The National Plan for Cultural Education

09 July 2013

For the last 18 months the government has been trailing the publication of its National Plan for Cultural Education. With Ministers from Maria Miller to Michael Gove citing its existence as evidence of the government’s commitment to this agenda.

However, last Friday afternoon, the DCMS and DfE very quietly published their flagship document on Cultural Education, and we note that the title has been changed from a ‘Plan’ to a ‘Summary’. This makes sense, as although the document acts as a dossier of interesting existing activity, it has no National Plan attached and launches no new initiatives or ideas – a stark contrast to the well-received National Plan for Music Education of 2011.

What’s good about it?

It is good to see the Department of Education and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport working closely together on an issue as critical to our individual and collective success and wellbeing as cultural education. We welcome the acknowledgement from Ministers that ‘no education can be complete, indeed no programme of education can even begin, without making the arts and creativity central to a child's life.

It is also important that so many excellent arts and cultural projects, led by visionary schools and cultural partners, have been highlighted and celebrated. These partners are passionate about and committed to cultural education and are ready to invest their time and resource into making the offer even better. In this time of shrinking resource and austerity, we must support all teachers, families and their local partners to choose the arts and heritage, and to make them central to the learning and wider lives of every child and young person

What needs to be addressed?

This document marks only the very beginning of the government’s journey to help the sector to make this vision a reality. Although it acts as an interesting dossier of inspirational work, there are a number of actions and levers that must be put in place swiftly if cultural learning partnerships are truly to flourish and truly reach all children in this country.

We suggest that these further actions (many of which were recommended by the Cultural Learning Alliance and Darren Henley in his original Review) should include:

  • The creation of a clear, light-touch framework that helps all schools, cultural organisations and local partners understand their roles and responsibilities in delivering an excellent cultural learning offer to every child – as is the case in the National Plan for Music Education.
  • A detailed exploration and recognition of the integral role of early years, youth and informal providers in this landscape, with roles and responsibilities for each of these partners included in the framework. The government should also look closely at how they will make sure this offer reaches the most disadvantaged young people – as there is a danger that this will be become the preserve of those who are lucky enough to have cultural providers on their doorstep, have parents who choose to engage, or who have families who can pay for it.
  • The National Curriculum must be further developed, as in their present form, the drafts won’t enable an innovative or fit for purpose cultural education. As stated above; Drama, Dance and Film must be properly included and all programmes of study should be amended to be more future-facing and contemporary in focus.
  • The introduction of school accountability measures that will incentivise arts learning in schools. Despite pronouncements of a U-turn in February the EBacc has not been abolished and is still very much driving school and children’s choices, pushing them towards the included subjects and away from the arts. Last year alone 15% of schools withdrew an arts subject as a direct result of the introduction of the EBacc. New and similar measures have been introduced at A-level which will only serve to compound this problem. We’ll know exact numbers in September. Although the new structures described in the plan are a good start, there is a high likelihood that they will be undermined by these other measures.
  • Excellent, innovative, fit for purpose GCSEs for arts and cultural subjects must be developed alongside the ones that have currently been announced.
  • A strategy must be put in place that recognises the effect of the recent cuts. Since 2010 the arts and museums sectors have been cut by approximately a third and are now facing a further 5% cut. Local authorities (significant funders of cultural learning work) have been cut by around 43%. As further retrenchments and cuts are made, these decisions may well have serous implications for many of the organisations named in this plan. The framework described above could help organisations to use the resources they do have in a more effective way.
  • The Secretary of State should take on a more overt leadership role and should communicate directly with schools, head teachers and local authorities about the value, essential nature and critical importance of cultural learning. He has promised to make a major speech about cultural education and we look forward to hearing it.

Background to National Plan – how we got here.

In February 2011 Darren Henley, managing Director of Classic FM, published a Review of Music Education in England. He subsequently worked closely with the sector to produce a National Plan for Music Education – a document that set out a core entitlement to musical education for all children and young people. It outlined the roles and responsibilities for schools, local authorities, laid the groundwork for new structures and partnerships (Music Hubs) and detailed how the £171 million of funding for music would be spent over a three-year period to 2015. The plan was generally welcomed by the music education community.

Due to the success of this process Darren was asked to produce a wider Review – this time for all other cultural forms – from film and literature to visual arts, theatre and dance. The CLA ran a national consultation and made a number of recommendations to the Review.

The Review of Cultural Education in England was published in February 2012. We responded in detail. It contained a large number of direct recommendations to government. One of these being that they developed a National Plan for Cultural Education. On publication of the Review the Government announced a further £15 million of funding over three years for cultural education and allocated it to a range of national projects. It also agreed to develop a national plan. This is the document that has been published today.

This document describes a number of existing projects and activities. There are no new funds or initiatives being announced through this plan.

Why is it important that culture is embedded in the lives of all children and young people?

Arts and Heritage are essential to the lives of our children and young people and the families that support them. Learning through and about culture enables them to actively engage with, understand and comment on the world and their place within it. This involves critical thinking, creativity and the development of original ideas and action. It involves joy and exploration.

The evidence shows that cultural learning makes children’s lives better. Participation helps them do better in school, particularly in Maths and English. It makes them more likely to gain employment, volunteer and vote. Students from low- income backgrounds who study arts subject are more likely to get a degree.

Young people who are culturally literate and who have the arts and heritage embedded in their lives are also essential to our society. We need their skills for our workforce, for our growing creative industries, but also to contribute to all other sectors and to our communities, ensuring our economic and social wellbeing and our place in the world as a centre for innovation, cohesion and learning.

The Case for Cultural Learning and the evidence of impact is set out more fully in our Imagine Nation publication.