Every child in Britain will have the chance to experience the arts directly as part of their school routine, with five hours of cultural learning and activity every week, the government will pledge this week.
Ministers hope the radical move, to be launched in their Children's Plan, will elevate the status of arts education and help to underline its importance in children's development. 'This offer will give everyone a chance to make sure that creativity is a key part of their childhood,' the Culture Secretary, James Purnell, told The Observer.
The target aims to allow all children to watch and take part in professionally organised music, dance, theatre and visual arts. It is intended to reflect the growing importance of creative industries to the UK economy and will be backed by a gradual increase in funding.
Purnell said: 'We will be announcing in the Children's Plan that we want to move towards five hours of culture to match what is available in sport, giving young people the chance to develop both as critical spectators and practitioners.'
A former member of the National Youth Theatre, Purnell added that schools should set up more frequent visits to galleries, museums and live performances. Director Richard Eyre warned in last week's Observer that Britain has fallen into a kind of social 'apartheid', in which only privileged young people have easy access to high culture. Purnell said he and the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, both educated privately, were keen to end such divisions. 'What we recognise is that we don't want there to be an apartheid between people in private schools, which offer cultural and sports activities, and people in state schools,' he said. 'Ed and I are working very closely together on making sure that, whichever school you go to, you get those sports and arts activities.'
The arts initiative will be one of the most eye-catching elements in the 10-year Children's Plan which will be announced to MPs by Balls. Ministers believe that the plan breaks new ground by looking at the development of children 'holistically' and not just concentrating separately on specific areas such as schools, sports, the arts and health.
Balls will outline a 'preventive' approach designed to identify problems which lead children into trouble or damage their health. Three key areas of particular concern are:
· advertising of alcoholic drinks aimed at children. Balls was alarmed by a report from Alcohol Concern which showed a spike in adverts between 4pm and 6pm.
· the sexualisation of young girls. Balls is to commission a study along the lines of a groundbreaking report by the American Psychological Association which warned that the development of young girls is being harmed by media images which teach them they are defined by their sexual appeal.
· the commercialisation of children's lives. Ministers will publish a report next year as figures show that children are exposed to 10,000 ads a year. Balls said: 'Children are more exposed to advertising and are more likely to confine their aspirations to specific brands at a particular age... But we need to look at the evidence before we jump to policy conclusions.'
Purnell said his department's surveys showed that 80-90 per cent of the public had taken part in some cultural activity in the last year, the key thing was to turn this level of interest into 'an entitlement' for the young.