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Animated Edition - Autumn 2006
The vital ingredient
By Tom Bewick, Chief Executive, Creative & Cultural Skills
The Government is setting out a very challenging agenda for education and training. Later this year, the Leitch Report will provide a forecast to 2020 of the skills we will need to create and maintain a successful economy. It will provide recommendations on what we need to do to achieve that appropriately skilled workforce.

Increasingly, the creative and cultural sector is engaging with this debate - but we are doing so on our own terms. Artistic excellence remains at the heart of what we deliver. Our social values - the role of culture in maintaining an inclusive, cohesive and creative society - are equally important. And economic value - our significant contribution to GDP, our importance as a growing employment sector - is increasing part of the creative and cultural offer.

Of course, economic value is not just about what we can contribute to the wider economy. It also concerns, at a practical micro-level, ensuring artists and practitioners are able to secure job opportunities and earn income. It means making the case for artistic practice as a valid and viable career option.

The Government has established a network of 25 Sector Skills Councils, one for each major area of the economy, to ensure that the practitioner/employer voice is at the centre of this debate. Creative & Cultural Skills represents the areas of Advertising, Craft, Cultural Heritage, Design, Music and the Performing, Literary and Visual Arts. Our role is to act as broker between the sector and education and training providers to ensure that the training offer is properly fit for purpose as the business of our sector continues to grow and develop.

How will we achieve this? Firstly, we will look at the provision of information, advice and guidance on career options. Thousands of people seek to enter our industries each year and there are hundreds of educational routes they can take. We need to make sure we match the right people with the right training offer. We are developing a service to support this, Creative Choices, a web and phone-based service that will steer people in the right direction. We are also working to create alternative entry routes into the creative and cultural sector. The Creative Apprenticeship Programme, currently in development, will provide a work-based learning pathway in areas such as technical theatre, cultural venue administration and creative IT. We will continue our dialogue with the education sector, both Higher and Further Education, to ensure their offer is what employers and practitioners are looking for in future employees.

Secondly, we must ensure that once they have embarked on creative careers, practitioners continue to address their own development needs. Not just artistic development, but building a portfolio of skills to meet the needs of the creative marketplace. Marketing, financial management, managing a freelance career, teaching skills are all as much a part of the creative mix as artistic excellence. Our work with Foundation for Community Dance around the area of professional standards and Skills Passports is an example of action we can take.

And thirdly, we must look at the management and leadership of our industries. A Department for Education and Skills survey shows that two out of three businesses see gaps in the skills of their managers. We would find it hard to argue that this pattern is not repeated in our own sector. We are working with Arts Council England and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council through the Cultural Leadership Programme to tackle this skills gap.

So there are clearly two sides to the development of a skilled workforce. Yes, we can and will work with the education sector to ensure workforce entrants have skills that are fit for purpose. But we must also address our own practice and attitudes. This is what Foundation for Community Dance is seeking to do with its new professional framework.

We will work with the Foundation to create a suite of professional standards on which to base community dance practice. This is not a constricting process - it creates a sound foundation on which dance practice can be built rather than a cage in which practitioners are required to operate. By defining our own standards we give a clear message to employers in the education, health, community and justice sectors where many of our practitioners find their primary employment on what we do and how well we do it. I hesitate to use the image of a level playing field - perhaps a level sprung floor is more appropriate. But defining the basis from which we develop our practice will create an equality of opportunity for dance practitioners, potentially increasing the diversity of those working in the sector.

While Creative and Cultural Skills, with Foundation for Community Dance can provide the project structure and delivery, can offer and bring in expertise in standards and professional development, while Arts Council England, through its Artists Insights programme can support us with expertise and funding, there is a further vital ingredient in the success of this project. And that is you. To create a robust and credible professional framework we need to call on your expert knowledge and on your support in engaging with the project. What is a community dance practitioner? What experience, skills, knowledge and attributes are required for success in this field? Only dance practitioners can answer these questions and create the professional framework our sector demands and deserves.

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Animated: Autumn 2006