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Ed Vaizey: Cultural education initiatives need coherence

The Yehudi Menuhin School is a wonderful school which, since its foundation in 1964, has  offered an excellent musical and cultural education, in the widest sense. 

It focuses not only on nurturing exceptional talent, but also on offering a high quality, broad based academic education.  It's great to see that the school also works in the local community to widen access and engagement with music.

May I take this opportunity to congratulate you on securing Daniel Barenboim as your President - I was lucky enough to see him play at the South Bank a couple of years ago, and his appointment is a great illustration of your continued pre-eminence.

<h2>The potential of culture and education</h2>

I want to set out today some of our preliminary ideas about music and cultural education.  We have already had a report from our music task force, and I continue to discuss policy ideas with some of the leading figures in this area, with a view to finalising our approach in time for the election.

At the outset, it seems to me that the key to providing a successful framework for music and cultural education is to now from the outset what it is that you want to achieve.

It seems to me that good cultural education should do four things:

First, it should introduce every child to the arts - to dance, music, theatre, art - in other words, our cultural world.

Second, it should give every child the chance to learn and master some parts of it for themselves - to sing, dance, paint, play an instrument, both for the sheer enjoyment and for the skill and discipline it teaches.

Third, it should help us find and nurture the exceptional talent in the next generation, who are destined to go on to be performers and artists, but also teachers and mentors.

And finally, it should play a part in transforming the lives and aspirations of those children who are struggling at home, in formal education or both.

<h2>Government confusion and waste</h2>

It would be churlish not to acknowledge that the Government has tried to make a difference in this area.  But in my view, there is still much more that can be done.  And it does not involve simply more money.

The real problem, it seems to me, is that we are losing sight of the key aims of cultural education in a blizzard of initiatives. 

In music and dance, we have the Assisted Instrument Purchase Scheme run by the Arts Council; the Music and Dance Scheme, In Harmony; the Standards Fund; Youth Music, the Music Manifesto and Sing Up; the Dance and Drama awards; Youth Dance England; Centres for Advanced Training (CATs).  Then there are the wider cultural programmes - Arts Awards, Arts Mark, Find Your Talent, Creative partnerships, these last two both run by Creative Culture Education (CCE).  And then of course there are literally thousands of charities working in this area as well.

I have no doubt at all that many of these initiatives are very successful.  Sing Up has been a transformative programme.  We are already hearing great things about In Harmony.  One senior figure from the music world told me that the In Harmony programme in Liverpool was the best thing in music education he had ever seen.  So what's not to like?

Two things: first, the plethora of initiatives can be confusing, and its provision can be patchy.  Second, there is always a question about effectiveness and sustainability.

What I would like to do is bring some coherence, stability and long-term strategy to the sector.

I want to be able to answer easily questions like: can my child learn a musical instrument, learn art, learn to dance, regardless of my income; if my child is talented, can I guarantee that they will be able to sustain their talent; will my child leave school with a solid cultural education, and therefore feel comfortable in engaging in the arts in all its forms?

In short, we need strategy and coherence from the centre, so that the considerable funds that are spent on music and dance education - more than £95 million annually - are spent efficiently and effectively.

Why, for example, does Youth Music and other members of the Sing Up consortium get millions every year from DCSF to work in schools, while Youth Dance England's schools work is funded by DCMS via the Arts Council on a three year settlement of £5.5 million?  From where I am standing, it seems the budget of each of these many schemes, and the department it is attached to, depends mostly on how influential the person lobbying for it was, and at what point during the boom years they managed to get their project signed off, and by whom.  This confusion and duplication might have been ok in when times were good. Now government spending is coming under ever increasing pressure and scrutiny, it is both unacceptable and unsustainable.

The cultural education sector is increasingly diverse and at grass roots level consists of thousands of statutory and non-statutory organisations offering all kinds of engagement with all kinds of culture.  The key challenge for central government is to balance the enthusiasm and local nature of this bottom up activity with an overarching national strategy to ensure a much more coherent local offer. We don't want to lose an initiative like the one that created the Yehudi Menhuin School or In Harmony.  But we do want to ensure that they fit into the overall strategy and play an effective part within it.

