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What are the main parties promising on access to culture?

If polling is to be believed, we are on track to welcome a new government. Before the summer term ends, a new secretary of state for education will being an entirely new approach to tackling key sector issues. Among these is a stark decline in cultural education, so how do the manifestos promise to fix this?

Cultural education helps children build cultural confidence, develop creative capacity and reach their full potential. It provides them with skills for life as well as skills for work.

Museums (especially local ones) play a crucial role here. According to our recent YouGov poll, 89 per cent of UK adults believe museums are vital to UK culture and consider education to be the most important role of local museums.

Schools are beginning to return to visiting museums after the pandemic, but inequality and barriers to opportunity remain. The big question for all parties is whether they can meet these challenges and make a real change for future generations.

As well as their pledge to recruit 6,500 new teachers in key subjects, Labour says it will support children to study a creative or vocational subject until they are 16 and launch a National Music Education Network. Their manifesto also makes a commitment to ‘improve access to cultural assets’, requiring national museums and galleries to increase digital access and loans from their collections to communities across the country.

This is exciting. Art Fund launched the Teacher Art Pass to connect educators and museums, enrich the personal and professional lives of teachers and spark creativity and innovation in the next generation.

But while Labour’s cultural education commitments are positive, I’d like to see an additional pledge to support school visits to museums and other cultural activities. Barriers include lack of planning time, travel costs, and inability to cover classes.

Our research has found that pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to be taken to a museum by their school (34 per cent) compared to more advantaged peers (47 per cent). Meanwhile, 75 per cent of London pupils have visited a museum in the past year compared to 57 per cent of those living in the Midlands or Wales and 60 per cent of pupils in Northern England or Scotland.

The next government must support teachers to access these amazing places

For young people to access culture, we require a robust education system that can support trips and visits, especially for disadvantaged pupils.

The Conservative Party doesn’t say much about arts and creative subjects, only mentioning music education. Instead, it pledges an Advanced British Standard: a new approach to 16-19 education which mainly focuses on non-arts subjects.

While a baccalaureate-style system might support students to study more broadly, their focus on STEM and technical subjects misses a big opportunity to develop skills through cultural education. Social mobility cannot come from technical skills alone.

For their part, the Liberal Democrats commit to increase per-pupil funding and to a ‘tutoring guarantee’ for disadvantaged pupils. These are encouraging, and greater funding often means that schools can invest in access to culture.

They also state that arts subjects should be included in the English Baccalaureate, and have committed to expanding creative extracurricular activities, with a new free entitlement for disadvantaged children.

This is a strong start, which could go a long way to breaking down cultural barriers in education. It would be even better to see a commitment to working alongside cultural and heritage institutions on these issues.

We also welcome their explicit commitment to maintaining free access to national museums and galleries, which is not guaranteed in the current economic climate.

It is imperative that the next government recognises the powerful social impact of our cultural organisations working alongside the education system, and supports teachers to access these amazing places.

That’s why we’re calling on the next government to ensure every schoolchild experiences a visit to a museum and gallery every year within the national curriculum.

Cultural education can level the playing field for all students. By committing to practical solutions that address the logistical barriers to cultural engagement, we can ensure that every child can explore, learn and grow through arts and culture.

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