I thank Senator Keaveney for raising this topic. I am replying on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Mary Hanafin. I thank the Senator for her very useful and passionate contribution to this topic. I am aware from her many previous interventions in this area, not to mention her background, that the question of arts in education is very important to her. Her background and knowledge in the subject is well acknowledged.
Along with the Minister, I share the Senator's enthusiasm and feeling for this issue. From her perspective as a former Minister for Education and Science, the Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin, recognises and appreciates the benefits of the widest possible experience being available to students. Included in this experience must be interaction with the arts. It was this recognition which prompted the commissioning of a report from the Arts Council to examine this vital topic. The results of this examination were contained in the report, Points of Alignment, produced in 2008 by the special committee on arts and education under the auspices of the council. The special committee members are to be admired for their dedicated efforts in coming forward with this considered body of work which proposed a series of extensive and stimulating recommendations.
Among its recommendations was the setting up of a national unit for education and the arts. This was to be managed on an inter-agency basis to implement policy objectives and provide a range of services. It was to support local networking and monitor, research and inform best practice and policy making. The unit was also to produce a website and promote virtual learning. It was also to have a role in co-ordinating, promoting and funding the work of proposed new local arts area partnerships which it was envisaged would be funded to promote synergy between local authorities, vocational education committees, teachers, education centres, schools and third level colleges. The vision set out in the report saw the introduction of an "arts in education practice" model. This would involve skilled professionals working with schools within and outside of school. Its aim would be to enrich the curriculum by promoting best practice and quality in arts education in schools and by widening school-community links. To complement and support these actions, the report recommended substantial increases in the Arts Council funding and resources to support artists and arts organisations working in arts in education.
When the arts and education committee was established, its terms of reference specifically required it to take account of the fact that "the budgetary resources likely to be available over the next four years to the Minister for Education and Science for development of services in the education sector must be allocated to fund existing policy commitments". While the special committee was established in 2006, the terms of reference were designed to take account of the expected competing needs for future investment in education. These included provision of new schools in developing areas, the implications for enrolment due to demographic change, and meeting the needs of integration and language supports for newcomer children. The areas of combating educational disadvantage, investment in curriculum reform, professional development of teachers, investment in strategic research and innovation in higher education were also issues to be addressed.
Following the finalisation of the Points of Alignment report, several meetings took place between the Department, the Arts Council and the then Department of Education and Science to explore how best the recommendations in the report could be progressed, taking account of the public expenditure constraints at that time. Several possibilities were considered to initiate progress but it was not possible to reach agreement on the scale of the vision enshrined in the report. The budgetary constraints which have beset all Departments have served to prevent any major implementation of the recommendations as laid out in the report for the foreseeable future.
I am aware from our colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, that the State invests significantly in arts education at present. Arts education — visual arts, music and drama — forms a significant part of the primary curriculum which has been rolled out in the period from 1999 to 2007. The implementation of the arts curriculum was supported by comprehensive investment in professional development for teachers. Courses in craft, design, music and art are integrated variously into the junior and leaving certificate and leaving certificate applied cycles at post-primary level. Transition year programmes also offer a variety of modules which stimulate pupils' interest in the arts in general and which, in many cases, give them the opportunity, in their classrooms and other contexts, to interact with practising artists.
In addition to supporting music in the curriculum, a substantial additional allocation of teaching posts has been given to a range of vocational education committees to support music education. This takes the form of individual tuition in instrumental and vocal music education and supports for choirs, orchestras and ensembles. Through this, thousands of hours of music tuition are provided annually. This investment is supplemented through a series of summer programmes in the arts in disadvantaged schools, a music initiative under which schools in disadvantaged areas are given once-off funds to purchase or replace musical instruments. The Department has significantly supported two pilot projects under the auspices of Music Network, the agency supported by the Arts Council to provide countrywide services in music. The Music Network projects are important examples of collaboration between VECs, schools, artists, local authorities and county and city development boards to add scale and synergy to provide increased access to arts education on a strategic area basis.
I was delighted, in this context, to have been advised that the Department of Education and Skills continues to fund these two pilot programmes in Dublin City and County Donegal VECs which are promoting music education partnerships along the lines recommended in an earlier Music Network report dealing with music partnerships at local level.
Last year, my colleague, the then Minister for Education and Science, announced a major initiative to expand music education, based on these pilot projects. This exciting initiative involves a partnership between our own U2, Music Network, the International Funds for Ireland and the education sector. Its effect will be to enable a series of Music Network partnerships to be established throughout the country on a phased basis to provide vocal and instrumental music tuition for young people. The initiative has been made possible by a generous donation of €5 million from U2 and a commitment from the Ireland Funds to raise €2 million. These contributions will fund the initiative in the early years of development with the intention that programmes will be continued into the future with Exchequer funding when the donations cease.
Senator Keaveney mentioned the cross-Border orchestra. The orchestra and Camerata are among initiatives for which I have personal responsibility in the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport. There is a small fund to support all-Ireland, or cross-Border, initiatives in music and the arts. Music Network is managing the overall initiative and is finalising the establishment of a subsidiary company to oversee the project. A programme manager has been recruited who will begin service in June. When the administrative arrangements have been finalised, it is intended that Music Network will invite proposals for the establishment of area-based partnerships which will provide vocal, instrumental and orchestra tuition for young people. The aim of the initiative will be to gradually expand such partnerships throughout the country.
I understand that proposals will be invited on the basis of competitive tender. Local interests, for example, one or more local VECs, local authorities, local private music schools and parents' groups, will be invited to bid for a three-year subsidy to provide for the costs of teachers and local administration. An expansion of music education partnerships by Music Network will be rolled out over the period beginning in late 2010 and continuing to 2013. I congratulate all those involved in bringing forward this significant input into local areas. It will have tangible benefits for all concerned.
It should be noted that within the constraints of the existing system, the education and arts sectors co-operate fully to ensure the optimal delivery of services. The artists in schools guidelines issued to schools, which were developed by the Department of Education and Skills and the Arts Council working in partnership, are an important resource in informing schools of how best to plan, implement and evaluate partnerships with local artists and organisations which will provide stimulating and interesting learning experiences for children. They encapsulate the vision of arts in education practice which is set out in the Points of Alignment report.
There is no argument as to the fact that providing the arts with a higher and more consistent profile at primary and post-primary level can benefit the students concerned significantly with consequent benefits to society. It is important to stress that this applies to all students and not just those recognised as being gifted artistically. Given that, as is the case in sport, the future of the arts resides with our children, we recognise the importance of the exposure of students to the arts at all levels in our education system.
The Arts Council has pursued at all times a policy of engaging with young people, whether through its specific programmes or by its support of organisations specialising in arts in education interventions, such as The Ark and Team in Dublin, and of theatrical groups. This, too, is supplemented by the education and outreach programmes run by all national cultural institutions and other agencies funded by my Department. These are signs of maturity in our arts role and the integration of the arts into every aspect of society. We intend, when resources permit, to revisit the proposed actions in this report. I reaffirm my Department's commitment to supporting, in so far as is possible, the agencies and initiatives aimed at improving access to arts in education.