A £40m initiative to give thousands of school children in deprived areas throughout England the opportunity to engage with creative learning and participate in cultural activities, has been formally launched by the Arts Council of England (ACE).

Known as Creative Partnerships, the scheme aims to develop long-term partnerships between schools and cultural and creative organisations such as architects, theatre companies, museums, dance studios, recording studios and orchestras. The first phase of the programme began in April 2002 and runs until March 2004, and additional funding to enable further expansion of the scheme beyond 2004 was announced by the Government in this year?s Comprehensive Spending Review. The first phase is taking place in 16 areas across the country, selected by Ministers and taken from a list of the most economically and socially challenged neighbourhoods in England, both rural and urban. Activity is currently underway in Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, Birmingham, Bristol, Cornwall, Durham / Sunderland, Inner London East, Inner London South, Kent, Kingston-upon-Hull, Manchester / Salford, Merseyside, Norfolk, Nottingham, Slough, Tees Valley and The Black Country.

Across the country projects are being devised in collaboration with teachers and young people to ensure that they deliver educational benefits. For example, year 7 and 8 children from five schools will work with an Asian Theatre Company, an Asian Dance Company and a Yoga Society to explore the elements of a Bollywood movie, including choreography, costume, film-making, writing, acting and music. The group will then make a movie with the aim that it should be screened at the local cinema.

361 schools are participating and over a quarter of a million young people taking part in the programme. An average of 22 schools are participating in each of the 16 areas including over 100 secondary schools, over 200 primary schools, 20 specialist schools, 19 special schools and 1 hospital school. In the first year each Creative Partnerships area has a budget of £750,000, and 18 Creative Directors will manage the scheme across the 16 areas. Peter Jenkinson, ACE?s National Director for Creative Partnerships, has rejected the notion that Creative Partnerships will be just another audience development initiative, and asserted that it will ?focus very strictly and positively on the needs, competencies and, most of all, the wildest hopes and dreams of children, young people and of those involved in their early development.? Voicing his vision for the future of the scheme, he said ?I believe that Creative Partnerships provides one very powerful, focused, high profile and inspirational tool for change which can genuinely capture the imagination of children, parents and carers, teachers and communities... Creative Partnerships cannot of course, solve all the challenges children and young people face today in the sixteen areas chosen to start the programme... What Creative Partnerships can do, is to have a major catalytic effect, vastly disproportionate to the resources invested.?