Cameron backs CLA – but what change can we expect under the coalition government?

14 May 2010

We have a new government led by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The position on cultural learning isn’t particularly clear in either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos. Neither committed to a cultural entitlement, or curriculum changes that reinforced culture at the heart of teaching and learning. This situation is likely to be fast-changing , but here we outline what we might expect.

The Prime Minister told us in his film when he was leader of the opposition that he supports the Cultural Learning Alliance. And the Liberal Democrats manifesto acknowledged the contribution of the ‘arts’ to education. So we can be certain that both parties have shown an initial commitment to cultural learning that we can all build on.The latest Conservative Party Culture, Media and Sport policy says nothing of education and learning. And their Schools policy and more recent announcements on plans for education don’t mention culture. So probably the best sense of what is to come at this point in time is from Ed Vaizey’s January speech which set out some preliminary policy ideas for cultural education. It set out four things that cultural education should do: introduce every child to the arts; give every child the chance to learn and master some parts of culture; find and nurture talent; and transform the lives and aspirations of children in most need. This seems fairly straight-forward and something many people have been working to already –­ access and progression.By February, however, their initial arts policy said arts education funding would be consolidated and "used to promote three aims: that every child will have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; that every child has the chance to learn to sing; that every child is able to receive a solid cultural education".One of the challenges appearing from both the January speech and February policy, is a bias towards ‘the arts’, particularly music and dance education. We would suggest the new government will need to broaden its approach to encompass heritage, film, literature and other cultural forms which are also part of a rounded cultural education.The main plank of reform seems to be in bringing coherence to the range of initiatives within the cultural learning sphere, to ensure more efficiency and effectiveness of the programmes that are invested in. Vaizey talked of bringing cultural education spending together. So we should anticipate central government reviewing its role and funding structures, and that of the bodies it funds, whilst Local Authorities may have an increased role in local strategy, co-ordination and providing access to cultural learning.The DCMS recent policy A Place for Culture set out an ambition for a cultural offer. It is as yet unclear if that policy ambition will remain. We’ve had assurances that cultural education is important. We now need the new government to set out its ambition so that we can work with them towards continual growth in cultural education for the benefit of children and young people.