The Mayor’s Education Inquiry arrived last month, following extensive consultation with stakeholders across London. But what does it mean for music education and the wider community arts sector? Lawrence Becko makes some suggestions.
As the cultural sector rallies at the omission of the arts from the Government's English Baccalaureate, there is much to be heartened about in the Mayor’s new report (see AP 259). A disproportionate focus on Latin and a preoccupation with knowledge acquisition aside, this is a progressive piece of work and input from A New Direction, Arts Council England’s new lead 'bridge' organisation, has ensured that cultural education plays a prominent role in the narrative. At the heart of the recommendations is a London Curriculum which would plug young people into the capital’s diverse cultural heritage and global networks to enrich their learning. In the new landscape carved out by the National Plan for Music Education and the Mayor’s own music strategy, a clear opportunity emerges for community music organisations and practitioners across London to help shape the new curriculum. Meanwhile, the potential move towards wider cultural hubs in the future bodes well for those working across the multitude of other artforms. Indeed, the report’s recommendations present a unique opportunity for all those in the non-formal community arts sector to reassert the case for creative intervention, not only in schools but beyond the mainstream, in collaboration with the youth and voluntary sectors.
The report is also notable for its focus on aspiration and excellence which dominate the agenda with calls for high standards, outstanding teaching, an ‘excellence’ fund and a 'gold club' of schools. Away from the formal sector, we might ask what a 'gold club' of community arts organisations would look like and where new excellence might come from in the future. We must also continue to advocate for the contribution the arts can make to the ‘rising tide’ which the authors hope will lift even the most vulnerable young people towards success. The report should be commended for focusing on the needs of young people facing extreme disadvantage, particularly looked after children and those at risk of exclusion. A recent youth-led exhibition at City Hall by Wired4Music, the young Londoners’ music council, echoed the call for more musical opportunities for those in need. Community music has a proud track record of working with those at the margins of society and, beyond mainstream school settings, it will be our role to continue to create these life-changing experiences for young people. Music organisations like Tomorrow’s Warriors and Kinetika Bloco demonstrate that music provision of the highest quality can still be targeted towards those who face the greatest barriers to engagement. A call for more leadership and mentoring programmes should also be capitalised upon, with both finding a perfect vehicle in participatory arts.
As the report acknowledges, the creative industries continue to boom in London and, as our world becomes ever more digital, interactive and visual, the need for a new generation of innovative creators, artists, designers and performers will grow too. It is encouraging that London has the chance to lead the way in addressing the balance. Meanwhile, arts practitioners and policy-makers outside the capital might be wise to start making the case for their own culturally-enriched local curricula. It will be critical to show how important the arts’ contribution can be to the increasingly favoured ‘core’ areas of literacy, numeracy, science and technology. As always, innovation and adaptability will be crucial. Robust research and well evaluated projects will be key to making our case. It remains for us to trailblaze a new path through the shifting educational landscape and deliver the very best creative offer for young people everywhere.
Lawrence Becko is the Participatory Projects & Youth Voice Manager at Sound Connections. www.sound-connections.org.uk