Artswork Conference 2016: Keynote Speeches – Althea Efunshile

Date Created: 27th Jul 2016

woman presenting at the Artswork Conference 2016

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Transcript of keynote from Althea Efunshile, Deputy Chief Executive, Arts Council England as part of the Artswork 2016 Conference, Better Together.

‘It’s obvious isn’t it, that there’s a connection between education, arts and culture and wellbeing, and that our policy and practice should reflect that, yes? But you know, I have a terrible feeling that inside this room, we may well be preaching to the converted, and that it’s professional colleagues and policy-makers outside of this room who we really need to be addressing. If there’s one thing that last week’s BREXIT taught me, then it’s the folly of surrounding yourself with lots of people who think like you, and then imagining that therefore, everyone else also thinks like you. Just watching the news over the past fortnight is enough to remind any of us that we live in volatile times. It seems to me that our young people will need dollops of emotional wellbeing and mental resilience to navigate an increasingly unpredictable world, and it’s our job to create the conditions in which our young can flourish, by finding within themselves the depths of creativity, ingenuity, flexibility, and self-awareness that they will need to find their place in this changing world.

For me, providing a broad and balanced curriculum is key to the future of our young people. It’s key to the development of fully rounded human beings, with a strong sense of their own identity and self-worth. However, a curriculum can’t be broad and balanced without a strong cultural offer, inside and outside of school. A child who is denied access to the country’s great arts and culture, a child who is denied the opportunity to exercise both right brain and left brain, a child whose own creativity is stunted, is not a child or young person in receipt of a broad and balanced curriculum.

Cultural education is integral to the happiness of our children and their families, to the strength of our communities, to economic progress and the international standing of our country. It turns STEM into STEAM, it fires the curriculum, and it creates individuals who are more inquisitive, persistent, imaginative, disciplined and collaborative. We believe at the Arts Council (and all of us in this room) that every child should be able to create, to compose, to perform their own musical or artistic work. They should all be able to visit, to experience and to participate in extraordinary work. They should be allowed to know more, to understand more, and to review the experiences they’ve had, by, with and for children and young people.

It seems to me that those of us in this room (and beyond) have at least two challenges. First, we have to ensure a coherent narrative on the benefits of arts and culture and cultural education, and indeed the links with wellbeing. Secondly, we have to demonstrate how we can deliver our cultural offer by working collaboratively across our professional boundaries and sectors.

There are many of us within the cultural sector and within the education sector who are frustrated by an apparent diminution in the importance of arts and culture in the school curriculum, and that frustration has been most evident in the arguments about the EBacc and its omission of the creative subjects – the hierarchy that Estelle [Morris] just talked about. Now, the Arts Council’s position is that the EBacc would absolutely, obviously be stronger with the inclusion of the arts, but in the meantime, this is a battle that may not be won. It’s important therefore, that we grab every opportunity to ensure the highest quality cultural offer, both in and out of school, for our children and young people. Despite the constraints of the particular political, financial and educational environment that we find ourselves in, we must nonetheless work collaboratively to make a difference.

That’s why, last autumn, we launched the Cultural Education Challenge. Through this, we want to shape a more even and comprehensive provision of cultural education, using Cultural Education Partnerships that bring together arts and cultural producers with schools. This is about the local delivery of a national strategy.

On a national level, we’ve made progress towards putting that strategic framework in place. We’ve supported the development of quality principles for cultural education; we’ve advocated for high quality arts and culture in the curriculum, we’ve championed Artsmark. This important award has now been redesigned by schools, for schools. It provides an excellent source of evidence for Ofsted, supporting inspectors to better understand the quality of cultural education within schools. Artsmark also compliments Arts Award, which we run in partnership with Trinity College London, and which recognises the outstanding artistic and creative achievements of individual young people.

Work with children and young people is now a part of our funding agreements with some 82% of our 663 National Portfolio Organisations and our 21 Major Partner Museums. Arts Council England are also fund-holders of the Government’s national network of Music Education Hubs, which emerged from the Henley Review of Music Education, and have been a crucial part of the Government’s commitment to cultural education. To help bring these structural elements together, we invest ten millions of pounds a year in ten Bridge organisations, which of course includes Artswork [the Bridge for the South East of England], whose conference this is. Together, those ten Bridges play a vital role in building local cultural alliances, increasing provision for children and young people, and bringing in more revenue. They’re now working with more than 7000 schools, and since 2013, they’ve levered in more than £11.5 million in additional funding.

However, this national strategy needs to be delivered locally, and we think the best means is through Cultural Education Partnerships. These bring together arts and cultural organisations, educational institutions, and local authorities, to share resources and create locally targeted coherent and visible cultural education collaborations. Through these partnerships, not only can we get more out of our local partners, but we can also challenge ourselves to do more. For example, arts organisations can make their thinking more responsive to the needs of children and young people and schools. Through these partnerships, we can ensure real, meaningful outcomes for our children.

