Thursday, 22 November 2012

Arts Funding : Thank You, Will Gompertz. If you can't trust the Today programme to get it right what can you do?

So Will Gompertz, thank you very much.  The arts are subsidised to 'no great effect'. Really?  And your evidence for this statement is...?  Sorry? Pardon? Didn't quite catch that.
Did you set out to do the Daily Mail's work for them?  Of course you didn't.  I've listened to you and I respect your views and I know you are a dedicated supporter of the arts.
So was the item too quickly put together? Was it poorly edited?  Did a slip of the finger delete the counter argument - and the facts - from the final broadcast?  We'll never know how the Today programme let in such a shoddy piece of reporting but thanks again for feeding the argument that the arts are irrelevant and elitist. Why should we pay for the rich to go to the ballet and the opera?  Why don't we cut the funding to the arts?  Save a few bob. What a good idea.
Only it isn't though, is it, Will?
I've been a full time playwright for approaching twelve years now and I've done a few back of the envelope sums to try and work out how many people, leaving aside the audience numbers, have been involved in the arts through my own work or through work I've been engaged you do. It's an estimate, Will, and I've gone on the low side.

Warrior Square.
Playwrighting workshops for eight schools in the Huyton area : Action Transport. 240 + young people.
Children of the Crown.
Workshops on structure and playmaking. Art project in junior school : Nottingham Playhouse. 50 + young people.
Broken Spaces.
Year long youth project sharing work with companies in Italy and France : Nottingham Playhouse. 23 young people.
Mockingbird Hill.
Play for Nottingham Youth Theatre : 90 + young people.
Play for Sheffield Crucible Youth Theatre : 30 + young people.
She sat next To You, Not Me.
Play for junior school assemblies : Theatre Royal, Plymouth. 250 + young people and teachers.
A Workhouse Christmas.
A community play : Jumped Up Theatre Company, Peterborough. 60 + adults and young people.
Up the Slack
Promenade performance : Jackfield Festival. 20 young people.

Crossed Purposes.
Cross generational project : Eastern Angles. 120 + young people and adults.
Playwrighting projects : Theatre Writing Partnership.  40 + young people.
Nottingham Playhouse Summer School.
15 adults.
Roundabout Playwrighting Project.
Nottingham Playhouse playwrighting project in junior schools. 200+ young people.
RSC Teachers' INSET events.
30 + teachers.
Comedy of Errors.
RSC project with schools in Cardiff, Wolverhampton and Nottingham. 120 + young people and teachers.
RSC project with young people in Sandwell. 30 + young people and teachers.
The Canterbury Tales.
RSC project with schools in Melton Mowbury. 60 + young people and teachers.
Two Gentlemen Of Verona.
RSC community project in Ely, March and Littleport.  80 + adults and young people.
Julius Caesar.
RSC community project in Ollerton, North Notts. 70 + young people and adults.
The Tempest.
RSC schools project in Rotherham. 120 + young people.
A Midsummer Night's Dream.
RSC schools Playwrighting project in Birmingham schools.  120+ young people.

Okay, Will, so that adds up to 1768. Not a huge figure. I could add to it if I went back through my work diaries and picked up all the sessions I've forgotten. And in some of those projects, like the assembly plays for the Theatre Royal in Plymouth were another eleven playwrights also involved ans the RSC work, my contribution was only a part of the whole. Start to put all that in and the numbers get bigger.  To make it a round figure let's say that arts subsidy has allowed me to work with 2000 people.  And I'm just one playwright. Think of all the other artists, the working in all disciplines, all over the country. Before making statements about how arts subsidy is failing the people of this country, remember  what they say in the Sates, Will, and do the math.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The English Baccalaureate Will Damage Our Children

When I was growing up I thought baccalaureate was a wonderful word.  I wished I could chuck O levels and A levels and take a baccalaureate.  When French students talked about le bac  it made education sound sexy.  When I heard about the International Baccalaureate – an exam so wide and embracing and mysterious that it could only be taken by those with enlightened parents wealthy enough to send them to Atlantic College where they sailed the Bristol Channel and ran their own Mountain Rescue Service I wished I could go there too.  And now Mr Gove has given us the English Baccalaureate, a qualification so shrivelled up and insular that it pays little attention to the needs of the present day or our rich cultural heritage that he and his party are so fond of defending.

