The UK government's recent announcement that all school children aged between 5-16 years old should receive at least five hours of cultural activity per week has met with mixed reactions from the arts and teaching sectors. Emotions range from gentle praise to outright hysteria at the very thought of compartmentalising the arts in such a way.
Initially the scheme will run as a pilot project funded by a meagre £25Million with backup funding of £110Million from yet another government scheme, in this case Creative Partnerships. In keeping with today's formula of treating everything like a talent search competition the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) is calling the project "Find Your Talent".
The intention is to give children, in the pilot study areas, at least five hours of access to something cultural. This includes visiting museums, live performances in theatres, participating in actual performances, etc, etc. If you can call it cultural then the kids are going to be doing it.
In and of itself the project appears to be fine. As virtuous as any plan could be! Who doesn't want to provide children with access to as much culture as they can get? Like most things government orientated however you quickly begin to realise that it looks good as a press release and not much else.
Compared to the annual amount of money spent on the entire education infrastructure across the UK, currently over £77Billion per annum, that £25Million is bordering on pathetic at best. What is it exactly that can be achieved with £25Million where £77Billion is so obviously failing?
The scheme also overlooks the huge amount of education work already done by professional artists in schools, colleges and so many other places. Ask any professional dancer (outside of a ballet company) to name the schools and education projects they have worked on in any given year and they will struggle to recall them all for sheer weight of numbers.
Also, why five hours? Why not four hours or seven hours or more? The answer comes from the DCMS themselves when you read their own press release. In the footnotes for editors there is the following statement;
"The Government aims to offer all children, aged 5-16, five hours of sport a week by 2010. This will be a combination of PE and sport within the curriculum and outside school."
It's five hours because everything is being broken down by the numbers. Five hours of culture, five hours of sport, five hours of science, five hours of English and maths and so on. Everything is compartmentalised so it looks good on a chart because if kids are getting even numbers of everything then they'll come out of the other end as well rounded human beings. Right?
Nobody in their right mind would question the notion that culture needs to be used in schools but it needs to be threaded through everything children are taught. There is culture, drama and wonder in everything that kids should learn about in school from Pythagoras' theorem to Galileo to Dickens to George Balanchine and so on, ad-infinitum (that's Latin for infinity, see what I mean?)
The method is the responsibility of the teacher. If teachers are suitably inspiring, imaginative and, one would hope, well educated then integrating cultural relevance and education into everything that kids learn should not be a problem. £25Million and a government press release is not going to make that happen.
Teaching kids maths until 2pm and then making the teacher say "now it's time for your culture" is the educational equivalent of a camel; That's a horse built by a committee. It won't work very well, it'll look ridiculous and it's going to spit on you!