At the launch of Arts Council England’s Cultural Education Challenge last month, nobody was pretending there was any new money to help make things happen. Instead, there was a ‘moral obligation’ to work together, with the aim of ‘offering a consistent, and high quality, arts and cultural education for all children and young people’.
The intention to create 50 ‘Cultural Education Partnerships’ was announced, all set to be in place by 2018. In each of these, the relevant local ACE Bridge Organisation should work with schools, the local authority, voluntary and community organisations, further and higher education, and music education hubs ‘to improve the alignment of cultural education for young people’. There is not a huge amount of detail available on the nature of these partnerships, and as MT went to press, workshops were taking place across England to address how they will be implemented.
As the Cultural Learning Alliance said in response, ACE’s prioritisation of disadvantaged children and young people was particularly praiseworthy – and, with resources as they are, ‘better partnership and unlikely alliances’ are indeed how the challenge’s objectives are most likely to be achieved. Overall, the ambition is to be applauded. Should we do nothing in straitened times? Far better to see that ministers and funders are prioritising children and young people’s cultural rights and opportunities.
However, it must be recognised on whose shoulders this moral obligation will rest, in practice. The education officers of ACE-funded organisations will feel the pressure; but perhaps the key factor will be the capacity of the school teachers who, as the guardians of their children, will inevitably be involved in the vast majority of any given instance of cultural education. Regardless of whether they are personally interested in the performing arts or not, teachers face a multitude of pressures: this is just one more.
Whichever way you look at it, providing a high-quality cultural education will rest to a great extent on the increasingly super-human resilience of teachers. It competes for priority with Ofsted, measurement and results (see Jane Werry’s column in this issue), and so the challenge requires unifying the outcomes of arts education with these other objectives. It’s lucky they’re not mutually exclusive.