How can we do this?

Ensure is that all our spending on cultural education is brought together and made subject to a single coherent national strategy. There is a clear role for central government here to act as a co-ordinator, resource, and funding organisation for these plans and strategies. In terms of music, this can be done by an existing body such as Youth Music - there is no need to re-invent the wheel and certainly no need for a new quango.

I would expect the lead national body to work with similar national organisations. Indeed, I am open to the idea of, at a national level, merging some of the plethora of cultural education initiatives and quangos into one coherent, national, agenda-setting funding body.

This would enable us to bear down on administration costs, create a coherent national programme and streamline funding. More importantly the body could become a strong and clear voice for cultural education.  For example, I would like a national cultural education body to share and celebrate best practice. So often, something is developed in one place which is already being done in another, creating unnecessary duplication. This is not a sensible use of resources. 

The big challenge I am putting to the whole cultural education world here - all of you in this room, and many more who are not, is this: I am asking you to have honest discussions about what in each of your areas really works and is worth enhancing, prioritising or replicating; and what could either done more effectively or efficiently by another organisation... or even not at all.

There are a large number small bodies involved in the sector, and it is brilliant to see this flowering of enthusiasm. The question, however, is whether they are able to see the bigger picture, and operate within a larger framework.

The second challenge is to develop, alongside a national body, an effective local delivery mechanism which is linked to the national strategy. I would like to give local authorities the responsibility to survey, co-ordinate and provide a local database of schemes and projects in their area.  In an ideal world this information would feed into a searchable national database.

Local authorities should work with local schools and informal and non-formal providers to respond to the local need to deliver programmes, as well as to develop a strategy for co-ordination and transfer between them.

Nurturing exceptional talent, for example, is an area where it makes sense to co-ordinate at a national level, although the ways to access this should be clearly signposted locally.

Finally, I would like to emphasize my own personal commitment to taking charge and bringing coherence to this area: I passionately believe in the importance of a wide ranging and robust cultural education.  For some, the opportunities we create will help them to find and develop remarkable talent, and we need straightforward programmes which can nurture this talent for the long term.

I think it is equally important that we are honest with our children and young people: To make them aware of just how rare it is to have both the talent and drive to make a career as an artist or performer.   And to emphasis that while this dream is an admirable one; music, culture and the arts are a worthwhile pursuits even if you are not destined to be the next Yehudi Menuhin, Wayne MacGregor or Paul McCartney.

Alongside this realism, there are some other goals and ambitions we should look at:

First, the value and power of teaching. As David Cameron said recently, Conservatives would like to restore teaching to a 'noble profession'. This is true in the cultural sector too. Whether in formal or informal settings I would like a national cultural body to nurture a better relationship between professional artists, teachers, and enthusiastic amateur participants of any age.

Staying with this point for a moment, we need to ensure that teachers are equipped to deliver what is required of them. The music and dance conservatoires train up excellent musicians and dancers, many of whom end up being full or part time teachers, but whose degrees do not actually confer Quality Teacher Status upon them. This mis-match between the tertiary training offered, employment opportunities, and needs of the sector must be addressed.

Second, we need to better harness the effect that music, dance and culture can have on a school's life and on developing "rounded" human beings. This could be especially beneficial in struggling schools, working in tandem with a renewed emphasis on discipline and academic attainment.

Third, we want to ensure that the transition between primary and secondary schools is better managed.

Fourth, we need to look at  developing a structure for recognising/grading attainment that is delivered in non-formal environments.  We should also be considering the need for equivalence of graded exams to GCSE/A level.

Fifth, we need ensure there is music provision for the most disadvantaged children.  For instance, there is little or no music provision in hospital schools.

Finally, and most important of all is that we remember the sheer joy a good cultural education can bring. Learning how to create and enjoy art for art's sake, if you will. I believe this is a vital part of growing into a happy, functional citizen in adult life.

In a world where we're going to have to increasingly put a financial price on things in the year ahead, a society which truly values people who are creative and appreciate creativity will be a better place to be.

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