Change one thing: How about a Young Scientist-style scheme for the arts?

Arts in schools can give kids a creative advantage in life, which is why they should take centre stage in the classroom

Portraits by young artists: an exhibition of paintings, prints, sculpture, fabrics and graphics by children from Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. Photograph: Eric Luke

Portraits by young artists: an exhibition of paintings, prints, sculpture, fabrics and graphics by children from Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. Photograph: Eric Luke


Our education system has been efficient, hardworking and effective in preparing workers for jobs. It has always tried hard to inculcate a proper sense of civic responsibility. But too often it is has been unimaginative in how it prepares children for life.

We have certainly had arts in schools, and children have met inspiring and passionate teachers. But the arts have never been central, never core, always driven by interested teachers rather than by a system-wide policy. So, for too long, many children lost out.

For decades the Arts Council has advocated for the arts in education. To make that effective and not just aspirational, we have campaigned to have the Department of Education and Skills take a lead role in delivering on what we truly believe is a central part of every child’s education.

Now a new step is being taken. It is exciting, it is worthwhile and it is to the credit of the ministers who are leading it. The Arts-in-Education Charter announced by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, and his colleague, Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn, is an exciting initiative. It places new responsibilities on Government, schools and cultural institutions, as well as arts organisations, to provide and promote the arts to children and young people in our schools.

But for it to move forward from an aspirational document to being a reality for all children, a programme similar to the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibitionhas to be developed for the arts. A benefactor will be needed for such a programme, which would involve schools in a focused way in the arts.

My vision for such a programme is to recognise, as the Young Scientist does for science, engineering and innovation, the primary and post-primary schools that make the arts a key part of school life. It will embrace parents, teachers, pupils and the arts community in a shared journey together.

An arts-rich schools scheme would recognise and celebrate the schools that fully embrace the arts in education. Likewise, it will also identify schools that need help to develop the arts across the life of the school.

As a society, we have always known that bringing the arts into the classroom has the potential to give every child’s imagination free rein . Teachers too should have new opportunities to reach and nurture the innate skills that are the aspiration of every education.

And schools should be able to look beyond the school gates for inspiration. Artists and arts organisations have experience and expertise which, in collaboration with teachers and students, has the potential to truly transform our classrooms.

As the Arts Council, we want to ensure the creativity and talent within each child is nurtured and that they are given every opportunity to grow and develop their creative skills.

With the new Arts-in-Education Charter and the full involvement and leadership of the Department of Education and Skills, the arts can become embedded and not just an add-on in Irish schools.

If our children are taught creatively, they will think creatively. The world won’t change immediately, but children’s worlds can become more colourful and they can become more confident.

Years later, older and wiser, they will have a profound sense that one of the most important legacies of school was an introduction to that world of imagination beyond the obvious.

Orlaith McBride is the director of the Arts Council

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