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MSPs learn about pioneering widening participation initiatives at Scotland’s National Conservatoire to inspire education reform

Members of the Scottish Parliament visited the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland today (Monday, January 15 2018) to learn about the groundbreaking widening participation initiatives at one of the world’s top performing arts education institutions.

Six cross-party MSPs from the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee met with students – who have all come through widening participation programmes – to discover the personal journeys they have taken to enable them to study at Scotland’s national conservatoire.

The committee – James Dornan MSP (Convener); Johann Lamont MSP (Deputy Convener); Liz Smith MSP, Gillian Martin MSP, Ruth McGuire MSP and Tavish Scott MSP – heard from a panel of students from across the disciplines of drama, dance, music, production, film and education. They were also treated to two student performances.

Third year Vocal Studies student Steven Warnock sang a Debussy number followed by I Belong to Glasgow, accompanied by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Principal and pianist, Professor Jeffrey Sharkey. Junior Conservatoire Traditional music student Ruairidh Gray performed a Gaelic song.

The visit was part of the Committee’s work looking at the Scottish Government’s proposals for education reform, ahead of the Education (Scotland) Bill 2018 that will be introduced later this year.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on ideas to reform education in Scotland to help close the gap in attainment between the least and most disadvantaged children, and to raise attainment for all.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has a number of award-winning initiatives committed to widening participation to excellence in performing arts education. They include Transitions which aims to provide funded training for those wishing to study the performing or production arts who would otherwise not be able to do so. It is open to Scottish residents living at postcodes that are identified as being within the top 20% on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) list. Last year there were:

  • 189 students from SIMD 1 and 2 with 103 of these from SIMD1, including care experienced, BAME and D/deaf students
  • Widening Access to the Creative Industries (Production and Performance) is run by the Conservatoire on behalf of FOCUS West, and offers tailored support to S5 and S6 pupils who are interested in progressing in the performing or production arts. This programme works with pupils from FOCUS West schools who have an interest in progressing to college, university or higher education institutions. Last year the Royal Conservatoire:
  • Engaged with 1300 pupils through assemblies, careers fairs, specialist workshops, mentoring and project work

The BA Performance in British Sign Language and English degree programme is the only one of its kind in the UK and enables students to develop as actors and as makers of work, exploring the most innovative ways of creating performance through British Sign Language and English. The programme, designed around the learning and teaching needs of deaf performers, has been developed in association with Solar Bear theatre company with input from a range of theatre, education and deaf professionals and with the support of the Scottish Funding Council.

In 2017, the Royal Conservatoire established its second fair access hub in Fraserburgh, in the north east of Scotland, to provide local access to Junior Conservatoire programmes in music, dance, acting, film and the Transitions initiative. A unique partnership was formed with Dumfries House in 2016 to open up specialist dance and music tuition for young people in Ayrshire.

Key partnership projects across Fair Access initiatives include care-experienced young people through MCR Pathways and Autistic young people through the Limitless Autism project in conjunction with National Theatre Scotland the National Autistic Society

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: “No-one should face barriers to education – it is our belief that nurturing the talent of a greater diversity of people enriches and increases their life choices. Championing diversity and advancing lifelong learning are at the heart of our values at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and our widening access programme enables people from all walks of life to reach their full potential.”

James Dornan MSP, Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, said:  “There couldn’t be a more important topic for us to come to Glasgow than the future of education itself. The Scottish Government has issued plans for radical changes to the way education is delivered in Scotland with a main aim of closing the attainment gap. We want to know what people think of these ideas, whether they will make a difference and what the suggestions for change might be. It is vital we hear from those who have experience of the education system in order that we know what these changes will mean in practice.”

Widening participation practitioners from four other Scottish higher education institutions also attended the consultation at the Royal Conservatoire – Glasgow School of Art, University of Glasgow, University of the West of Scotland, University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University.

More information on the Scottish Government’s Education Bill can be found here.

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