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Campaign to include arts in EBacc steps up

9 November 2012

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and violinist Tasmin Little are among a growing number of high-profile musicians, artists and educators who have publicly lent their support to Bacc for the Future (www.backforthefuture.com), a campaign which is urging the government to include creative subjects in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), set to replace GCSEs from 2017.

‘The absence of creative subjects like music from the EBacc beggars belief given how important creativity is to children and our economy,’ said Lloyd Webber. Little commented: ‘Music plays a central role in our education, culture and economy. I urge everyone to sign the Bacc for the Future petition, and I urge the Education Select Committee to hold an inquiry into these proposals.’

Brought in to replace what the government sees as the failing GCSE system, the EBacc already exists as a league table performance measure and is currently awarded to pupils who achieve a C or above in the following five GCSE subject areas: maths, English, science, a language and a humanity (history or geography). From 2017, GCSEs in these subject areas will be replaced by new EBacc certificates, with the ‘full EBacc’ being awarded to pupils who pass six EBacc certificates (two sciences will be required). It is not yet clear what qualifications will exist for subjects excluded from the EBacc.

The Bacc for the Future campaign is arguing for a sixth subject area for creative subjects to be added to the EBacc. It argues that although the EBacc will notionally leave room for pupils to pursue non-EBacc subjects, many schools will hedge their bets by entering pupils for extra science, language and humanities certificates in order to increase the numbers of pupils who will pass the required six – leaving little or no room for the arts.

Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, said: ‘The proposals do not provide for the arts as being one of the core subjects, and the way in which the proposals have been formulated makes it very clear that art, design, music, drama and dance will be pushed to the margin with very little time in the curriculum for those subjects.’

Speaking to the Guardian, which featured the story on its front page on Saturday, Sir Nicolas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, said: ‘Our concern is that many children and young people will simply miss out: not just on the enjoyment of theatre, but on the important learning and development that comes through taking part in drama from an early age.’ Martin Roth, director of the V&A, commented: ‘The UK is one of the greatest creative nations in the world, as exemplified during the Olympics this summer, but if subjects such as art, design, music, drama and dance are pushed out of the curriculum, Britain’s creative economy will be destroyed within a generation.’

A full list of people who have lent their support to the campaign is available on the Bacc for the Future website, along with news of the campaign’s latest developments. The website also carries a petition – with over 11,000 signatories to date – in support of including creative subjects in the EBacc. The secretary of state for education has so far declined to comment, although the Department for Education told the Guardian that the EBacc ‘does not prevent any school from offering GCSEs in art and design, dance, drama and music. We have been clear that pupils should take the GCSEs that are right for them.’

BBC Performing Arts Fund awards £250,000 in new grants

2 November 2012

The BBC has announced more than £250,000 in grants from its Performing Arts Fund, a charity which helps develop new talent across the UK and is funded by phone voting on reality programmes such as The Voice UK.

Forty-seven not-for-profit community groups have been given awards of up to £10,000 under the fund's community music scheme, to help them encourage new members and run workshops and projects which will 'bring them closer with their communities and raise their profile'.

A BBC spokesman said the scheme has encouraged groups 'to take on more challenging projects through commissions, and to work collaboratively with other local organisations as well as professional artists'. Miriam O'Keeffe, director of the Performing Arts Fund, said: 'We are delighted to be providing an avenue for these projects to flourish. The passion these groups have for music is inspiring. The range, not only in the types of groups but also in the spread of ages, shows us that music really is for everybody.'

The successful groups demonstrated that their projects were 'challenging and ambitious yet achievable', that their project would develop the group and its members, and that the group would collaborate with and have an impact on the wider community. Winning programmes included workshops for marginalised young people in Manchester, sending an African drumming expert to the Shetland Isles to give intensive tuition and awarding Stevenage Symphony Orchestra in Hertfordshire more than £3,000 to create a new piece with a local composer and schoolchildren.

The ReSound Community Choir from Scarisbrick in Lancashire said of its award that 'the support from the BBC Performing Arts Fund will enable us not only to stage a concert for some of the most vulnerable people in our community, but to develop the skills within our choir to provide a lasting resource for the future'. The Dacorum Community Choir in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, said: 'For the vast majority of our participants this will be a totally new experience, resulting in a lasting memory for the performers. It will have a really positive effect on music making throughout the local community.'

For the full list of winners, see http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/paf-music-fellowships-2012.pdf.

Andrew Lloyd Webber foundation gives £380,000 to arts education

2 November 2012

Andrew Lloyd Webber is to donate more than £380,000 to arts education projects in the UK through his philanthropic foundation.

