Children’s Arts News

Arts Backpack UK launched at the National Theatre

 On Saturday 4 August 2018, Action for Children’s Arts (ACA) launched the Arts Backpack UK at the National Theatre. This is a project which, if implemented, will ensure that every primary school child in the UK has at least five cultural experiences in the school year. It has been proposed to government ministers, representatives from Arts Council England and key individuals within the sector as a way to combat the diminishing role that arts subjects play in schools across the UK.

The idea is inspired by similar schemes worldwide: the Norwegian Cultural Rucksack, the Israeli Cultural Breadbasket and the German Culture Rucksack in Nuremberg. The principle is to offer every primary school child in the UK a digital rucksack, where they can collect their Arts, Cultural, Heritage and Library experiences throughout the year. The aim is to collect a minimum of five experiences.

At the National Theatre launch of this project, ACA put out the call for an individual to carry out a feasibility study. Those wishing to apply can click here to download the brief.

The feasibility study has been generously funded by Arts Council Northern Ireland, Assitej UK, Belfast City Council, Cambridgeshire Music, Fife Council and two generous donors; and match-funded by ACA.

The Arts Backpack is championed by ACA patrons including David Almond, Sir Alan Ayckbourn CBE, Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, David Bintley CBE, Mrs Felicity Dahl, Michael Foreman, Jamila Gavin, Anna Home OBE, Michelle Magorian, Roger McGough CBE, Philip Pullman CBE, Lynne Reid Banks, Sir Tony Robinson and Dame Jacqueline Wilson. When adding his support, Michael Foreman said: “Art was my boyhood ‘magic carpet’ to a world of Wonder.  It has been all my life.  Every child should have the opportunity to go on this ride.”


Notes for Editors

Contact for information:


Action for Children’s Arts (ACA) is a national membership organisation embracing all those who believe that every child deserves access to artistic and creative activity. The charity is dedicated to the promotion, development and celebration of all creative and performing arts, for and with children. ACA is proud that its membership ranges from individual artists, to National Portfolio Organisations, to parents and teachers – all championing the cause of giving every child access to the arts.

President: David Wood, OBE

Chair: Vicky Ireland, MBE

Patrons: David Almond, Jenny Agutter OBE, Sir Alan Ayckbourn CBE, Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, David Bintley CBE, Malorie Blackman OBE, Sir Quentin Blake CBE, Sir Matthew Bourne OBE, Joseph Coelho, Mrs Felicity Dahl, Dame Carol Ann Duffy CBE, Peter Duncan, Michael Foreman, Jamila Gavin, Anna Home OBE, Shirley Hughes CBE, Sir Nicholas Hytner, Terry Jones, Judith Kerr OBE, Julian Lloyd Webber, Joanna McGregor OBE, Michelle Magorian, Roger McGough CBE, Sir Michael Morpurgo OBE, Nick Park CBE, Philip Pullman CBE, Lynne Reid Banks, Sir Ken Robinson, Sir Tony Robinson, Michael Rosen, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Benjamin Zephaniah.

Children’s Arts News: 30 July

News from ACA Patrons:

Floella Benjamin to give BookTrust annual lecture – ACA Patron Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE will deliver this year’s BookTrust Annual Lecture. Her lecture will take place on 11th October at Royal Institute of British Architects in London.

Jacqueline Wilson Creative Writing Prize 2018 – ‘I’d wanted to find a special friend ever since I came here. However, I never thought I’d find such an amazing one! …’ If you know someone aged 7-12 with a story to tell on the theme of unlikely friendships, encourage them to enter by 14 September.

Michael Rosen on making children laugh – ‘Making children laugh isn’t terribly difficult. You just have to understand where the laughter is coming from, and why it’s necessary in a child’s development. I’m no scientist, neurologist or psychologist, but I know it helps them find their way in life.’


