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Time for in-house education departments to re-focus?

If there is an arts organisation working within the performance industries which does not have some form of education programme or provision I haven’t heard of it.

Theatre companies and other organisations are falling over themselves to get involved in education and there must now be more provision than at any time in history.

As Richard Morrison has commented in the The Times it would now be quite difficult to reach the school leaving age, especially in London, without having been given a free ticket and or opportunity to participate in workshops and the like. Initiatives, projects, programmes and schemes are everywhere.

And Paul Reeve, Director of Education at Royal Opera House (ROH), points out that when, 25 years ago, ACE called a meeting of arts company education staff they all fitted in one room. Today it would need the Royal Albert Hall.

And one newish development is teaching education skills to professional practitioners as part of their continuing professional development (CPD). Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) for example now offers a post-graduate diploma in education skills for its ensemble actors.

So there’s a lot of it out there. Good thing? Well yes, of course, but surely we mustn’t let the tail wag the dog? The ROHs and RSCs of this world are not education services and resources are finite. They exist primarily to produce performances for paying adult customers. Anything else is a bonus. And it would, in my view, be silly to lose sight of that because professional shows are the basis for anything else such a company might do.

Credibility depends on it. The National Theatre, say, couldn’t have an education department unless it were mounting performances. What would be the point of Theatre Royal Haymarket’s excellent Masterclass programme if, heaven forfend, the theatre were dark?

It seems to me that, rather than concentrate quite as much as they do on working directly with children and young people, performance company education people should now try to do more with families and with teachers. That way some of the onus is shifted onto those who really are ultimately responsible for educating the young. But let me know what you think.

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