Lucky dip

18th October 1996 at 01:00
Ambivalence is the only healthy response to this week's announcement from the Heritage Secretary that Pounds 15 million is to be found from the National Lottery to fund discretionary awards for dance and drama students. Yes, it is excellent news that a group of talented young people - who have hitherto, due to the vagaries of the funding system, missed out on the mandatory grants available to art, music and other students - are to join the lucky lottery winners. But, as Lord Gowrie has warned, such grants are properly the responsibility of the education system and the scheme can only be temporary.

As chairman of the Arts Council, he has helped devise a scheme first mooted in public earlier this year by Virginia Bottomley. She was responding to a growing popular outcry. He was insisting that the Government must recognise its responsibilities with some direct funding, as well as changing the ground rules which prevented lottery money being substituted for central or local government cash.

A compromise has now been reached which keeps a role for the local education authorities, though they too will have mixed feelings about an arrangement which sustains their sphere of influence and helps them out of a financial hole, but still makes demands on a diminishing discretionary pot.

Looked at objectively, it is pretty shoddy government to wheel in a lottery godmother to make up for longstanding anomalies in student funding, tough cash cuts and thedysfunctional central-local relationship.

The treatment meted out to dance and drama students has been deeply unfair, as reports from the Gulbenkian Foundation and others have demonstrated without any serious response from the Department for Education until it was finally pressured into this new deal. The threat to (admittedly expensive) dance and drama schools, and to the supply of future stars, had become so serious by this spring that the luvvie lobby turned out in force to gain publicity for the cause. The show of solidarity helped secure a response from Mrs Bottomley at Heritage, though it has been harder to detect any empathy from Mrs Shephard at Education.

On the arts in education altogether, Gillian Shephard seems to have been content to let the Heritage Secretary and others make the running, although it is the national curriculum that has been squeezing the expressive arts out of the curriculum. Perhaps we should just be thankful that it hasn't all been left to the education department.

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