Call for scripts – Beginning July 1, 2018, New Plays for Young Audiences seeks new unpublished and unproduced full-length play scripts for young audiences for their 22nd season, June 2019. The final date that submissions for 2019 will be accepted is October 31, 2018.

Free summer art workshops for children in Ulster University – Thanks to sponsorship from the Garfield Weston Trust in London, the university and graduates have teamed up to host a series of free art workshops for children, beginning on Thursday, August 9.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum offers music workshop – the workshop will be lead by a professional musician and is aimed at children aged 3-8.

More News:

What makes a school Outstanding? We asked pupils – TES puts Listening to Children into practice, asking schoolchildren what they think makes their schools outstanding.

School wins OPAL Gold Award for teaching children to play – Rosa Street Primary School has created a covered sandpit, mud kitchen, den building and dressing up area in its playground. Headteacher Helen Ashton said: “We wanted to teach children how to play, purposeful play is good for language, listening, speaking and cooperation skills.”

Hundreds of primary school children perform at Riversfest – The pupils, from schools in the Rivers CE Academy Trust, performed songs, gymnastic and dance displays. Kate Brunt, Trust Founder and CEO said:  “All of our Academy Schools have talented music specialists and were also supported by Paula Evans, our specialist singing and musical theatre teacher in the production of this spectacular performance.”

Twitter celebrates children’s book illustrations

ACA Trustee James Mayhew was the brains behind a new global Twitter trend: #favekidsbookart

On Monday 7 August, Twitter was filled with people’s favourite children’s book illustrations. It was a wonderful celebration of the (often) unsung heroes who bring our favourite stories to life, and ACA was delighted to see so many of its patrons mentioned. To sum up the day, illustrator and Trustee James Mayhew said: “I think #favekidsbookart was huge triumph – fabulous images trending from 9am to 6pm, new artists discovered, old faves shared. Brilliant.”

See our favourite moments from the day here:



Tony Gouveia Remembered

Tony Gouveia Remembered

It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the death of TYA practitioner, Tony Gouveia.
Tony was part of TYA and ASSITEJ UK for many years and recently became an Adviser for ACA.He was unique, hugely talented, charismatic and caring.
He was greatly loved and will be sorely missed.

TYA UK and ACA representatives attended his funeral.
He is a remembrance from his great friend and work colleague, David Johnston. Please click here to read it.

There will be a memorial for him in July, at the Arcola Theatre.

Details will be released nearer the time.

A Time to Dream

Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

How do today’s children discover themselves and the world when everything has to be calculated, tested and evaluated? Where is our next Isaac Newton, lying under a tree, seeing the apple drop, and that sudden imaginative leap of realisation that there was such a thing as gravity? Are children given the space and time to explore, ponder and even be bored?

Politicians pursue higher and higher attainment in education but downplay the arts: music and drama are non-existent in many schools. So where does imagination fit? We are urged to admire the Tiger mother and the high achievers of Singapore. As with the Olympics, we want to be top, top, top and bathe vicariously in the incredible achievements of the very few, thinking, “that could be me if I only work hard enough.” In India, with its expanding middle class, children feel they must now get to nearly 100% in their exams if they are to make it into the small number of “top” universities. I had a long conversation with a twelve year old boy on his way back to one of India’s most prestigious schools. I asked him how he liked school, and he said with deep contempt, “I’m sick of it.”

I loved seeing children sitting on the beach by the sea in a recent blog – but hoped that they weren’t then having to collate their experiences; over analyse, articulate and compile their thoughts, for the sole purpose of being marked and assessed. Inspiration is the sister word to Imagination. It may only be 1% of the creative process, but without it……so if those children were on the beach to be inspired, then hooray! That should be our model. Writing is about communication; a tool for every child to give voice to who they are: their ideas; their take on the world. They can tell their stories and communicate their excitement, aspirations, humour, and troubles. I often visit schools where teachers tell me proudly that they have given me their best pupils – and how talented so and so is, but I want to cry out – no – give me your “lowest achievers”; they are the ones who need to find their voice.

