The Case for Cultural Learning

Allan Beavis's picture
The Cultural Learning Alliance is a collective voice working to ensure that all children and young people have meaningful acces to culture. It members range from large arts organisations, individuals, schools and teachers.

One of its members, Darren Henley, Chairman of the Music Manifesto Partnership Advocacy Group and Managing Director of Classic FM, was commissioned by Secretary of State for Education and the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries to produce a report recommending how the government can ensure the ambition that every child should experience a wide variety of high quality cultural experiences, ensuring both quality and best use of public investment. Published in May 2012, there is much to admire in The Henley Review of Cultural Education, which amongst other things, called for:-

•Cultural subjects to be recognised for their intellectual rigour and practical skills and their inclusion in the National Curriculum and English Baccalaureate

•A set of minimum expectations for every child's cultural education experience, set out by age

•The creation of a National Plan for Cultural Education

•The creation of a Cultural Education Partnership Group (CEPG) which could include Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the British Film Institute, the Big Lottery Fund and English Heritage. This would ensure that their individual strategies/plans in the area of Cultural Education cohere in a way that adds up to a single over-arching strategy in line with the government’s stated ambitions.

Upon publication, the government initially responded in a positive way by announcing that it would invest £15m over three years to lay the groundwork to make Mr Henley’s recommendations a reality. Initiatives included a new national plan for cultural education, a new youth dance company, a new cultural education partnership group and supporting teachers to improve the quality of cultural education in schools.

However, when this investment is viewed within the broader context it is clear that it cannot replace the resources that have already been stripped from the system: education funding is due to drop 13% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15; £10 million was lost from the Museums, Library and Archives remit when it moved to Arts Council England from the MLA; and £7 million from the Booktrust budget between 2010 and 2012. The £15 million also falls into sharp contrast when viewed alongside the £1 billion investment that was recently made into school and community sport.

The sense that the government went through the motions to tick the cultural box without any genuine commitment to attempt to put into practice the recommendations set out by the Henley Report, best summarised as recognising Cultural subjects for their intellectual rigour and practical skills and including them in the National Curriculum and English Baccalaureate is reinforced by Michael Gove excluding them from the Ebacc. He mentioned Art & Design and Design & Technology as being subjects that may necessitate ‘practical work which could not be completed in a time-limited exam’. He also said that Music should be ‘better recognised’ in modern schools.

The clear message from the coalition is that they place little value on arts and cultural learning. In his speech announcing the Ebacc, Michael Gove used the word ‘rigorous’ very often, alongside the words ‘core’ and ‘academic’; very clearly distinguishing the Ebacc suite of subjects from others and from ‘vocational’ learning. Yet surely every subject is equal in rigour and value to others and that all involve a good mix of both practical and theoretical learning opportunities?

Here is the case for cultural learning:-

• Taking part in drama and library activities improves attainment in literacy

• Taking part in structured music activities improves attainment in maths, early language acquisition and early literacy

•Schools that integrate arts across the curriculum in America have shown consistently higher average reading and mathematics scores compared to similar schools that do not

•Studying arts subjects increase confidence and motivations – things that equip students to learn

•Participation in structured arts activities increases cognitive abilities

•Students from low income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree

•Employability of students who study arts subjects is higher and they are more likely to stay in employment

•Students from low income families who engage in the arts at school are twice as likely to volunteer and are 20% more likely to vote as young adults

•Cultural learning enables children and young people to form a richer sense of themselves, their communities and the world around them by entering the limitless worlds of drama, fiction, art, music, design and film. The experience the emotions that have motivated artists and writers and be inspired to explore their own.

•Creativity helps to bind communities. At a time when the economic crisis is mirrored by turbulence on our streets, now is not the time to restrict the opportunities available to children and young people by further narrowing their imaginative horizons.

•According to UNESCO, the UK is the world’s largest exporter of cultural goods. When have we been the world’s largest exporter of anything recently? And this is achieved with a tax payer investment which is 0.1 percent of the recent HBOS bailout. With this tax payer investment, we generate more economic activity than tourism, and we do this without a bonus culture, and without a ‘talent drain’.

•The creative industries are straight forwardly, unequivocally, vital to our economy. 6.2% of the UK’s local income comes from the creative industries, the arts provide over 2m jobs and are mentioned by 8 out of 10 tourists as a reason for their visit.

Cultural learning is under threat both from the financial retrenchment affecting cultural institutions and from the coalition’s changes to the education system that will lead to a further decline in cultural opportunities, especially for the most underprivileged and vulnerable in our society.

The Cultural Learning Alliance has produced a booklet ImagineNation which succinctly sets out the case for cultural learning and I urge everyone, especially anyone who supports the downgrading of creative subjects in our schools and exams system, to read it.

“Culture is the way we come to know the world, individually and collectively. It is as rich and diverse as the traditions that stand behind its making. It is the active engagement with the creation of our arts and heritage, and the expression of what and who we are as individuals, as communities, and as a nation. The quality of that culture is a measure of the way we live. At a time of social and economic stress, the case for
cultural learning is stronger than ever.”
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Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 13:09

Thanks, Allan, for this impassioned plea for the inclusion of cultural learning in the curriculum for all pupils at all stages of their school careers. Your thread, the information about the Henley Review together with the link to the Cultural Learning Alliance (chair Lord Puttman) is a useful counterpart to Henry's thread about the DfE report (not given much publicity) which reveals the detrimental effect the EBacc is having on creative subjects.

The UK is a world-leader in the arts - yet they are being sidelined in schools by both the EBacc and the primary curriculum review which treats creative subjects as peripheral extras.

John Finney's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 16:16

I wonder why it is that only some subject are thought of as 'creative', only some as 'academic', only some as 'practical', only some as 'vocational'?

What if we replaced 'academic' with 'intellectual' meaning 'of the human mind?' Michael Gove is interested greatly in such liberal educational ideas as 'the life of the mind'. Artisitc behaviour demands mindful thought and action. I have always considered the making of an extended musical improvisation in concert with others, for example, to be a demanding intellectual undertaking. As Allan writes, is this not rigourous, intellectually demanding?

So, we have the ideology of the 'academic' revealing little understanding of 'the life of the mind' and what it might be to be human in some kind of fullness. This seems to be case of 'small mindedness'.

Guest's picture
Wed, 10/10/2012 - 05:35

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 10/10/2012 - 07:57

Guest - your link goes to a joke website which finished in 2001, over a decade ago. You must have had to do a deep trawl of the web to find it. Perhaps you could explain the point you are making.

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