His wife, trustee Madeleine Lloyd Webber, said the foundation was 'delighted to be able to support such a diverse range of arts education initiatives. We feel it is hugely important to encourage the next generation of artistic talent. The UK is currently a global leader in the arts and by investing in programmes to train young artists, we hope our country can continue to be a creative force.'

A £20,000 grant will go to Live Music Now, a project founded by Yehudi Menuhin, to fund a two-year programme to train and support emerging musicians to give workshops to children with special educational needs.

The Royal Ballet School will receive £180,000 to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, while £75,000 goes to Creative & Cultural Skills to train technical theatre staff. Other recipients include the Wales Millennium Centre's Creative Apprenticeship Scheme, which will receive £45,000 to train backstage staff.

The foundation is also financing a sixth-form music scholarship at Eton College, aimed at musically talented boys from families who cannot afford the school fees. The closing date for applications is 10th December 2012. More information about funding opportunities can be found on the foundation's website.


Arts Council England to cut jobs by a fifth

2 November 2012

Arts Council England, which runs England's new music education hubs, is to cut 118 jobs, reducing its numbers from 560 to 442 full-time posts. The cuts are in response to a government requirement to reduce administrative costs by 2015.

A spokeswoman said that the music hubs 'will not be affected by the Arts Council organisational review'. She added: 'The Department for Education has provided ringfenced funding for this activity, and this includes administrative costs. We have ensured we have an adequate number of music relationship managers in the new structure to deliver this work.'

The changes will come into effect in July 2013. There will also be a regional restructuring that will see the closure of some Arts Council offices and merging of regions, resulting in five Arts Council areas - London, South East, South West, Midlands and North - instead of the current nine. Major offices will be located in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol.

Chief executive Alan Davey warned that the changes will mean the Arts Council 'will do less and do it differently', but he insisted the organisation would still be effective.


Scottish Sirènes win Choir of the Year 2012

1 November 2012

Les Sirènes, a 22-voice female chamber choir from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), have been crowned as Choir of the Year 2012, following the grand final of the UK’s largest and most prestigious competition for amateur choirs, held at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 28 October.

Out of an original entry of 138 choirs involving more than 5,000 singers, six choirs took part in the final, which was judged by voice coach Mary King, head of the Southbank Centre’s Voicelab; Greg Beardsell, artistic director of the Ulster Youth Choir and National Youth Choir of Ireland and associate musical director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain; and West End singer and actress Ruthie Henshall.

Les Sirènes and Ysgol Glanaethwy Senior Choir from North Wales had both got through on wild cards from the category finals three weeks earlier, and were competing against Children’s Choir of the Year Lindley Junior School, from Huddersfield; Youth Choir of the Year Methodist College Senior Girls Choir, from Belfast; Adult Choir of the Year Surrey Hills Chamber Choir; and Open category winners the Oxford Gargoyles.

This year’s final was remarkable for being so representative of the whole of the UK and for an extraordinarily high standard of performance. The jury based their decision on a strict mark scheme, and although overall placings remain confidential, they did reveal that only five marks separated the winning choir from the one in sixth place.

Les Sirènes had impressed the judges in the adult category final with performances of Poulenc’s Ave Verum Corpus and Elgar’s The Snow, but their 24-year-old conductor Andrew Nunn chose lighter repertoire for the grand final – Robert Latham’s arrangement of the folksong Oh Soldier, Soldier and Michael Neaum’s arrangement of the Billy Joel song And so it goes – feeling it would be more appropriate for the TV and radio broadcasts. Praising the choir for their perfect balance between the warmth of professionally skilled voices, a blended, homogenised sound and ‘the best controlled pianissimo legato I have ever heard’, Mary King made the point that while many conservatoires, especially in London, are advising their vocal students not to sing in choirs, it was good to see this group proving the value of the opposite approach.

Speaking to MT a few days after the competition, Andrew Nunn confirmed that his colleagues at the RCS, particularly head of vocal studies Stephen Robertson, are very supportive of his work with Les Sirènes, which he founded five years ago. ‘I was thrilled with Mary King’s comments,’ he said. ‘She really appreciated how difficult it is to get singers who are training to be soloists to tone down their vibrato and achieve a coherent sound. I do it by choosing very carefully which voices to put on each part, with mainly lighter voices on the top, bigger, weightier voices on second soprano and mezzo and then letting them sing out.’

He added that not all the choir members are vocal students; some are instrumentalists. They meet weekly and new recruits have already been auditioned to join the ensemble for future performances. ‘We can’t wait to get some dates in our diary!’


The Choir of the Year Grand Final 2012 is broadcast on BBC Radio 3's The Choir on 11 November and on BBC Four television on 23 November.

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