What it is that makes it so destructive?  There is to be a core curriculum – English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Geography, French and another modern language/Latin and PE.  At first glance this is a reasonable spread of subjects. Not suited to all perhaps but surely there will be arrangements put in place for those whose educational needs lie in different directions?  But consider what it doesn’t include. For a start what’s happened to sport, IT, any element of Design Technology, Art, Music, Drama?  Where they are offered at all, it is to be outside the core curriculum as extra-curricular activities.

The EBAC has been sneaked in. It began as a list of nominated subjects that would get schools special consideration in the points table if they produced a sufficient number of students with grade C and above. And in education points don’t mean prizes, they mean survival for the many schools whose catchment areas don’t provide them with a majority of academically inclined students.  Then followed a direct hit at those schools who, knowing their community, and aware of the needs and abilities and aptitudes of their own students let them follow subjects suited those criteria, only to discover that those subjects were to lose all their points.

A Tory minister came on to the Today Programme to tell us how ridiculous it was that schools were teaching subjects like Horse Management and Fish Farming at GCSE level and claiming that they should be given the same value as History and Geography. Until the programme was swamped with phone calls, texts and e mails from parents in rural areas, a lot of them declaring themselves to be Tory voters, protesting at such a short sighted lack of understanding.

We’re now moved on and the EBAC has been redrafted and will be introduced with no margin for compromise. Sport. IT. Design Technology.  Art. Music. Drama. And a host of other valuable subjects all pushed out. And why?   So we can return to what its supporters see as a fondly remembered golden age when state secondary education imitated the public school model.  For grammar schools and direct grant schools read academies and free schools.  We don’t yet, in name, have the secondary modern schools to shovel off all those who don’t fit the approved model but they are being created, slowly, and without anyone but those affected really noticing, by gradually syphoning off over the brightest from the existing state schools and into the new schools for profit.

The EBAC will not only damage our children by depriving them of the education they need to equip them for the twenty first century, it will take away one of their basic rights, that they should be able to feel a part of the cultural life of their country, and I use the word culture in its widest sense. And it will hurt the nation. Where will be the artists?  And the money they generate? Where will the next Jessica Ennis or Mo Farrah, both of whom acknowledged PE teachers and school sports as a vital part of their development, look for encouragement?  And what about the kids who discover a love of sport at school and carry that enthusiasm with them when they leave into local football leagues and rugby clubs?  Will they find that level of enthusiasm when sport is jostling for space with everything else in an extra- curricular circus? (The proposed Nottingham Free Schools tell prospective parents that extra- curricular activities will last for 45 minutes, anything after that they’ll have to be paid for.) Can we seriously not have IT as a subject for all?  Or do we assume that kids pick up all the skills they need on facebook?  Where will the designers, and engineers, and chefs, and farm managers get their grounding? 

We want our young people to grow up fit, healthy, aware of the wider world , considerate and sensitive towards the needs of others, with the best educational qualifications they have been able to achieve.  If Mr Gove is allowed to restrict our children’s school experience to this narrow, measly, curriculum we will all be the poorer.

It is probably too much to hope that he will have a sudden change of mind and throw it all out and say sorry, chaps, you were right, I’ve made a mistake.  But we can show him that we are not satisfied.  That what he wants to do isn’t right.  And that may bring about a rethink.  The straps on the strait jacket may be eased a tad, and further enquiries set up, and time may pass, another education secretary take over, and the whole thing may be allowed to slip away like so many other educational initiatives.  I believe we can make that change come about by raising our objections at every possible opportunity.  And if we can’t then we may have to bite the bullet and start up a few free schools of our own.

Follow the link below for one way to support the campaign against the English Baccalaureate.