Children can be desperately lacking in confidence, with low self esteem, who feel their own lives have no value. So I would put the arts and creativity firmly at the heart of the curriculum. They open doors; bring surprises and, we know, impacts on all their other work. If we, as teachers, can reveal to children, especially those imprisoned within inner city classrooms surrounded by high, barbed-wire fences, that there is an extraordinary world out there, and that the voice of every single one of them is important – no matter how stammering or timid – then we will uncork all their potential, and they will discover it for themselves. Give our children time to dream.

This post was kindly contributed by ACA Patron, Jamila Gavin. It was originally written for Arvon Teachers as Writers.

Children’s TV/media rights?

Children’s TV/media rights?

Some thoughts for ACA by Oli Hyatt Animation U.K.

“UK originated content is quickly disappearing from our screen despite an ever increasing dearth of platforms pushing it out.
Public Service Broadcasting commercial channels are reversing out of children original content, with their investment falling 96% in a little over ten years. The BBC has produced over 60% less original hours over the same period.

Children’s content is in crisis and Ofcom seemingly powerless to reverse the decline despite consistently airing their concern. I do wonder where the next incentive or intervention can come from.
The BBC is an easier fix. Whatever the outcome of the BBC settlement it will give Children’s parity in funding to Adults. Sounds fair doesn’t it, I’m happy to argue over what “parity” means, but as a concept it just feels like a good place to start.
What we need is a bold ambitious plan for our children’s content. One thing’s for sure, the next couple of years will be crucial in defining what the long term outcome for children’s content is”.

Magic dust that lasts : Writers in schools – Arts Council England

Writers working with children and young people in schools offer them experiences that can inspire and unlock their creative expression, regardless of age, gender, home background or attitudes. These experiences can be very varied and involve many different writers such as poets, novelists, journalists, non-fiction writers, playwrights, storytellers, digital authors and many others. The focus of projects may be equally varied, from writing based on personal experience to reporting an event in the community.
Many schools agree there are benefits that make a significant contribution to how children learn about the excitement and power of language and the imagination, and working with writers is part of children’s entitlement in the national curriculum.
Sue Horner

King’s College Cultural Enquiry into access to the arts for young people – speech by Vicky Ireland

The below linked file is a recent article by Sir Ken Robinson and below is a verbatim speech which was Vicky Ireland’s contribution to the King’s College Cultural Enquiry into access to the arts for young people.


My name is Vicky Ireland.  I am part of the living archive of this conversation having been born in 1945 and started work in 1966 as a member of the newly established TIE (Theatre-in-Education) team at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry. You are talking about my life.

Having to justify the goodness and the right of arts in our lives makes me so angry. Since cavemen painted on walls we have known the benefit of the arts; why do we have to keep proving it when we have masses of documentation and evidence? It is a Sisyphean task, with results to be forever ignored by politicians because the importance of arts and culture in our lives, is not a vote-catcher.

Why not? Because we are a philistine community in England, puritanical since Oliver Cromwell, ‘the arts are degenerate; they are a luxury; they are an add-on’, they are not recognised as something that enhances the quality of everyday life. 

Until the person in the street is re-educated to understand that the arts are integral, and this becomes a voting issue, nothing will change and change becomes more difficult.

When I started at the Belgrade I was interviewed by the city council, local philosophers.  They employed me; they had vision; they had passion; ordinary people who put the money together to make that TIE team happen and employ seven people.  A brilliant, brave, grass-roots initiative that shared the big questions of life with children, and which has since spread all around the world. But Theatre-in-Education has largely disappeared in England because Arts Council policy decided it would be better to have a sole Education Officer, rather than an autonomous  team and this has morphed into, “the Education Department”.

