowther from Scottish Ballet to work with teachers has helped, and the results of her efforts with a growing band of keen young dancers will be on display at the celebration. But provision remains patchy.

As professional performers are increasingly called in aid, so are resources such as museums and art galleries. There is an effort to put pupils in contact with artists and designers at work in their studios. Pupils are encouraged to look critically at and form their own responses to work on the walls.

In preparation for the new local authorities, arts specialists like other regional employees are being placed under one of the four successor councils. What no one is willing to predict at present is how far the richness of experience available to Lothian's pupils will continue after April.

Realistically, the view is that Edinburgh will be all right. The city authority will be large enough to sustain, for example, orchestras for different age groups. The bases for much of the present work are in Edinburgh and are likely to remain, the question being who will staff them and whether the three other authorities will want and be able to make use of them. Links with national performing companies and with the International Festival also favour Edinburgh.

In West Lothian the brass and windband traditions will continue to be nurtured. But what will happen, for example, to promising musicians in Midlothian and East Lothian who at present gain from participating in the Lothian symphony orchestra? No East Lothian secondary has a specialist drama teacher. So what chance will a budding actor have? Some people believe that once the new councils have shaken down, co-operation at "Lothian" level will resume. Many pupils and their parents would certainly hope so.

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