Image credit: Steve McQueen Year 3 Workshop © Tate
The arts sector is known to be left leaning (to put it mildly), and recent years have also seen schools’ and teachers’ views hardened by cuts to funding and more aggressive approaches to assessment. But as the year comes to a close and the reality of five more years of a Conservative government settle in, it’s worth spending some time reading – actually READING, as opposed to just skimming, or reading what others have said on Twitter – the Conservative manifesto, and considering some of the opportunities it may offer. It is, after all, what people voted for. And it’s also a clear statement which will be used to hold the government to account.
First of all, it is encouraging to read a whole-hearted commitment to the importance of arts, sport and music in schools. The word ‘creative’ is in there too - a commitment to an arts premium at secondary school is very welcome. The challenge now will be to see how this is realised in a context where pressure on teacher retention, funding, exam results etc. remain as hard as ever (not withstanding some new investment in education). We will all have a role to play in making these commitments mean something, and in helping schools make the most of their freedoms to ensure opportunity is spread and not captured by a small number of excellent providers.
I will watch the review of the care system and childcare, and the promised investment in SEND and Youth Services (including NCS) closely to see how they can be utilised to help children and young people who are struggling. There is surely a chance here to restore equity. Though in a context where 4.1 million children live in relative poverty, will it be enough?
Perhaps the most invigorating part of the manifesto is a new approach to training, skills, and the prosperity of our towns. The need to tackle low skills and low pay and look at lifelong education through investment in our FE sector (a key part of the Augur review) is overdue. Brexit will require investment in high tech, future-focussed, globally relevant skills – not just for young people, but for everyone in the workforce.
And of course there is a promised party – the 2022 Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (FOGBNI...?) – a national celebration that ‘will encourage our leading arts and cultural organisations, universities, research institutes and businesses to come together to inspire the next generation in British innovation and creativity.’
When I was on the tube on Thursday, a 17-year-old girl stood up and addressed the carriage. She declared that although she could not vote (and that will still be the case with under this new government) she hoped we would, and she hoped that when we used our vote we would think about her future, and the future of all children and young people. In that spirit I will now start thinking about how to resist where resistance is needed, and how to collaborate where collaboration is right. In this way, I'm hoping we can all make the best decisions for the next generation.