In the summer of 1983 I was invited, with the ten or so other newly appointed Education Officers in major arts organisations, to a meeting with the Arts Council of Great Britain’s (ACGB) Education Unit.  The Arts Council’s Education Unit set up by Irene Macdonald in 1978, and run by Sue Robertson from 1982, had just started to encourage its funded organisations to engage with education. Roy Shaw had joined ACGB as Director General in 1975. As an ex-grammar school boy who had worked for the Workers Education Association (WEA), university extra-mural departments and in adult education Shaw saw the importance of linking arts policy to education.

It’s not fair to say that education work by arts organisations – also then called outreach – started in the 1980s because like all initiatives, there were many pioneers. The archives of most major UK arts organisations will show initiatives such as school visits to plays, concerts, operas and galleries often instigated by teachers and sometimes related to ‘set texts’ or general studies. There were specific programmes like Opera for All and artists-in-education initiatives like Writers in Schools (both run or funded by ACGB), and animateur schemes.  Theatre-in education had been established in the 1960s by local authorities linked to regional theatres. The Royal Opera House, where I had just been appointed, had launched its schools’ matinee programme in 1976 and had been running Ballet for All since 1964.

Jennie Lee’s 1965 White Paper, A Policy for the Arts – First Steps [1] grouped support for the arts, then in its infancy as a government policy, under three headings: education, preservation and patronage. She saw the first as wholly the responsibility of the Department for Education and Science (DES), the second for HM Treasury and the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, and the third, patronage, by which she meant supporting living artists, as the responsibility of the Arts Council. Inherent in the argument is an assumption that the country’s arts cannot thrive without major support from the education system and that the responsibility for embedding the arts within education was the job of the DES. The white paper also emphasises the importance of local authorities’ investment in the arts and culture. Local authorities were crucial both to establishing a new generation of arts buildings after the second world war (like Birmingham Rep and the Royal Festival Hall, for example), maintaining libraries and encouraging local engagement both directly and through support to regional arts associations where they existed.

Both Lee’s White Paper and the influential 1976 Gulbenkian Report by John Redcliffe-Maud, Support for the Arts in England and Wales [2], looked for more investment from the education sector but we can now see now that by 1983 when the funded organisations’ first education officers met we were already at the high-water mark in terms of education sector investment in the arts. Our group of Education officers took for granted that the arts were included in schools at both primary and secondary level –  not then the National Curriculum which wasn’t introduced until 1988 –embedded within set-texts in English and modern foreign languages, ‘O’ level and ‘A’ level courses in art and music, with some schools offering drama and dance. Surrounding class-based work was a tradition of school plays, orchestras, exhibitions and school trips. Beyond the school most local authorities had instrumental services and county orchestras as well as subject specialist advisors in most arts subjects providing a balance to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate and supporting teachers to improve their practice. Local Authorities awarded discretionary grants to young people accepted for vocational courses at dance and drama schools and Further Education provision included foundation courses in art and design. Redcliffe-Maud’s report points out that there was ‘a wide variation in the way different local authorities approach the arts’ – and it is certainly true that secondary modern schools did not, on the whole, fare as well as grammars and comprehensives and we, as education staff didn’t think enough was being done but, nevertheless, local authorities and schools were largely playing an important role.

There were shining lights including (to cite some with whom I worked) Birmingham, Wigan, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. The Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) had teams of staff supporting music (including provision of out-of-school courses, summer schools and the London Schools’ Symphony Orchestra), the visual arts (with teaching staff seconded to the Hayward Gallery and the Dulwich Picture Gallery for a year at a time), drama including opera and theatre-in-education companies based at the Cockpit Theatre in Gateforth Street, NW8, and an educational broadcasting service providing teaching and classroom resources which was rumoured to be the biggest Closed Circuit Television system in the world! Students were offered free tickets to the concerts. For example the ILEA funded the Royal Opera to work in schools with George Benjamin, Jonathan Dove, Harrison Birtwistle and Karlheinz Stockhausen all collaborating with teachers, in-school projects and attendance at evening performances. ILEA music staff were passionate about bringing the ‘best to the most’ young people and disapproved of segregating young audiences within schools’ matinees.

For numbers of reasons the education sector’s funding and support started to dwindle from then on: local management of schools reduced local authorities’ central services that had been vital to providing extra-curricular opportunities to young people, to almost nothing over time. By 1998 when I joined Arts Council England (ACE) as Director of Education and Training local authority music services were in meltdown, discretionary grants for students of dance and drama had all but stopped and the arts were losing their place in the curriculum. When ACE starts to consider its 25-year talent strategy it first has to consider this: how can the arts sector whose role is still to focus on patronage of living artists and companies possibly compensate for the hundreds of millions of pounds of investment it has lost from the education sector?

[1] A Policy for the Arts – First Steps Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (1965)

[2] Redcliffe-Maud (1976) Support for the Arts in England and Wales. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

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