Dance finds itself out of step in the real world

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Teachers hoping to reinstate dance as a subject in its own right "do not have a snowball's chance in hell", a leading teacher trainer told a Scottish Arts Council conference on dance in education last week.

Paul Dougall, head of applied arts at Jordanhill, which hosted and co-funded the conference, was responding to widespread frustration among the attending teachers, heads, arts coordinators and dance artists, that Scottish pupils can sit Higher art, music or drama - but not dance.

"The range of opportunities for dance is huge within education," Mary Turley, a schools support officer in South Lanarkshire, said as she cited references in curriculum documents from pre-five to Higher Still.

"Dance is healthy within the 5-14 context, but once we move beyond that, the reality is that the uptake is not.

"Decisions about Standard grade and Higher grade have been taken. Dance is in the curriculum now with a secure place in PE. Those who have looked at Higher Still have looked quite carefully at the needs of dance, and there is the possibility of a course that would bring three units together to lead to an award in PE and individual units with a specific dance focus. There is also the intention to build specialist group awards, specifically performing arts (dance), which is being devised at present."

But the opportunities, Ms Turley stressed, "have to be tempered by the realities". These, it emerged over the two days, were that with 45-50 minutes a week to meet every child's needs in terms of gym, swimming and outdoor education as well as dance, many primary teachers have insufficient time and confidence.

Secondary PE teachers, particularly men, are frequently unwilling to teach dance. The result is that youngsters who are talented dancers, but not proficient in swimming, football or basketball, could not get a Higher in the subject.

Dance provision was patchy, with "pockets of excellence" around the country.

One such area was South Lanarkshire where Brian McGeoch, the first in a number of new SAC arts co-ordinators working with schools and artists, has done an audit of skills available in schools and produced four template lessons for 5-14 levels A, B and C, and a staff development session.

The key to success lay in partnerships, according to Sheila Allen, director of dance and theatre studies at Dundee College, which recently won lottery funding for a Pounds 4.6 million national school of contemporary dance.

Dundee City Council, Scottish Dance Theatre and the college have formed a partnership to advise schools on quality and funding.

Meanwhile a Scottish Arts Council committee has thrown out the idea of an independent agency to help arts and education to talk to each other, Sylvia Dow, senior education officer at the SAC, revealed.

Instead, it will encourage a network of local authority arts co-ordinators with one central co-ordinator.

A feasibility study consulted one in 10 Scottish schools to establish whether there was support for an independent agency, but failed to reach a consensus. Teachers wanted a central body with a central database which they could phone for information; artists said it was the duty of the Arts Council to fund artists and of arts organisations to strengthen their education programmes, and local authorities fell between the two.

Ms Dow said the general local authority view was: "If there are funding implications in it, well we haven't got any."

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