Speech by David Lammy - Cultural Hubs National Networking Event
9th November 2006
Speech by David Lammy
Thank you very much for that warm introduction.
As those of you who have heard me speak before will know the issue of culture and young people is one that I care about passionately. I have to say that it’s fantastic to be introduced by somebody who himself has done so much to inspire young people.
Just before coming here I was looking at a list on Michael’s website of all the events that he’s doing. It seems that there is hardly a day in the next three months where he’s not visiting a school, running an event at a museum, or talking at a children’s book festival.
Reading his schedule, I’m almost surprised that Michael has any time to write anything, let alone books of the quality that he produces almost every year.
What I think marks out Michael’s work, and has made him so successful, is the quality of his ideas. His books don’t patronise children but really engage with them. They work on so many different levels but at heart they are always great stories that let young people escape from their own immediate and familiar world and use their imaginations.
For me, at its very best, that’s what Arts and Culture does. It fires imaginations, excites minds and gives young people the power to think beyond their immediate surroundings. As the Secretary of State wrote in her own essay on this subject, Culture can help us slay one of the biggest giants of our time, ‘the poverty of aspiration’.
Culture, the Arts, can help people fulfil their full potential. I know this from personal experience. I wouldn’t be standing before you today as Minister for Culture were it not for the fact that I got involved in Music as a young boy growing up in Tottenham and was then given the chance to test myself with a Choral scholarship at Peterborough Cathedral.
I’m sure you all saw those rather lurid headlines last week about Britain’s young people being amongst ‘the worst in Europe’. Personally, I’m always pretty dubious about these kinds of stories. But it is clear we face some serious problems in engaging some young people, particularly those who are turned off by school and who don’t go on to any further training or employment. As somebody who grew up in, and now represents, one of the most deprived constituencies in the country almost nothing frustrates me more than seeing this colossal waste of talent.
One of the real pleasures of this job, however, is that I get to see the other side. Since becoming Minister for Culture I’ve visited so many projects that have shown me what young people can achieve if given the chance to do something positive. One of the most memorable of these was a visit I made last year to the Pie Factory, the Youth Music Action Zone in Thanet. I was amazed by the enthusiasm and real quality of a group of young DJs and beat-boxers who were working with a traditional string quartet.
It was so inspiring to see two different styles of music, two sets of young people with different tastes, producing something so new and innovative.
It wasn’t just about music either. The young people there, from very different backgrounds, were coming together in that recording studio in a way they probably wouldn’t have the chance to anywhere else. In these difficult times, when all of us are worrying about social cohesion, anti-social behaviour and how to bring different sections of community together, this issue of shared space is hugely important. I wrote an article recently for Prospect Magazine about the need for us to build an ‘encounter culture’. We’ve got to provide more places where young people can get together like this and work through all of these things.
What’s reassuring is that projects like the one I saw in Thanet are happening up and down the country. Youth Music alone has 24 Action Zones and its wider projects have reached well over 1 million young people. The latest figures I’ve seen show that Creative Partnerships are working with over 300,000 children, and over 2 million pupils visited museums last year. When you start adding in all the education work that the Arts Council’s RFOs do, not to mention all of the services run by Libraries and Archives you start to paint a really rich and exciting picture.
What we know though is that cultural provision, while fantastic, is still fragmented. There are still far too many young people who miss out.
Anybody who believes in the Arts has to believe that this is far too important to be the preserve of a select few. We need to make sure that everybody, no matter where they live or what their background, has the chance to get involved.
Part of this is about making sure that we are putting the right resources in, in all of the right places. It’s about making sure that we aren’t super-serving some communities at the expense of others who are getting nothing. But it’s also about more than making sure that where resources go in we work together use them more effectively. In short, it’s about joining up.
That’s why I’m so delighted to be here celebrating the first year of the Cultural Hubs programme, which, at its heart, is about just this. I think the actual wording in the Hubs objectives is that the programme will:
‘facilitate joint planning between cultural organisations and schools, using partnership models based on local needs and capacity which – and I’m pausing for breath here before I pass out – enable them to try out ways of delivering a coherent cultural offer to all children and young people.’
I.e. – and I don’t know why we didn’t just write this in the first place - it’s all about making sure that the different bits of the system in the three areas work together more effectively.
Most of you will know that the Cultural Hubs programme was launched before I joined the department. With Cultural Hubs, however, I saw straight away that the programme has the potential to have a huge impact that goes well beyond the three areas where it’s currently running.
Everything I’ve heard about the programme to date backs that up.
The first baseline report provided us with an invaluable picture of what is actually happening in schools and cultural organisations. I strongly believe that exercises like this should become an absolute pre-requisite for launching any kind of significant activity or investment. Having something like this makes it so much easier to show the impact that you have then gone on to have.
