We can't rely on parents if we want all children to experience culture

10 points for timing goes to Visit Birmingham who’ve released a new report on cultural opportunities for children just ahead of the Art Council’s Annual Meeting (Tuesday) and amid continuing delays to the release of the Government commissioned independent review of Cultural Education led by Darren Henley.

Visit Birmingham surveyed 2,000 parents of 5-12 year olds from across the UK; it paints a sad picture for many children. 4 in 10 never taken to an art gallery is the headline yet this isn’t a total disaster, far sadder to hear 25% have never been to taken to the theatre. I don’t know what Darren Henley’s Review is going to recommend but I hope it takes heed of this vital point: 50% of the families surveyed said they didn’t spend much time teaching their children about culture because they feel that it is the role of schools to do so.

There is no point pontificating to parents about where they should take their children, vouchers for attractions and other micro-schemes might help improve the figures but there will always be a hardcore of parents who don’t engage because they themselves never had such experiences thus creating a never-ending cycle of cultural apartheid in our society. Its no coincidence that the children with the least cultural experiences are the same as those coming from the most vulnerable and deprived social groups and locations. I’m the first to say we that the pendulum of parental responsibility and the ‘schools can sort every social ill’ has swung too far to the side of the latter but we must be realistic in this instance and utilise schools as the hub of cultural opportunities for young people.

We need to have more school trips. In fact we need to introduce a new ‘Bill of Rights’-style charter setting out the kind of cultural opportunities every child must experience via school at each age. Such a charter must include ensuring every young person in this country has visited London at least once by age 14 and visited another EU country by age 16. We also need to improve the quality of cultural experiences offered by schools, introducing pupils to the theatre shouldn’t mean a trip to the pantomime, it should mean introducing them to the musical theatre of the West End which has far more potential to inspire young people who would otherwise never be introduced to such an experience – it can then lead to trips to see local theatres for more ‘serious’ productions. Part of the improving of school trips could involve Ofsted visiting sites which want to be considered as ‘school trip venues’ and rating them in the same way as schools – highlighting ways they can improve, sharing best practice and listing providers so schools can see where trips would be an effective learning experience for their pupils, schools should still be able to organise visits to other venues but it would at least be a useful guide.

There is more that can be done in schools too. A lot of secondary schools have an annual school play or musical - this shouldn't be the preserve of the middle class schools in the Shires but a requirement for every school across England. Pupils should learn about their local communities and the history of their surrounding towns. We should utilise the ever-lower cost of video cameras to encourage pupils to make video presentations and short films to illustrate their learning across a range of 'traditional' subjects. Labour did great things in increasing after-school activities via the Extended Schools programme but more can be done and cuts to the Creative Partnerships programme which brought poets, artists etc. into schools should be reversed ASAP.

British culture – our theatre, our art, our film, our music – are a great strength for our nation. The more we can inspire and engage young people by ensuring everyone is equitably introduced to a range of cultural experiences will improve educational results and help us create a more harmonious and understanding society. We’ll await the Henley Review and Government’s response but I fear it will cost quite a bit more cash to improve the way we do cultural education – I hope the Government can be convinced this expense would be a genuine investment in early intervention not a ‘waste of taxpayers money down the drain’ as some in the media may find it too easy to dismiss it as.