Artists Interviews

June 2012: Orla Kenny

Arts & Education Charter: Responses from the sector

The Arts-in-Education Charter: Responses from the Sector

Image from Maree Hensey’s Virtually There residency with children from St Thomas NS, Jobstown, Tallaght

The Arts-in-Education Charter was launched in January 2013 by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan TD, and Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn TD. The press release sent out by the two departments stated that:

"This Charter places new responsibilities on Government Departments, agencies, cultural institutions and arts organisations in terms of providing and promoting arts education to children and young people. This Charter has been agreed as both Ministers believe passionately in arts education and want to see a joined-up Government approach across Departments, education agencies and arts organisations. The charter will see organisations like the Arts Council, the National Cultural Institutions, the Colleges of Education and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment working with both Departments in order to bring the arts into the classroom and learners into the institutes for the arts."

But what do those who are working on the ground across both sectors think about this new document and its potential to impact on current practice, and by extension, on the lives of children in Ireland?

Dr. Emer Ring, Head of the Department of Reflective Pedagogy and Early Childhood Studies, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick

When I was invited to write a response from the perspective of early years’ education to the ‘Arts in Education Charter’, I felt both honoured and excited. We underestimate the potential of the arts for children’s holistic development at our peril. The holistic development of the child is a key principle in Irish curriculum documents where a concern to foster the spiritual, moral, cognitive, emotional, imaginative, aesthetic and physical dimensions of development is clearly articulated (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), 1999a; 2009). The ‘Arts in Education Charter’ therefore is a refreshing addition to Irish education discourse and a timely reminder of the centrality of the arts in developing and nurturing children’s sense of wonder and awe, in enabling children to explore alternative ways of communicating and in making a vital contribution to the development of a range of intelligences (NCCA, 1999b; 2009).

Recognition in the Charter that universal pre-school provision can enable young children to experience a wide variety of the arts is welcome. The Charter presents a valuable opportunity to embed both Arts Education and Arts-in-Education through the continuum of education provision from the early years. However it is suggested that an opportunity has been lost to infuse these concepts in early years education throughout the document where ‘schools’ are consistently referred to and ‘early years settings’ omitted. For example the proposed national scheme of ‘Arts Rich Schools’ should be extended to early years settings. In this respect the philosophy of Reggio-Emilia’s provision for children aged three months to six years is worth reflecting on.

Central to the philosophy of Reggio-Emilia is the importance given to expressiveness, aesthetics, and imagination as indispensible driving forces of the knowledge-building processes (Vecchi, 2002). Each centre has an ‘atelier’ (art-studio) in addition to a teacher with an arts background (atelierista) and children are enabled to communicate through alternative modalities, techniques, instruments and materials. Bruner (2012) affirmed the cultivation of the imagination in Reggio-Emilia, which reinforced simultaneously the child’s sense of the possible. He advised that reading fairly tales to young children was not enough but rather that the imagination must be actively and purposefully cultivated as he observed in Reggio-Emilia. Gardner (2012) described provision in Reggio-Emilia as epitomising an education where children undergo a sustained apprenticeship in humanity.

At a time when the benefits of good quality early years education for society are recognised internationally (Bennett, 2005; Heckman, 2006), it would be wise for the High-Level Implementation Group to consider this lacuna and advise the Ministers accordingly. The ‘Arts in Education Charter’ presents a genuine opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of all of our children from the beginning. The recently published Kid’s Own Being and Belonging Project (2013) clearly demonstrates the potential of the artists’ pedagogy for supporting effective pedagogy in the early years. Let’s not therefore lose this valuable opportunity and learn from the wisdom of our forefathers in remembering ‘Tús maith leath na hoibre’ (Translated: ‘a good start is half the work’).


Bennett, J. (2005), Curriculum issues in national policy-making, European Early Childhood Educa¬tion Research Journal, 13 (2), 5-23.

Bruner, J. (2012) Preface: Reggio: A City of Courtesy, Curiosity and Imagination, In Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Forman, G. (eds), The Hundred Languages of Children (3rd ed), Oxford: PRAEGER, pp. xvii-xviii.