The report showed, I think, that the spirit is willing but that in places the flesh remains weak. It’s fantastic that almost 90% of cultural organisations offer work to schools but the fact that only 66% of schools which responded had worked with cultural organisations shows that too many young people are missing out. It’s really not acceptable that, if this survey is anything to go by, pupils in 1 in 3 schools haven’t had the chance to work with cultural organisations. That tells me that we need to do something to both give schools the confidence and skills to establish partnerships and also ensure that what is being offered by the organisations we fund is what schools actually want.
Another thing that struck me about the report was how different provision was depending on the activity in question. It’s relatively heartening to see that a lot of schools offer young people the chance to perform a live piece of music in front of an audience, or visit a museum, gallery or other significant local building. It’s less reassuring that few schools are working with external professionals to deliver Media Arts projects – not least because this area, alongside other Creative Industries, is amongst the fastest growing sections of our economy.
It’s the job of the Hubs to change this and to make sure that all young people in the schools involved have access to a full range of opportunities.
I read on the way here that, already, over 8,000 pupils have had the chance to participate in the cultural activities directly as a result of the work of the Hubs. This is an impressive figure when you think how long it takes to get these types of programme up and running.
But what the figures hide is the depth and range of experiences on offer.
It’s clear that all of the Hubs have really embraced the idea of partnership working and that there have been some fantastically interesting collaborations. I know, for example, that in all three of the Hub areas the Archives, all too often seen as the poor relations of other cultural organisations, have been some of the stars of the show. I’ve been told that in the Telford Hub some of the biggest arts organisations in Birmingham were amazed & inspired by the resources that the Archives had to offer. This in turn raised the confidence of the archive staff who better appreciated the value of their collections.
But it’s not just about cultural organisations working together either. It’s also about the cultural sector and schools approaching their work in different ways.
It’s a fact of life that the educational landscape is changing both rapidly and radically. The characteristics that underpin the policies in this area – autonomy, commissioning, the personalisation of services – offer, I believe, a big opportunity the Cultural Sectors. But what they also mean – and this can feel a bit threatening – is that some the old ways of doing things no longer work.
What we’ve got to do is move away from the idea of delivering a set range of services to a position where schools and Cultural Organisations work together to plan and deliver programmes of activity. It’s clear to me from the first year of the programme that is exactly what all the Hubs are doing. Massive steps have been taken to build relationships and start to plan collaboratively. Of course, at times this has been a challenge on all sides –both for artists and teachers – and a lot more needs to be done. But what I’ve heard gives me every confidence that with the concerted effort of all partners in Years 2 and 3 joint planning will become the norm and not the exception.
All three Hubs, with their different approaches, are the perfect places to explore how to put the Arts and Culture at the heart of developments such as Children’s Services, the Specialist Schools system, and, of course, Extended services. You all have a great opportunity to be leaders here – to try new things, to take risks and be bold in what you do.
Not everything will go right, but that doesn’t necessarily matter. What’s important is that we learn from these experiences. That’s why events such as today are so important. It’s vital that the Hubs share their knowledge with both each other and the wider Cultural and Education community so we can use it to deliver better provision and to develop better services.
This idea of sharing knowledge is one of the reasons why this morning, together with Andrew Adonis, I announced the setting up of an Advisory Board which will formally advise both the DCMS and DfES on Creative and Cultural education issues.
We announced this board as part of the Government’s response to Paul Roberts’ review of Creativity in Schools. What Paul found is what I’m sure many of you find on a daily basis – that there is lots and lots of wonderful provision out there but that more can be done at national, regional and local level to co-ordinate this.
The purpose of this Board will be to do exactly this. It will bring together all of the knowledge that we have from all of the different programmes that run in this area and start to put together a coherent narrative about what creative and culture-rich education looks like.
The board will be responsible for implementing all of the commitments we’ve made in our response to the report. These include looking at the idea of Creative Portfolios for young people, seeing how we can recognise and reward creative practice in Early Years settings and exploring the potential of both Extended Schools and Building Schools for the Future. The report also commits us to revisit how we train our school leaders and how we support them and their schools to develop partnerships with the Cultural Sector and the Creative Industries. What the report states categorically is that creative approaches, creative activities – the kinds of things that you deliver on a daily basis – are not at odds with standards but actually are a key part of achieving them.
What we need to ensure is that the commitments we’ve made are carried through and that this group doesn’t just become another talking shop. I don’t want it to become a place where great ideas are discussed but no new firm action is taken. I’m therefore delighted that Paul Roberts, who shares my views on this, has agreed to act as Chair. The Board will also have representation at a senior level from both Government Departments and all of our major NDPBs who have an interest in this area.
One of the things the Board needs to learn from is the Cultural Hubs programme which is clearly making a massive difference in the communities it serves. Each of you working in the Hubs needs to see yourself as engaged in something of national significance, something that goes beyond each of your areas. I’m truly grateful for the work that ACE, MLA and all of you are doing and have no doubt that the programme will go from strength to strength.
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