Schools are key to future of the arts

1st July 2005 at 01:00
James Boyle, chairman of the Cultural Commission which reported last week, is in no doubt where the seeds lie to grow the arts in Scotland. "We have set our feet in education in this report," Mr Boyle declared.

The former chair of the Scottish Arts Council and head of BBC Radio 4 started his broadcasting career as an education officer with BBC Scotland.

He said that working with teachers, pupils and parents was a key ingredient to "build the appetite" for the arts right across the curriculum from ages three to 18.

Recent findings suggest that appetite may already be growing. A survey conducted by Young Scot earlier this year found that 53 per cent of young people want schools and colleges to give them more information on arts activities (TESS, March 11). They called for local centres of excellence where they could try a variety of activities.

The Scottish Arts Council, which would be replaced if the Scottish Executive accepted one of the commission's 124 recommendations, is driving a pound;1.2 million "arts across the curriculum" pilot in seven authorities, which seeks to use the arts to improve pupil motivation and attainment (TESS, February 25). It is based on an approach pioneered in Chicago.

But the commission feels more needs to be done. Among 22 recommendations on education in its weighty 532-page report, it suggests a "very modest" initiative to offer Scotland's 716,000 pupils and 50,000 teachers one experience of the live performing arts and one experience of exhibition culture each year.

With a voucher worth pound;7.50 to cover admission and travel, the cost would be pound;5.8 million a year. The report cites the success of similar "culture voucher" schemes in the Netherlands and France.

The commission also calls for the cultural co-ordinators programme in schools to be made permanent and national, on a level of funding similar to that of the Sportscotland Active Schools programme which has a budget of pound;24 million and employs 630 co-ordinators across all 32 local authorities.

Mr Boyle said more effort should be put into "building minds in school by providing education in and through the medium of arts and culture".

The commission's report cites no less an authority for its case than the First Minister in his landmark St Andrew's speech on the arts and culture in 2003. Jack McConnell said then: "I have seen the difference in the confidence and self-esteem of teenagers leaving high school after a childhood of creative expression and exposure to the arts, compared to those who leave with few cultural experiences."

Mr Boyle and his fellow commissioners repeatedly draw on that speech in which Mr McConnell urged that expanding the nation's creative and cultural drive should be "the next major enterprise for our society" - a phrase adapted as the title of the report.

The report stresses the importance of making pupils "literate" in the broadest possible sense, not just in words but in the visual and spatial senses as well as in media and design literacy, "so they can better understand the world that surrounds them".

But, while the report makes a clear case for the importance of education in and through the arts, and of schools in particular, it expresses "acute awareness that there is also a need to address teachers' confidence and ability to deliver cultural education".

West Lothian Youth Theatre's submission to the commission called for more continuing professional development in this area for teachers.

The report envisages a key role for Learning and Teaching Scotland in co-ordinating a national strategy to produce educational materials, visits and experiences, involving arts companies. It also calls on LT Scotland to work with the National Archives of Scotland to produce an "e-album" for every pupil to record key experiences.

The commission calls for the 29 ideas that require legislation to be incorporated into a culture Bill in 2007, and for the First Minister to endorse them by the second anniversary of his St Andrew's Day speech.

It particularly wants the Executive to boost funding levels by putting in an extra pound;100million a year over about nine years. This would still represent only 1 per cent of the Executive's budget, compared with 0.6 per cent now.

Patricia Ferguson, Culture Minister, promised to respond formally by the end of the year but said that "Executive spending on the arts is at an all-time high".

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