Three Questions Arts and Culture organisations need to ask about their

The education debate continues, often creating unhelpful polarities; knowledge v skills, curriculum v assessment, school improvement v innovation, Twigg v Gove.

28 June 2013

(Image credit: Tate website)

What is the role of arts and cultural organisations in all this?
The changes in the education landscape, the increased autonomy of schools and the power of digital technology mean that arts and cultural organisations will play an important role in the future of education.

Simon Mellor, Executive Director, Arts, at the Arts Council, seems to think so.

Vision, Pragmatism and Partnership will be key qualities. At the London Picture Conference, Simon set out his vision for what might be in 2015/16 and beyond.

He sees arts and cultural organisations co-authoring a curriculum that is nuanced in application with a local cultural offer at the heart. You can listen to his speech here.

A New Direction is keen to work with Arts and Cultural organisations in London to help position them as key players in this.

Holly Donagh's blog explores the notion of Grand Partnerships and she gives three international examples. I'd like to give three examples of arts events/programmes taking place in London this week and last week that explore this territory and offer three questions asking how the arts and culture sector might respond to Simon's vision in a pragmatic way.

1. What can Arts and Cultural organisations offer a young person that is distinctive in the context of schools, the curriculum and assessment?

Qualifications are important and it is these grades that give access to HE and to what philosopher Michael Sandell calls 'the golden ticket' to the riches of life.

ACE is currently working with Arts and Cultural organisations to review qualifications at GCSE and A-Level.

A New Direction's Connected London programme is researching new forms of partnership and collaboration. For example, Croydon Music and Arts Hub are working closely with Croydon's Children's University (CU). The University quality assures signposts, accredits and encourages out of school cultural education for young people. One of the ways this will happen is through cultural E-Passports where students record the numbers of hours of cultural activity that equate to Bronze, Silver and Gold at Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Doctorate levels. Whilst the intrinsic value of artistic endeavor is clear, the benefits of accreditation, including Arts Award, can bring partners and potential funding eg. The Pupil Premium. And having visited the CU on Tuesday and witnessed in the joy of the 'throwing in the air' of multiple mortar boards, it is clear there is something very motivational about this initiative for young people and their parents.

The CU is facilitated by 'The Hive, Croydon', a local charity committed to supporting the local community and dynamic partnerships between young people and local businesses in the context of a £1.2 Billion building investment and 15,000 new jobs in Croydon. Arts and Culture are known as a good way for young people to develop the 'soft skills' of team work and communication that employers want.

'Soft Skills' combined with Cultural Knowledge are fuel to Britain's 'Soft Power'. John Holden writes about how Britain cannot afford to fall behind in the new international political economy. Young People will benefit from cultural E-passports as access visas to this global economy.

In a time of austerity with the latest Comprehensive Spending Review announcing further cuts to the Arts Council funding whilst education budgets are protected , what are the ways Arts organisations can make it easy for schools to pay for artistically led work?

2. How should Arts and Cultural organisations tell the story of the difference they make? How should they measure their impact?

Simon Mellor's speech sets out the need for the Arts council to make the case to DCMS by measuring the success of the arts. What does Quality and Success look like in work for Children and Young People? Simon explained that we will need indicators. He is hoping that Arts and Cultural organisations and the Arts Council will have co-authored a framework to measure quality; the current famework is based on Seven Quality Principles.

A New Direction is interested to hear how Arts and Cultural organisations are approaching this question of measurement. At the launch of Project Visible, Tate Modern, last week, Emily Pringle outlined a Values-based approach to the work, the values being Trust, Generosity, Desire, Risk and Thoughtfulness which underpin how the organisation assesses their work with schools and how they share it with others.

At the presentation, I was struck by a quote from Anthony Huberman suggesting that museums should move away from 'preparing explanations in advance' to 'following the life of an idea, in public with others'. Project Visible brought some of the research into the public eye.

Organisations evaluate to funders but they also evaluate for themselves and for their audiences/participants. New Philanthropy Capitalhas published A Journey to Greater Impact that outlines the benefits of better measurement.

My colleague Caterina Violi has written about how far we can go in telling this story. We want to hear your approach to this challenge. How do organisations measure their impact or how do they tell their story to young people, to teachers, to parents, to funders?

3. How can Arts and Cultural organisations play a part in co-designing the wider educational ecology of a locality?

In a competitive market where 'learning and knowledge' is a commodity, how can some of the excellent Arts and Cultural organisations be partners, co-creators and co-authors of young people's learning experiences. The young learner has many different routes and ways of accessing their learning.

A New Direction is interested to hear about how Arts and Cultural organisations see their role in this changing landscape?

Dr. Tony Sewell expands the notion on 'Knowledge' when he talks about the new London Curriculum in the Mayor's Education Inquiry; "the analogy with the London taxi driver 'learning the knowledge' is a powerful one, for, unlike the sat-nav, the London cabby helps illuminate the city and can populate the journey with stories and myths." What is the role of Arts and Culture in creating and retelling these local myths and stories?

And why do Artists and Arts organisations want to tell stories with and for Children and Young People? For some venues, this may be about attracting a schools or a family's audience, for others it is something else.

At Theatre Centre's WriteLines Conference last week a short film profiled the voices of young people as consumers of culture, and the subsequent debate included the questions why write plays for young people? Writers do this because a) this is an audience who are more receptive to new ideas than an older audience and b) because young people are worth it.

As Evan Placey says "As a writer, I don't know that how I approach a play is different when I write for young people than when I write for adults. The only thing I can think of is that when writing for young audiences I work a little harder."

Any responses, comments or examples for any of the above questions are welcome. Or email me.

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