New deal for arts waits in the wings

28th March 1997 at 00:00
A new Labour government will place the quality of arts education in schools at the heart of its cultural and educational strategies, states a policy document published last week.

The wide-ranging, upbeat pamphlet by the shadow heritage team, called Create the future, said that the quality of arts education had diminished with changes to the national curriculum cutting the amount of art and music by half and downgrading them to an option after the age of 14.

Too many children leave school never having had the opportunity to recognise, let alone realise, their own creative potential or to find out which art forms or media interest them, Labour's document said. "There is much good work happening in schools, but it is uneven. Schools which are alive with music or drama are next door to schools where little or nothing is happening."

The party would offer schools and colleges a new deal: they would be expected to produce an arts statement in their prospectus showing what extra-curricular creative opportunities they provide; in return they would be able to submit bids to the New Millennium Commission to fund new artistic activities after school .

This commission money would revitalise theatre in education, for example, and help national dance agencies to extend their work in schools. And Labour, in co-operation with local government, would find ways of arresting the decline in peripatetic music teaching, and museum education departments and school library services.

All public and private organisations would be encouraged to publish a yearly statement of what they could offer schools in their area. The resulting database could be published on the Internet and in regional catalogues.

A National Grid for Learning, created out of a public and private partnership, including a network of school libraries, would allow children to gain access to Britain's treasures through the Internet.

The document said Labour had a "vision of a revitalised library service for the new millennium which will make full use of modern technology"; but, to the disappointment of the Library Association, it fell short of giving a commitment to place a statutory requirement on local authorities to provide school libraries and services.

In the light of the Dearing review of higher education, due to be published in July, Labour would review the scale and quality of courses serving cultural industries and identify ways in which existing budgets could be spent more effectively to achieve higher quality, better targeted training. This review would also "seek a permanent solution to the anomoly of discretionary and dance and drama awards."

A National Endowment for Sports, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) would be established with National Lottery money to support young talent. Three to five years of funding would set up the endowment and enable it, like any other charity, to become self-financing.

The document promises that access would be "a cornerstone of our cultural policy. Experiences of the highest quality must be available to the widest possible audience."

To this end an "arts card" scheme for 16 to 19-year-olds, offering reduced admission fees to theatres, concerts, museums and galleries, would be piloted. Lottery funding bodies would be directed to take account of access and facilities for disabled people when awarding grants.

"A renamed, reinvigorated Department (of National Heritage) will be an economic force in the next Labour government working in partnership with the cultural industries to create wealth and employment," says Labour.

The document was welcomed by teacher unions. Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was pleased that Labour would address the decline of music services as "their dismantling did not make sense culturally or economically".

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