Jeremy Hunt MP is Shadow Culture Secretary.
Last week was another classic example of a flaky government announcement coming unstuck. This time it happened literally within minutes. Andy Burnham, clearly responding to requests from Gordon Brown to make announcements – any announcement – that might give the impression of government initiative (the "vision" thing) announced a plan to give all children a "right" to 5 hours of cultural activity.
By 8.20 in the morning he had been forced to admit to John Humphrys that it was only an "aspiration". Then it emerged that we do not currently measure how many hours of "culture" children receive. Many may be getting more than 5 hours, some undoubtedly less, but how can you have a policy without being able to measure whether it has worked or not?
Next John Dunford of the Association of School and College Leaders slammed the proposals given that no one had thought out precisely where in the curriculum these five hours would sit. Next to cookery? Instead of citizenship? Nearby the 5 hours of sport that have already been promised and not delivered?
Finally we worked out that the amount of money assigned to the pilot areas for the project was less than 50 pence per child per week – getting five hours of culture out of 50 pence needs a course in magic, let alone culture.
Andy Burnham rightly received near universal derision for an ill-thought out "eye-catching initiative" that should never have made it past the drawing board. More’s the shame, because culture does matter. But if the government were serious about policy, they could start by taking a look at:
- Red tape that is putting more and more schools off organising school trips, including cultural ones. Parents for example worry about volunteering in case they get sued if something goes wrong.
- Bureaucracy over things like music festivals, which mean piles of forms have to be filled in especially if children are involved. Why do CRB checks have to be repeated time after time – driving both organisers and volunteers potty.
- Provision of music lessons. There is lots of evidence that learning a musical instrument helps both literacy and numeracy, yet up to 40% of primary school children who would like to are unable to learn an instrument.