Gardner, H. (2012) Foreword, In Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Forman, G. (eds), The Hundred Languages of Children (3rd ed), Oxford: PRAEGER, pp. xiii-xvii.

Heckman, J.J. (2006) Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children, Science, Vol. 312, 1900-1902.

Kids Own (2013) Opening the Door: An Independent Research Report by Researcher Áine McKenna, Ballinful: Kids Own Publishing Partnership.

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (1999a) Primary School Curriculum: Introduction, Dublin: The Stationery Office.

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (1999b) Primary School Curriculum: Visual Arts, Dublin: The Stationery Office.

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (2009) Aistear: The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, Dublin: The Stationery Office.

Marie-Louise Blaney, Education Curator, The Model

"Everyone has the right to participate freely in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts." Professor Anne Bamford (Lighting a Fire Conference April 19th, 2013)

In principle, I welcome the charter as in its essence it proposes to embed creativity in the ethos of curricular learning. For the departments of education and the arts to come together, to dialogue, discuss and focus on a more integrated and arts-rich educational sector is a very positive aspiration for the future. This work has already been happening in cities and other parts of the country where there are regional arts centres, which provide a rich and essential art resource for schools and colleges. However, in other parts of the country, where there isn’t an arts centre or strong regional arts office, I question how rich the arts experience of children and young people in these areas really is. In these regions a revised and more worked out charter will have its deepest and most positive impact. Although the Arts Council has had policy in place for 35 years, as cited by Orlaith McBride on the Arena programme on Radio 1 (May 13th), the implementation of this policy has had its challenges due to successive governement change, recession and the length of time it takes to embed creativity in the school curriculum. It takes time to embed culture, to grow a more experiential and creative approach to learning and to effect change. It takes time to unlock the demand and potential in schools and colleges for an arts rich approach to learning. In my opinion, the charter is still a working document, with potential, if re-worked. The tone of the document is too coercive, especially for artists not already engaged in arts education. In order for true progress to take place, a more collaborative, open approach to engaging artists and working with teachers needs to be adopted.

Dervil Jordan, Faculty of Education, National College of Art & Design

The ‘Arts in Education Charter’ is an important stepping stone towards developing a coherent policy on Arts Education / Arts in Education in Ireland. It is long overdue that the two government departments -Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht have come together to address the pressing need, which exists in co-ordinating and aligning the diversity and complexity of this area of the arts and education. We in NCAD welcome the fact that,

This structure would provide a strategic, high level and ongoing point of contact between the policy makers, key providers, and students in the fields of arts and education (Arts in Education Charter, 2012).

But the Points of Alignment (2008) recommendation to ‘extend the reach and deepen the impact’ of current programme provision and to foster new provision especially where there is little or no arts in education service (Points of Alignment, 2008) will be unlikely to come to fruition in the current form of the Arts in Education Charter.

The Arts in Education Charter’s suggestions are somewhat reductive in approach. Not all artists are good communicators or have a facility to work with young people, and unless the suggested proposals are developed with sensitivity and in context they will remain reductive and unhelpful, especially if they are imposed on artists without a strong foundation in best practice and sound educational principles.

Nevertheless the Arts in Education Charter is an important formative step, albeit a modest (and a do-able one in this economic climate). It needs refinement and development in order to create a framework, which will build on existing good practice.

The DES commitments are very general and slim in the Charter as it currently stands. In particular, the recommendation that ‘the work of contemporary Irish artists be available to curriculum planners and that their work is represented in a fashion that would align well with existing curriculum priorities’ sounds very hollow at the moment. The draft Leaving Cert Art curriculum, which included an exciting contemporary art section, lies abandoned by the DES since its development ten years ago and has never been implemented. The current Leaving Certificate Art curriculum provides little or no incentive to engage with contemporary Irish art. This out of date Leaving Cert art curriculum has created a serious gap in the progression from junior cycle to senior cycle and into 3rd level art and design. As Granville 2012 suggests,

the single greatest challenge for art and design education in Ireland is to introduce a Leaving Cert programme fit for provide learners with an engagement with art and design which reflects current practice in the real world, and secondly to do so in such a manner that its assessment relates to the requirement of higher education in art and design (p.44)

The Charter must become part of an overall planned approach which is negotiated with the arts organisation themselves in partnership with the receivers. The development of a partnership model between the Arts in Education and Arts Education will be central to its success. For example having Arts Council representation on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is to be commended. NCAD looks forward to providing a focus for research in the arts in education and for arts education, continuing professional development in the arts for primary and secondary teachers and acting as a conduit between schools, teachers and cultural institutions.