Just a bit of background here – in 2012, the Arts Council came together with the Heritage Lottery Fund, the British Film Institute, and English Heritage, to form the Cultural Education Partnership Group. We trialed pilot Partnerships in Great Yarmouth, Bristol and Barking & Dagenham – three very different areas. The priorities of Bristol, which has a rich and diverse cultural offer and education sector, are not the same as those in a rural coastal area such as Great Yarmouth, where young people’s cultural participation has tended to be low, or in Barking & Dagenham – an East London borough in which most of the schools are maintained by a Local Authority that is a strong advocate for the communal benefits of arts and culture. We’ve learnt from these pilots how adaptable Cultural Education Partnerships can be; how responsive to local needs and circumstances they can be, and how to be effective, they should comprise a wide range of arts, cultural and heritage providers, use education hubs, schools, higher education institutes, Local Authorities, and employers. We’ve seen how they can align cultural programmes to ensure greater effectiveness, using existing funding programmes as ‘pegs’ for partnership development. And we’ve seen how Bridges, our cultural education relationship brokers, have been critical to shaping strategy, coordinating partnerships and providing intelligence.

Where there’s most need of cultural education provision, there’s often a correlation with other forms of deprivation – material, and in terms of health and wellbeing. Clearly, Cultural Education Partnerships can and should bring arts and education providers into partnership with agencies focusing on the wellbeing of children and young people. We’ve identified places with the most need and our goal was to have at least 50 Cultural Education Partnerships established by 2020. I believe that the latest figures show that we already have around 70 emerging or already established Cultural Education Partnerships.

Cultural education happens inside and outside school, but the best place to reach the most children will always be in school – that’s where they spend the majority of their days, whether they like it or not. So we need to think how to reinforce the position of art and culture at the heart of each school, enhancing the existing offer and encouraging the creativity that we know is already there. I agree with Estelle [Morris] – Headteachers are vital to this project, and I don’t actually believe that there are many school Heads who don’t appreciate the importance of arts and culture. There are barriers to participation, not willingness. We need Headteachers to join in these Cultural Education Partnerships; we need them to tell us how we can best augment what they already have, and what new opportunities there are for bringing the arts into their schools.

This cultural mission for children and young people is hindered by some presumptions. I can think of at least three:

  • that the arts are in some way a ‘soft’ option
  • that the arts for young people do not contribute academically
  • that the Cultural Education Challenge is an opportunity for artists to find work, rather than for children to benefit culturally.

First, the arts are not a ‘soft’ option, unless like any subject, you teach them badly. Whether understanding poetry, playing music or learning dance, all the arts require practice, concentration and skill. To be an artist at any level requires physical and mental discipline.

Secondly, the arts have a crucial academic impact, and not only as subjects in their own right – the arts are cultural keys that unlock other subjects. They are the doorways into a broad and rich education.

The arts play a major part in the best national curriculums of the world – the educationalist E. D. Hirsch, whose writing on cultural literacy has been especially influential in recent years, points out that in Japan, more time is spent on the arts than on science in the early grades. And yet, Japan scores top in Science in the rankings of fifteen-year-olds by the Programme for International Student Assessment.

The arts are about narrative, and narrative has always been the greater teacher of humankind. We need to be able to explain, and to be able to see patterns – and so much of education is about that. You have to be able to tell stories, and that’s what the arts do.

Thirdly, the Cultural Education Challenge is not about arts organisations selling their wares to schools, it’s about delivering for children. I made the point earlier that we need the input of Headteachers – we need to co-curate the cultural offer for schools, providing individual and communal opportunities, ensuring that one supports the other. Above all, we need a relationship that’s focused on the needs of children. Pupils shouldn’t miss out because their parents lack the financial means to participation. We must help talented children to plan progression routes.

Lastly, there’s an important point to make about the national context in which the arts are now operating in in schools. We live in a time of extraordinary diversity, but that diversity which should be understood as a strength, as something that we need, can be misrepresented in a divisive and retrograde way. I am deeply worried by some of the things I have heard and seen in the last weeks and months. I’ve heard of the return of language and behaviour that belongs in the past. The murder of Jo Cox was a terrible moment, which epitomises how dangerous the wrong words can be when they fall in the wrong ears. While I know that society as a whole condemns this, we must be sure that in the confusion of the times, none of this language is legitimised. There is no place for hatred or bigotry, on any side. But we must also try to understand what’s happening; behind this behaviour, we’ve been shown the rawness of a legacy of deprivation. We’ve been reminded how a lack of opportunity breeds anger, how material poverty becomes enduring disillusionment, and how education is crucial to a society that *inaudible*.

As educators and as champions of the power of art and culture, what must we do? We’re living in a historic time, where the progressive values of our society might be undermined, and the young can lack confidence in their future. There are many reasons being given for popular dissatisfaction, but one way or another, it seems to me that what we have in common is a sense of loss. Lost industry, lost community, a lost sense of self-esteem, a loss that’s passed down through the generations and emerging in the conviction that someone else has taken what they once had. Young people face an uncertain time. Who to listen to, who to follow, what to think, what is their status in the world? Where should they find their self-esteem, if meaningful work is not there? They feel like society needs them not as producers, but only as consumers. There is already a significant problem in this country with adolescent mental wellbeing. What might be the consequences of a world in turmoil and conflict? The arts and humanities could be the means by which we reinforce and recognise our British identity, and our values and tolerance, understanding and compassion. The arts and humanities can help to bring us together. They can give young people a language through which to express themselves, a sense of owning themselves, and the knowledge that they share in a community. A poem, a song, a picture, a shared knowledge of these things and what they represent to us all can push back against the language which seeks to divide us. It can show us that we are all truly better together.

So now the challenge to all of us is to go outside of this room, to collaborate, to make cultural education really happen on the ground, and communicate this story to those who have not heard it so far.’

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Better Together Conference 2016 South East Bridge STEAM Wellbeing

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