Cultural Playing Field


Launching The Learning Revolution by Robin Simpson
March 24, 2009, 8:03 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Monday morning I was looking out at wonderful views across the Thames to the City of London from the top of Tate Modern where I attended the launch of ‘The Learning Revolution’ – the Government white paper on ‘informal adult learning’. This was a heavyweight political occasion featuring four Government Ministers from three Departments and the small invited audience also included former Education Secretary, David Blunkett.

The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, John Denham, launched the white paper, stressing that “the learning people do for its own intrinsic value … provides personal fulfilment … and contributes to community cohesion” and suggesting that this makes it even more important at a time of economic downturn. John Denham said “we need better links between different kinds of learning and ways to enable people to navigate around the system”. The white paper seeks to join up approaches to ‘informal learning’ currently being supported by several Government Departments. ‘Informal learning’ includes the learning that happens in voluntary arts groups, such as amateur dramatics societies and choirs, as well as ‘classroom learning’. DIUS is keen to support people who want to run their own groups or classes and to enable all kinds of organisations to open up their spaces for learning.

 

Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said that his department “and all of the wonderful cultural organisations we sponsor are here to play a full part in this learning revolution”. He said “I know there are millions of talents and passions going unidentified through their lifetimes”. DCMS represents much of the backbone of informal learning – particularly public libraries. Andy Burnham emphasised that “we have to open up this huge network of resource and link it to those out there with a hunger to learn”. He finished by saying “this goes right to the heart of what DCMS has got to be all about – providing quality of life and building confidence”.

 

Communities and Local Government Minister, Sadiq Khan, confirmed that the enthusiasm for informal adult learning had spread to his department and told us that Hazel Blears was threatening to teach him tap dancing and how to ride a Harley Davidson! He said “informal learning is very important: it brings people together and gives a sense of community. These things matter more now than ever before. Three times more people get a job through personal relationships than through a job centre.” Sadiq Khan was keen to stress, nevertheless, that “learning is fun: we could all do with some fun.”

 

Anna Cutler, Head of Learning at Tate Modern, pointed out that “informal learning is a great opportunity to innovate – to experiment, test and try out new ideas”. DIUS Minister, Siôn Simon, and Adam Gee from Channel 4 talked about the growth in self-organised learning through digital technology, with the web empowering individuals to do it for themselves.

 

Finally, I followed John Denham, Andy Burnham and a wide spectrum of interested organisations in publicly signing the Voluntary Arts Network up to the ‘informal adult learning pledge’. The pledge is supported by six Government Departments (Communities and Local Government, Department for Children, Schools and Families, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Department of Health, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Department for Work and Pensions) and by independent organisations from NAVCA and NIACE to the National Trust as well as non-departmental public bodies including English Heritage, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and Sport England (though not Arts Council England – notable by its absence).

 

The white paper does not redress the dramatic decline and ongoing problems in arts in adult education. John Denham was careful to stress that “a lot of this is about a commitment to start making best use of the resources that are already out there” rather than representing any major new cash injection. Nevertheless, such a public, cross-Government statement that “learning for its own intrinsic value makes an enormous contribution to creating the kind of society we can be proud of” is very welcome. And it is great to see the Voluntary Arts Network mentioned in a Government white paper.

 

Full details of the white paper are at http://www.dius.gov.uk/learningrevolution

Robin Simpson.

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