Granville, G. (2012) (ed) Art Education and Contemporary Culture: Irish Experiences, International Perspectives. Bristol: Intellect.

Arts Council (2008) Points of Alignment: The Report of the Special Committee on the Arts and Education Dublin; The Arts Council.

Arts-In-Education Charter (2013)

Alison Cronin, Schools & Youth Co-ordinator, West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen

The fact that the arts and education departments are recognising the importance of arts in education with this charter has to be a positive thing, however the production of the charter alone is not enough. The key issue that needs to be addressed is how to engage the education system with the charter. Creating incentives for schools to participate in arts in education practice is vital. Within the education community the importance of arts in education is recognised individually rather than systemically. The Arts Rich Schools Schemes (4.17) should be a step in the right direction but the practicalities of who will run these schemes, how they will be funded, and how we ensure they promote ’quality’ arts experiences needs to be addressed. The opening of communication between the NCCA and The Arts Council on curriculum development (4.11) is also a positive step in addressing curriculum issues.

At West Cork Arts Centre we have a strong relationship with our local Education Centre that has been extremely beneficial in developing programming, and I was pleased to see that the charter mentions Education Centres as an existing resource (4.1). The importance of Education Centres engaging with this charter is paramount to an acceptance of it within the education system.

It goes without saying that the issue of funding is at the core of my frustration with the charter. Arts Organisations, Schools, Education Centres etc cannot be expected to embrace new initiatives while simultaneously struggling with cutbacks. The Charter states that "To adequately support existing arts in education practice...the Arts Council will seek to maintain its relative level of support to artists and arts organisations working wholly, or in part, in arts in education"(4.16), at a time when cutbacks to our funding at WCAC mean we can no longer sustain our arts in education practice at primary level, without either seeking external funding or driving costs onto schools. Even with more commitment from the arts sector, things will not change without financial commitment from the education department, and real reform of the system to create the time, resources and understanding within schools that can allow artists to engage with them.

Two final points on particular details: Firstly the suggestion (4.4) that "each student visits one National Cultural Institution at least once in their second level school career". Many people seem to be suggesting that once is not enough. I agree that one cultural experience is not enough, but as 12 out of the 15 National Cultural Institutions are in Dublin, expecting students from across the country to get there regularly is unrealistic, and downplays the work of local institutions.

Secondly, the notion that any artist receiving public funds should donate two hours per annum to arts in education projects (4.3) is wrong. Working as an arts educator is a professional discipline, not a voluntary add-on, and requires a different set of skills to being an artist. While many artists are fantastic in a classroom, some would be completely inappropriate and out of their depth.

Maire Davey, Assistant Arts Officer - Participation & Learning, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council Arts Office

The arrival of the Arts-in-Education Charter is a welcome development, as the ambitious recommendations and actions of Points of Alignment were largely unfulfilled due to the recession. For those familiar with the 2008 report, there are some recommendations that have remained e.g. the development of a portal site and the spotlight on infrastructure and facilities. One of the most debated recommendations is the Public Service Education Dividend (PESD) which, if enacted, will place obligations on publically funded individuals and arts organisations to "include arts-in-education as part of their programme of work" (Department of Education and Skills, 2013, pg.12). There is an interesting subtext here that calls into question the very idea of an artistic practice in this context. The practice of an artist may not be aligned to the idea, posited in the Artist and Schools Guidelines, which views the triangular relationship between the artist, teacher and pupils as being equal components.

There is no mention of product, outcomes or artistic merit within the charter. What occurs if the arts organisation or artist does not see their practice as being relevant to this setting? Critic and author Claire Bishop would no doubt state that the real question should be whether or not the art is any good, rather than asking whether the artist has been a good or bad collaborator. This leads to the question, will the allotted time mentioned in the PESD be a good arts experience for the aforementioned triangle?

The Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE), which is influenced by the Reggio Emilia approach, stresses the importance of the collaboration between the artist and teacher. Within this partnership, the artist must be skilled at collaborating. "A partnership is only valuable to a school to the extent that it builds the capacity of teachers, and develops innovative leadership inside schools" (Taylor and Francis, 2010, pg.8). There are a myriad of professional artists and organisations engaged in quality Arts-in-Education practice in Ireland. It would be interesting to hear their reactions to the PESD. As identified by CAPE it is necessary that artists entering into this domain are skilled, to echo Points of Alignment there is a need to sustain good practice. For example by implementing those mentioned in 2008, "Mentoring schemes, secondments, professional exchanges, peer reviews and evaluations, showcases and joint projects" (Arts Council, 2008, pg.22)

In The Irish Times, Sara Keating wrote that "The increased demands being placed on artists to prove their public value has raised anxieties for them particularly in relation to issues of subsidy, where a fear exists among artistic communities that their outreach activities are being valued above their creative practices" (Keating, 2008). While those of us engaged in Arts-in-Education welcome the questions that the charter poses for the sector, it must be remembered that the implementation of the PESD commitment will have implications for current artistic practice in a fundamental way. With diminishing resources, the PSED is in theory a welcome addition; however it should not subtract the intrinsic value of the arts.


Arts Council (2006) Artist and Schools Guidelines, towards best practice.Dublin: Arts Council

Arts Council (2008) Points of Alignment, the report of the Special Committee on the Arts and Education. Dublin: Arts Council

Department of Education and Skills (2013) The Arts-in-Education Charter

Keating, S. (2008) ‘Is art fit for society?’, The Irish Times, 23rd February 2008, pg. 7.

Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (2012)
Available at:
(Accessed 5th May 2013)

Claire Halpin, Artist

This Charter is being presented as a "practical" Charter for Arts in Education - overall I find it vague on detail, structure, practicalities, timescale and contradictory in parts. While I welcome the core aims of the Charter I feel it needs more clarity and a more cohesive sustainable structure if it is to achieve its aims to implement a strong Arts in Education model of practice in Ireland that I believe cannot be based on volunteerism.

4.3 Education Agenda in Arts Organisations
The benefits of Arts in Education is well researched and documented - we know the why but not necessarily the how. I would welcome the increase in visits by artists to local schools / education initiatives and its benefits but I would have huge concerns over airlifting artists in for 2 hours on an annual basis in a voluntary capacity - mainly on the basis that it is in complete contradiction to the best practice and guidelines as set out in the Artists ~ Schools Guidelines (2006). There does not appear to be any thought-out plan on the implementation or practicalities or sustainability of this idea. Also I do not think that a government backed charter such as this should be a mechanism which creates, supports or magnifies a two-tier artistic community through exception being made of the most successful amongst us, ie the members of Aosdána who are to be allowed set their own terms. I am not against the donation of time per se within reason.

4.4 Outreach and Education at the National Cultural Institutions
I feel one visit in Second Level is a huge under estimation of the amount of visits that should be conducted throughout a child’s school going years. Ideally I believe it should be one visit per year for all school going children from Early Years through to Second Level (as is being done with Primary Schools engaged in the DLR Creativity in the Classroom programme). Cultural institutions I am sure would welcome the increase in school visits and schools would welcome the opportunity to visit the cultural institutions - the main problem is getting the schools there - this is where the main cost lies and this is something which I feel we need to look at creatively through virtual/ outreach programmes and transport (a cultural bus perhaps?).

4.10 Capital Provision
The only mention of funding to implement the Charter appears to be under Capital funding of facilities. I would have serious concern over funding going into unsustainable facilities with no programme funding being put in place. My experience in Arts in Education is that it is not through lack of facilities in the form of buildings but it is a lack of resources, time and outside professional expertise.

4.17 Arts Rich Schools

This incentive based idea is a great idea as long as it is implemented in a clearly structured programme with associated partner organisations as per the Green Schools programme.

