There have been two recent government announcements on funding for arts activities in schools. But their extracurricular nature leaves some students out in the cold, argues Anita Kerwin-Nye
Alexander is 11. He has autism and is in a special unit at a mainstream school. He is an exceptionally talented musician and this year he led the school orchestra. Music is a core part of his identity and is something beyond the deficit model that identifies him by what he can’t do.
Increasingly arts and cultural provision is being pushed to the extracurricular. Even in a well-funded system there is merit in holding some activities outside of school hours, but for children with SEND there are additional challenges.
Even in a well-funded system there is merit in holding some activities outside of school hours
Alex’s school transport is provided by the local authority. There is limited time flexibility, so he’s is usually late for his pre-school orchestra rehearsal and struggles to make after-school sessions. Like many children in special units, his journey time to school is longer than his peers, and he has limited capacity for independent travel. His access to cultural provision is therefore being limited by his disability.
He is not alone. Transport, costs, exhaustion at the length of the school day are all regularly given as reasons why children with SEND can’t attend after-school clubs. With reduced budgets, schools are increasingly considering how they can continue to release the support staff required to provide inclusive trips to museums and theatres.
There are some moves for change. Spearheaded by Paul Morrow, Westminster Special School has led the Inclusive Arts Festival in west London, forming the basis for the ‘Cultural inclusion manifesto’, where schools, SEND organisations and arts providers have committed to ensuring access to cultural provision for all. Their first cultural inclusion conference will be held this autumn.
A New Direction’s special school network is sharing best practice both between special schools and with mainstream peers, and recently took over space at the Tate Modern for Tate Inclusive – showcasing work that young people had developed in a partnership between schools and artists.
These are big events, and they are important and welcome, but arts and cultural entitlement is for every child in every school, every day. Along with the wider call to protect arts and cultural provision, what can be done particularly to support children with SEND?
Debates on knowledge and the cultural canon must consider the art and cultural heritage of children and young people with disabilities: art created by people with disabilities, books with disabled characters, disabled role models sharing career options.
From the charity sector, NASEN is starting to look at how it can support teachers of arts subjects to develop approaches to supporting, including and appropriately differentiating for children with SEND.
The government’s responsibility is to ensure more funding to support children with disability.
The strategy to focus on supporting the bright and talented poor is a controversial one and a subject for other debates (what happens to the “untalented” poor for example?). However, in the context of arts education this has particular resonance.
Last month the Department for Education announced £96 million to support access to the arts (including places at arts schools) for school-aged children with talent in drama, music and dance. It also announced the £23 million Future Talent Fund for “bright and talented” disadvantaged pupils, which can be spent on after-school classes, extracurricular activities and visits, among other things.
The analysis of this £100 million-plus funding must include its impact on supporting the artistic potential of children and young people with disabilities (who are not mentioned in either of the accompanying press releases nor the related policy papers). These funds – and others for extracurricular support – must consider whether schools are failing to provide a broad and balanced curriculum if this can only be accessed via out-of-school activities.
And for talented young musicians like Alexander, there’s a straightforward request.
School travel for children with SEND must take into account attendance at extracurricular activities, so the leader of the orchestra can be there on time to pick up the baton.
Anita Kerwin-Nye is founder of Every Child Should