Cultural co-ordinators face stroke of the axe

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Blow for arts-enhancement role as local authorities tighten purse strings

Scotland's internationally-renowned cultural co-ordinators are to disappear from as many as three-quarters of local authorities.

It is another hefty blow against the promise that Curriculum for Excellence would put the arts at the heart of learning, two weeks after The TESS revealed drastic cuts were looming for instrumental music instruction.

The programme became an early victim of the new SNP Government's spending review in late 2007, but it was hoped local authorities would pick up the tab when central funding runs out this month.

Yet co-ordinators say only eight out of 32 local authorities have committed to mainstreaming the posts, because of financial difficulties.

Scotland's 100 co-ordinators, who have organised thousands of activities since the programme started in 2002, are therefore on course to become a rump of around 20 this summer - news that has prompted an online petition and a parliamentary motion.

"All of the knowledge, all of the expertise, all of the connections will go - and there's nothing to replace it," said one co-ordinator, who asked not to be named. "It just feels so short-sighted."

One teacher - who is among about 250 people who have signed the petition - said an "outstanding" animation project with a digital artist was typical: it would have been "impossible" without a co-ordinator.

Co-ordinators and teachers argue that the programme's loss would be at odds with Curriculum for Excellence, a view backed by Tony Reekie, the chief executive of Imaginate, which runs the UK's largest performing arts festival for children in Edinburgh each year.

"At the same time that Curriculum for Excellence places culture and creativity at the heart of the learning experience, we take away a huge raft of people who will help us to do that," he said. "That type of thing only seems to happen in Scotland, and shows a particular lack of joined-up thinking."

Green MSP Robin Harper has lodged a parliamentary motion highlighting the threat to co-ordinators' jobs, complaining that, "as usual", cuts hit culture first.

The programme costs about pound;2.6 million each year. But a strength of co- ordinators - most of whom are artists - is said to be finding additional money, often from specialist funds which require expertly-handled applications.

"We are incredible value and make three or four times what we cost in monetary terms," one said.

An independent evaluation commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council found that co-ordinators brought in pound;2.6m of extra funding in 2007-08, or an average of pound;84,423 per authority. (There are between one and four co- ordinators in each authority, typically paid pound;20,000-25,000.)

The same evaluation found that, between August 2007 and March 2009, more than 670 arts activities were created by co-ordinators. Some 1,693 artists were employed directly through the programme, 2,187 visits organised, and 705 CPD opportunities developed for teachers.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Arts Council said the most recent figures, for 2008-09, showed 16 cultural co-ordinator manager posts had been mainstreamed into local authorities, while 10 authorities had committed to "support the continuation of the work of the programme".

She cited the pound;250,000 Creative Learning Networks pilot project, launched last month as "Cultural Champions" until the arts council decided the name was not "user-friendly". It is unclear what form these will take, but cultural co-ordinators have been encouraged to apply for development roles.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said the Creative Learning Networks aspired to "building on the legacy of the co-ordinators programme and finding new ways of bringing creativity into the classroom", but mainstreaming of co-ordinators was "a matter for local authorities".

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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