4.18 Music Generation
I would be concerned at Music Generation being the only referenced model of practice in the Charter in that it would seem to be a heavily funded philanthropic programme that may not be sustainable. The Arts in Education Charter is not a philanthropic model and does not appear to have any funding plan aside from the capital funding of facilities and the Public Service Education Dividend - i.e. volunteerism.

In conclusion I welcome the core aims of the Charter I feel it needs more clarity and a more cohesive sustainable structure if it is to achieve its aims to implement a strong Arts in Education model of practice in Ireland. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with the implementation group to present DLR Creativity in the Classroom as a possible model of practice in implementing some of the core aims of the Arts in Education Charter.

DLR Creativity in the Classroom:
Claire Halpin:

Cliodhna Noonan, Director of Acting Up!

Lighting a Fire was a wonderful title for an event that inspired such a fascinating discussion on the first Arts in Education Charter document, which has been drawn up. The title not only refers to the spark of inspiration an arts experience can light within a child’s life in the education system in Ireland, but also to the creation of a moment of reflection in a child’s otherwise increasingly busy schedule. When we sit down by the fire, we relax and take some time to engage with those around us in a social context or indeed in a meditative context. This is an important realisation. My own experience is in the early years arts sector, which I was delighted to see as a recognised section of the charter. Within the early years, it is increasingly apparent that moments, which allow a parent and child or a carer and child to sit together and engage meaningfully with the learning experience, are increasingly rare. Lighting a Fire within this sector of the population is the best guarantee of receiving arts appreciative students into the primary school system and onwards into the secondary school system. During the day, much discussion revolved around policy and how to develop it. In response to this very lively and engaging discussion I would like to offer two points for consideration from my own experience of working within the early years arts sector on the island of Ireland since 2008.

To ensure that the next steps can be taken, in a practical manner, in relation to engaging the education sector with the arts sector and vice-versa, partnership is absolutely essential. Many independent artists and small arts enterprises who have experience in finding funding for various projects from a number of sources are already engaging in this practice. Acting Up!’s first collaborative event involved an international festival, the local VEC, the city arts office and my own independent company and the effect of this partnership meant that one event reached artists, children, childcare workers and childcare trainee students at the same time. If we want to have the greatest impact on both sectors with the sharing of already scarce resources then such models of partnership should be examined and scaled up to the formal education sector. We should look at which organisations are already nationwide and how they can interact with one another, and we should collate the valuable information about those independent artists and small organisations who have already tried and tested these models where the gap that was identified at the conference was successfully bridged and indeed eliminated. Perhaps a showcase of these projects where a minimum of three partners was involved would be a good starting point for the development of best practice models for both departments involved in the charter.

I was a little concerned by the constant reference to an experience of quality and the necessity not to reflect the Norwegian rucksack model. I am presently a member of staff at Sticky Fingers Children’s Art House in Newry, which is a space where children and their carers can drop in to engage freely with the arts experience. What is becoming increasingly apparent through our practice and engagement with the informal sector is that children are losing the sense of creativity that is inherent to their characters from as early as 1.5 years. Very few children entering the Art House have played with paint or play dough in a messy capacity. They are masters of the digital world but the stories they create from this technology are very often linear and lacking an awareness of imagination or they are based heavily on characters and stories that have already been written and created. If this is the reality of the early years sector, children aged 0-6, then how do we define a quality arts experience for the preschools, primary schools and post primary schools and who will police this definition of quality?

Would it not be a more effective policy to ensure regular arts experiences and activities that encourage free engagement with the arts? Shouldn’t all children in Ireland be allowed the freedom to make a mess, have an opinion (weird or wonderful) and choose for themselves which art form best suits their own engagement with creativity. Only a policy that includes regular experiences can inform such practice. Teachers, creative or academic, should be supported by the arts activity whether this enhances the curriculum, calms the classroom space or lights the very valuable spark of the imagination for the first time. Policy development should be informed by the children of this generation who have engaged in arts experiences (prepared or unprepared for that activity) along with their educators and carers and the artists devising the workshop, exhibition or performance experience to ensure that the spark indeed lights a fire in the Irish arts and education sectors.

The Arts-in-Education Charter can be downloaded HERE


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