The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
You are here:> Home > Developing Practice > Animated magazine > Searchable archive > Autumn 2006 > Putting practitioners in charge
Animated Edition - Autumn 2006
Putting practitioners in charge
Kathryn Deane, Director, Sound Sense
It is a rosy picture that Foundation for Community Dance paints with its Framework for professionalism. A world where practitioners own their own learning, are committed to developing it, and are proud to show it off. A world where 'standards' and 'excellence' fit into the same equation as 'inclusion' and 'flexibility'. Where people are happy to be judged by their peers (notwithstanding that bit about 'flexibility'). And above all where purchasers of your work know, accept, understand, and abide by your standards when deciding who to hire and who to fire.

I applaud the very comprehensive framework laid out. Its elements provide an excellent, coherent, and thoughtful structure. And its values are ones that I - as director of Sound Sense, the UK development agency for community music - and my membership absolutely share (at least, at the level of saying 'we want to do more and better work, not less and worse').

But I worry about the implementation. Of course, I worry about this mainly in how I might see this community dance Framework translating into one for community music: the Foundation and Sound Sense have been ploughing roughly parallel furrows on professional standards for the last three or four years, though I readily accept that in terms of execution you're far ahead of us. But in a consultation meeting I attended in July, I was intrigued to hear much the same sorts of concerns from dance practitioners as I hear from musicians: how can you drive something that is meaningful, that has teeth, while still wanting a large measure of inclusivity and diversity? How do you value experience over qualifications? How do you demonstrate skills, and who would have the right to monitor these?

Perhaps, overwhelmingly, what's the point? We bandy about ideas like 'it will get you more work', 'it'll sort good practitioners out from bad ones', 'it will raise pay levels'. And yes it might - if we were solicitors or accountants or architects. But these and similar professions have two characteristics we don't have in community arts - and from all I've heard from artists, don't ever want.

First, they are highly specific and can describe what they do in technical terms - you know if you're in or if you're out. Have you done the 'what is community dance?' exercise recently? Whenever we try it in community music we end up with twice as many definitions as the number of people we ask. Yes, we know about values and ethos's and no, this isn't enough to define a profession.

Second, these other professions are quite content to become a closed shop. They want to be exclusive. They don't want flexibility. The tighter the rules, the fewer of them can practice, the more money each makes. When I point this out to community musicians, they say no thanks, we'll keep our inclusivity even though it drives down our pay.

So community arts is not a regulated profession. I'm not even sure it's a regulatable one. It's relatively easy to stop an unregulated dentist from pulling out people's teeth. But you can't really stop 'unregulated' people making music or dance with other people, can you?

But maybe we're being driven into a position of needing a pseudo-regulating framework, by those who purchase our services. Admit it, every time you go for a job you're asked about your qualifications, your levels of accreditation, whether you're a member of the Foundation for Community Dance. Oh. you're not? Well, it'll come soon enough. When I joined Sound Sense a dozen or more years ago, I was told 'of course, community musicians don't have to have any qualifications, but you mark my words, within two years they'll all have to have NVQs, minimum, or they're not going to get any work'. Well, NVQs have come and pretty much gone (did you notice? did you miss them?) and I'm still waiting for that moment when my members are barred from getting work.

Maybe that was then and this is now. But it wasn't a couple or three years back when I had my last biennial foray into this subject, and an arts officer was predicting (yet again) the future of a mandatory standard-or-another. 'So you'll take the evidence of that qualification as proof that someone's fit for a job?' I asked. 'Oh no', came the reply, 'I'd still talk to the last couple of people who used him.' Yes, that's how you value experience over qualifications.

What about the near future? According to one of my members purchasers have already leap-frogged over the qualifications thingy (as Tony Blair would put it). 'People knowing whether you are any good as a community musician,' he says, 'comes down to trust.' And, he says, references are an invaluable tool as part of this trust-gaining exercise. Everyone has to discover their own way of getting their message across. Employers have already got beyond codes of conduct and the like and 'are on the look out for higher thinking skills. They are increasingly on the case, not only asking for proof of these things but are using their own specific methods for being able to trust whether such and such a candidate will be able to the job in hand at the quality expected.'

In other words, we're back to the old paradox of community arts: the more inclusive and diverse you want the practice to be, the more you'll have to accept free market conditions in job-hunting.

There is, however, a new black cloud - with an attendant silver lining - on the horizon. Bertrand Russell once said that the problem when people stopped believing in God was not that they believed in nothing, but that they believed in anything. And I think that the problem of not regulating community arts professions is not that nobody will regulate them - we've managed quite successfully with that model for many years now - but that someone else will do it for us. And we won't like the results. Do you consider what you're doing as 'teaching' or 'training'? Then Creative & Cultural Skills is saying that public sector funding will be available only if you posses the new 'Qualified Teacher, Learning and Skills' qualification (that's not your regulating framework, that's someone else's regulating framework). Or perhaps you work with under fives. The Children's Workforce Development Council is moving towards introducing early years' qualifications. Young people in the criminal justice system? More necessary qualifications from Youth Justice Board. And on and on.

But most likely you do some bits of work in each of these sectors, and others besides. It's madness to think you must have a raft of different qualifications for each different setting. It's equal madness that your pay should be barred at some unqualified level just because you possess the wrong bit of paper (if any bit at all) for the sector you work in on Tuesdays. This, I think, is where the Foundation and Sound Sense's efforts should be placed: to ensure that our own professional frameworks are rigorous enough to be acceptable as equivalent to otherwise-mandatory standards for all these sectors.

So, after years of a laid-back approach to the subject of professional standards, for free-market offer and acceptance between practitoner and purchaser, it looks as though the New Labour qualifications agenda might have finally forced our hands. That may be no bad thing. But to be successful in pursuing our own agendas rather than those forced on us by external agents, it's essential that we all jump together. Let's hold hands...

contact info@soundsense.org

The content of this site is proprietary to the Foundation for Community Dance and any access to this site or the use of any content made by any person is expressly subject to these terms:

Unauthorised copying of any material (including artwork) on this site and the reproduction, storage, transmission or the distribution of any content, either in whole or in part and in any medium or format, without the prior written consent of the Foundation for Community Dance and, where appropriate, the author or artist, is not permitted.

Please read our website terms & conditions by clicking here

Animated: Autumn 2006