Organisations should be inclusive, with work for young people and children firmly rooted within their portfolio but if this view is not held and initiated by the person at the top, it becomes ghettoised; the main body does not do the work because the Education Department does it.  It has taken the National Theatre fifty years for its Artistic Director to allow work for little children to be commissioned and staged within one of its main theatres, rather than hived out to the Education Department.  Until arts organisations recognise that they have to serve all of the community, arts for young people will continue to be, in many cases, an add-on. 

We hoped the big questions TIE asked of children would continue to be asked, but having watched arts for children all my life, the difference now is that material is anodyne. Safe titles, safe content  no risk factor.  We have lost the passion to discuss the difficult. I talk to students in drama schools; they do not vote, they are not interested in politics; they have not been introduced to the great “whys”,  of life at an early enough age to form their own perceptions and voice.

We need to wake up and speak up for the  arts; for the importance of their place in our  live, for grass roots initiatives; for  passionate and talented artists to create challenging  work for, and with children,  -in order to develop a more caring, courageous and creative society.

We ignore doing this at our peril.


Ken Robinson article PDF

Serious Music

I have been wondering, ever since I heard last year’s Family Prom, why the choice of orchestral music for children is so limited. I think I found the answer when I read a few days ago that Saint-Saens would not allow Carnival of the Animals to be published in his lifetime because he thought it would detract from his image as a serious composer. His publishers persuaded him to make an exception for The Swan because it was so popular, but none of the other fourteen movements was published until after his death.

Perhaps he was right.  A.A.Milne famously regretted that, after Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh, he was never taken seriously again as a writer, only as a children’s writer. The lack-of-seriousness-by-association is less of a problem for children’s authors now, but it seems that it still is for composers.

The repertoire is very small.  The top three are Carnival of the Animals, Peter and the Wolf and The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Then there’s Fauré’s Dolly Suite (the Berceuse known better to some of us as the signature tune to Listen With Mother) and Elgar’s Nursery Suite.  The latter was written for the young princesses Margaret and Elizabeth, the former for the daughter of the composer’s mistress (he was French, after all). The pieces by Britten and Prokoviev were both commissions, Britten’s as the soundtrack to an educational documentary, Prokoviev’s for the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow. That was in 1936. How many such commissions have there been since?

In last year’s Family Prom we heard Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Debussy’s Clair de Lune, an extract from Shostakovich’s Symphony No.4 and a new piece called My Concerto in Ee Lad, supposedly composed by Grommet. The concert ended with a screening of the latest Wallace and Grommet film, the soundtrack for which was played live by the orchestra. The programme was typical of most family concerts in that it consisted, to quote from the BBC Proms website, of ‘classical favourites for all the family’.

It’s not so long since books for children were similarly limited to classical favourites – nineteenth century classics ‘re-told for children’, abbreviated versions of Oliver Twist and Gulliver’s Travels, Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe. It was only when writers like A.A.Milne, J.M.Barrie, Richmal Crompton and the like, all of whom wrote books for grown-ups, made the fatal mistake of writing something for children too, that children began to reap the benefits, publishers to discover the market and authors to suffer the consequences.

Nothing like the riches of contemporary children’s literature is to be found in the concert hall, only the three staples of family concerts (Prokoviev, Saint-Saens, Britten), popular classics and excerpts from longer works.

Is it that concert halls are not suitable places for children? I once attended a concert given by a chamber orchestra on a tour of secondary schools which began, not with music, but with the conductor explaining to the parents and children in the audience when they should applaud and when not. That was twenty years ago, but just the other day orchestras were accused by the head of one of the major record labels of putting off young audiences by their stuffy adherence to old-fashioned conventions, such as not applauding between movements.

Is it that music for children is seen as essentially different from music for grown-ups in a way that literature for children is not? There is a continuum of reading experience from childhood to old age in which what you read and how old you are matters less than the act of reading itself. But this does not seem to be true of music.

Is it a class thing?

Or is it just that composers are afraid of not being taken seriously?

Neil Rathmell