Letters: Time for culture

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The Independent Online

The Government's plans to ensure that the school timetable includes five hours of cultural engagement every week is to be applauded ("'Five hours of culture' planned for schools", The Independent, 13 February). Teachers will have questions about fitting those hours into existing timetables, and the estimated government provision of £15 per student may not go very far. But arts organisations have an opportunity and responsibility to work closely with teachers to ensure that a student's introduction to the arts is meaningful rather than tokenistic.

As an arts organisation that does not receive government subsidy, Shakespeare's Globe has had to seek private-sector funding to support its mission to introduce students to Shakespeare's plays, and to create Shakespeare productions especially for young people. Our flagship project, "Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank", is a model of how arts organisations and the private sector can work with teachers to introduce young people to an art form.

As well as free tickets for 10,000 students for a production of Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare's Globe, students will take part in workshops in school and have access to interactive web resources and a podcast. The real cost is more than £15 a student, and the project has to fit into the school timetable, but the result will be students who actively engage in the arts rather than feel that they are "doing culture" as a classroom subject.

Patrick Spottiswoode, Director, Globe Education

So, Ed Balls wants all children to have five hours of culture a week. And who is responsible for its delivery? Teachers. At Art Projects for Schools, we are researching the benefits of art in primary education. We have found that a key challenge is teachers' lack of self-confidence in their ability to work with children in the creative disciplines. However, the research has also highlighted that teachers recognise this. And they see the value of creative projects in building children's self-esteem and enriching their lives.

To value anything we must have experience of it. For children to appreciate culture, their own attempts to express themselves are a vital ingredient. Government should address this issue as a matter of urgency by raising the profile of training in the creative areas and providing funding for Inset in schools.

Dan Dickey, Managing Director, Art Projects for Schools, Whitstable, Kent


Your front-page report of the findings of the Cambridge Primary Review makes sombre reading ("Our children, tested to destruction", The Independent, 8 February). Even worse, there are now targets for children in the Early Years Foundation Stage, and early-learning goals that expect them to link sounds and letters, and begin to write around the age of five.

Although the documentation makes it clear that not all children will reach these goals, this does not protect the significant minority of children who don't reach them from a sense of failure. This same group, mainly consisting of summer-born children, those in the early stages of learning English as an additional language, or with special needs – and a relatively high proportion of boys at that – are the ones most likely to suffer.

Given the international evidence, it is hard to understand why Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, explicitly rules out any consideration of assessment in the review of primary education he has commissioned. It will be interesting to see how Sir Jim Rose, the Government's trouble-shooter on primary education, defines his inquiry.

It would be perverse to ignore the wealth of evidence gathered by the independent review in Cambridge, which has been working on this for many months.

Wendy Scott, Keswick, Cumbria


nnn As an invigilator and examiner of 30 years, I can assure you that any requests for special treatment in exams have to be properly authorised ("Timely Warning", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 14 February). In particular, I refer to extra time, permission to dictate to a scribe, or permission to present work using a word processor.

All of these go through a school's examination officer. Teachers are not involved, as was suggested. As an examiner, I expect to see the correct authorisation form enclosed with any script that has, for example, been typed.

It appears from reports I have read that it is parents who are trying to play the dyslexia card to gain extra time for their children, and one can only hope that those who must sign the authorisation forms are duly vigilant.

Richard Merwood, Salisbury, Wilts


nnn I am the head of a small independent school, and agree wholeheartedly with the idea that the International Baccalaureate is "the most exciting development in sixth-form education in recent years". ("Why so many are opting for the IB", INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS, 7 February). In our new sixth form, opening in September 2008, we will offer only the IB. Far from being a brave move, it is the only logical option for a school, whatever its size, that intends to deliver a "gold standard" educational experience that develops the whole person and gives students an opportunity to take their place in top universities worldwide.

Ken Underhill, Headmaster, Westbourne School, Penarth, South Wales


nnn The United Kingdom has a wealth of young people training in skills-based careers, yet their talent is often overlooked, and, in the past, vocational skills have been seen as the ugly duckling of education. But without these young stars, we couldn't function properly. It's about time that people's attitudes to vocational skills changed.

Therefore, I am calling for talented, skilled young people to enter one of the 70 WorldSkills UK competitions this year, in areas such as bricklaying, floristry, welding and IT. Winners will have the chance to represent the UK at WorldSkills Calgary 2009 – the largest such competition in the world. There isn't much time left as the final date for applications is 28 February. It's a tough, four-day competition, but it's worth it. Past competitors have shot up the career ladder, some now run their own business and others work for big companies.

I am urging young people to enter. If employers or tutors have an outstanding student or employee, they should give them the chance to get recognition for their work. Entries can be made online at www.worldskills uk.org.

Simon Bartley, Chief executive, UK Skills, London W1

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