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Tours de force

In autumn, the Royal Albert Hall will launch a school tours programme as part of a pound;500,000 educational project that will reach 40,000 youngsters. Nigel Williamson listens in

The aim is to ensure that a trip to the Royal Albert Hall is much more than a fun day out, says Helen Walker, deputy chief executive and director of programming. "Although it will be that, too.

"We've been piloting the tours programme for about a year to make sure we got it right and it gives schools what they want. We will be backing up the projects with lesson plans, CD-Roms and other materials related to the experience and the national curriculum subjects to which they link."

The tours are the latest addition to a programme that was launched last year following extensive refurbishment of the building. Other elements include ticket subsidies for schools to see top performances and a variety of workshops and other tailor-made projects linked to the RAH's artistic programme.

The school tours will see about 2,500 pupils a year for specially-designed curriculum-based projects on Victorian social history and art and design.

The hall, which opened in 1871 under a Royal Charter that charges it with promoting the arts and sciences, is proud of its subsidised ticket programme, offering schools access to high-profile events for just pound;2.50. Among them is its first jazz-based schools matinee featuring 24-year-old Jamie Cullum, whose two million-selling debut album "Twentysomething" is the biggest record in UK jazz history. Cullum appears on November 15, while on October 21, the hall hosts Primary Proms, organised in conjunction with Music For Youth, and featuring some of the best school musicians in the UK performing to primary school pupils.

Central to the education programme are partnerships with 10 local primary and secondary schools within Education Action Zones in nearby boroughs Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea.

"The emphasis is on those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to visit the building, and we also offer grants and financial support and send musicians into the schools before pupils come to the events in the Hall, so it becomes a more focused experience," says Helen.

However, the programme is not restricted to local partnerships and has a wider outreach, with a database of 1,500 schools, predominantly in London and the Home Counties. All receive a periodic newsletter about the halls'

schools-based activities.

The education programme has three full-time staff and is funded from the RAH's own operating surplus, but also relies on donations and sponsorship to meet approximately 50 per cent of the costs.

For further information, contact Helen Walker at

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