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Education: Dance and Drama Awards

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 20 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have to develop and increase funding for the dance and drama awards scheme.

My Lords, in the coming academic year the Learning and Skills Council, which manages this programme on behalf of my department, will invest nearly £15 million in the dance and drama awards scheme. Thereafter, investment in the scheme will be subject to the outcome of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and declare an interest as a supporter of the Hammond School of Dance and Education in Chester, whose young and gifted pupils recently received a national dance and drama award from the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Given the job opportunities, especially in the cultural and entertainment industries, and given the fact that these dance and drama awards can go to young people from all backgrounds, will my noble friend seriously consider increasing the number of the awards and their worth?

My Lords, I recognise the good work of the Hammond school and I agree that these awards—which were introduced by the Government in 1999 on the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in his 1997 report—have been important for thousands of gifted and talented young people, who have been able to access the best training available whatever their economic background. As for job opportunities, the entertainment industry in this country is not some kind of ethereal and self-indulgent activity, but a core part of economic growth.

My Lords, although I welcome these awards—indeed, the Guildford School of Acting has benefited enormously from them—there is some concern that they do not reflect the full diversity of British society and culture. Does the Minister agree that there is a need to broaden the focus of training to include, for example, African and Asian forms of dance that British professional companies are practising but for which there are very few opportunities for training?

My Lords, I agree that it is important to open up opportunities for under-represented groups. I hope that the noble Baroness will be encouraged by the fact that the Learning and Skills Council funds initiatives aimed at widening participation in these awards—for instance, it grant-funds participating schools to provide training and opportunities for under-represented groups and it funds training for students with disabilities.

My Lords, further to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about inclusivity, will my noble friend look at the nature of the awards, which require the student to find match funding? That may be a disincentive for some of the groups that should be encouraged to participate in these awards.

My Lords, the dance and drama award pays the majority of the student’s fees, leaving a relatively small contribution for the student to find, as my noble friend rightly says. In 2006-07, the student contribution was £1,200. To put this in context, before 1999 the award was not available at all, but nearly 10,000 students have now been through the scheme—I like to think of it as the Billy Elliot scheme—and are doing well in theatre, dance, ballet, opera and television.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a strong supporter of the Guildford School of Acting, formerly the Grant-Bellairs school, which is one of the most famous in the country. The school not only needs award support, but is always seeking to develop its capital infrastructure. Most support for that should come from the private sector, but is there any public sector support for capital developments and new buildings for the Guildford school and other such schools around the country?

My Lords, I recognise the good work of the Guildford school, which has now been mentioned by two noble Lords. The music and dance scheme has slightly more funding to use for capital projects, but this fund follows the student.

My Lords, I rise with some diffidence as a former governor of the Guildford School of Acting. I strongly support what my noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said.

My Lords, the Guildford school is indeed well represented here. It could perhaps have a revue of its own.

My Lords, I was delighted to hear what has happened following the report with which I was involved in 1997. However, if poor parents have to find £1,200, that absorbs most of the £1,500 that the Government make available to poor students to encourage them to stay on after the age of 16. Does the Minister agree that that is a pity?

My Lords, perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord by saying that the award students can also apply for income-assessed student support, which is like the old means-testing.