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ImagineNation: The value of Cultural Learning

In recent years the policy landscape for education has changed radically. We have seen a remodelling of the national curriculum in Scotland and England, with a new framework being developed in Wales. Qualifications have been changed and streamlined; school accountability and measurement have been restructured, as have our teacher training systems. Devolution has been systematically introduced, with local authorities in England no longer holding funds or responsibility for
academies and free schools, and new bodies, regional and national, now overseeing skills and training.

These and other reforms have had a significant impact on the health of the arts in schools in England, where there has been a decline in the number of children taking arts subjects; a reduction in arts teaching hours; and fewer arts teachers employed in schools. Beyond school, informal programmes for young people have suffered due to cuts in local authority funds and services; tuition fees for universities are rising; and concern for children’s early years has seemingly dropped off the policy agenda. Children and teachers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have had a different experience, with both policy and funding in these nations reflecting recognition of the importance of creativity and the arts, but practice and commitment sometimes remaining patchy.

Despite this fractured system and difficult climate, there are places where teachers and parents, schools and governors, pupils and communities are choosing to become champions for the arts and heritage. They are creating inspiring settings for cultural learning, are helping young people to progress and thrive, and are investing in our social, economic and cultural future. All across the country great work is being done.

This document is a celebration of this important work, and a call to arms for everyone in education and the arts in the UK today. Every effort must be made to halt the erosion of the arts as an essential pillar in the structure of education, and to ensure that all children are the recipients of a broad and balanced education. We need to support our schools and settings, many of which are struggling under the weight of complex bureaucracies and competing agendas. Schools should be well-resourced, and should be staffed by trained specialists.

One of the ways to make the case for the arts is to deploy the arguments and evidence in this document. They show that the arts and culture are not an add-on, or a nice-to-have, but are part of the fabric of our society, and that young people have a right to experience the best, and to be given the opportunity to make their own contribution to the continual reshaping of our civilization. We must celebrate our successes, build best practice, and learn from each other; in challenging times, it is up to us to be the champions of young people’s hopes, talent and ideas.