A note from our new chair Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education RSC

30 May 2019

To the CLA membership I want to say ‘hello’ and how pleased I am to be the current Chair of the CLA.

It strikes me that there has never been a more important time for an independent voice that champions the place and importance of arts and cultural learning in young people’s lives.

Since the publication of ImagineNation in 2011, the CLA has consistently promoted the benefits of arts and cultural learning for all children. In doing that, they have amassed the research, evidence and statistics we need to speak with one voice. This isn’t about separate art forms fighting their own corner. It’s about promoting the importance of a broad and rich artistic and cultural offer; an inheritance that belongs to every child. My background is in theatre and that’s where I’ve spent my professional working life, but I want the widest possible range of art forms and experiences to be available to children and young people both inside and outside of school. I believe the CLA enables us as a sector to better speak alongside and on behalf of each other.

As well as giving us these kinds of tools, the CLA has also kept a steady and consistent focus on arts and cultural learning and social justice. The playing field isn’t equal. Some students get access to high quality arts provision that helps shape and round their lives, some don’t. The fact that we still need to make the case for why this is an entitlement that all young people should have access to is, at best, mystifying. But the CLA provides us with the essential facts, figures and evidence to do so.

There are some positive signs. The DCMS select committee recently published Changing Lives – the social impact of participation in culture and sport. It’s a good read and has solid and sensible things to say. It feels important that the report noted:

 “We are deeply concerned by the evidence we received around the downgrading of arts subjects in schools, with all the consequent implications for children’s development, wellbeing, experiences, careers and, ultimately, life chances. It is not enough for the DCMS and DfE to simply expect schools to provide a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’; they need to take action to ensure that this is actually happening.”

Watch this space for responses.

At some point though, do we decide that Education is too important to be allowed to be a political football. Should it be taken out of the control of politicians and put into the hands of educationalists; people working on a daily basis with young people who use evidence to inform decision making about the knowledge and experiences children need to develop their identity and begin to take their place in the world. Should we be calling for a commission into the state of Education to enable a serious ‘state of the nation’ review with teachers, young people, headteachers, parents, academics and employers. Together we could interrogate whether the current system is fit for purpose. Is it bringing out the best in every child and helping every child be their best? Or is it a system that has been developed around the needs of the top 30% of children as opposed to 100% of children?

I am constantly moved by the moral purpose of school leaders and teachers, of arts organisations and artists who all strive to make a positive difference in the lives of children. However, to really do so, we may need to recalibrate what is valued in a school and in a child and in an artist or arts organisations work.

Do we value the arts and cultural opportunities in this country enough to make sure everyone has equitable access to them? The answer currently is no but the CLA is working hard, and will continue to work alongside many others, to ensure that answer changes.

I hope the membership of the growing CLA community continues to expand and that with your help we keep championing the things that enable all young people to have equal access to high quality arts experiences as audiences, makers, participants and leaders.

Jacqui O’Hanlon
Chair of CLA and Director of Education, Royal Shakespeare Company

One Reply to "A note from our new chair Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education RSC"

  1. Thanks for this welcome message.

    I think your suggestion of a commission into the state of Education to enable a serious ‘state of the nation’ review with young people, parents, the teaching profession, employers and academics is a great idea and much needed. An enquiry into whether our current system is fit for purpose and how it can bring out the best in every child and help every child achieve their full potential.

Comments are now closed on this post.