Hefce 'out of step' with centre

November 29, 2002

An arts centre catering for students with disabilities is struggling to secure cash from the funding councils because of the "inflexible" accreditation system.

A third of students at Leicester University's Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts identify themselves as having a disability, and many have previously found themselves excluded from education and training for a variety of reasons.

Although the centre's eclectic mix of students meets the aims of Leicester's community and lifelong learning strategies, it struggles to secure funding from the Learning and Skills Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The centre's students are very serious about their work and their learning, but many would prefer not to pursue an accredited course leading to an award. This means that these students cannot be categorised for funding purposes as following either an accredited or a recreational course.

Alan Caine, a university fellow at the centre, said: "Often in the case of people with disabilities, their work here may be their total focus in life. To call that recreation just because they don't want to do an accredited course is a huge misunderstanding."

Philip Herbert, the tutor who organises music at the centre, said the funding problem had become the subject of debate in arts centres across the country.

He said: "Taking singing courses as an example, students may wish to spend some time with a tutor just developing techniques. It might be something that takes them on to having the skills to perform, or they might have been inactive and need to refresh their skills. But in terms of being accredited, it is hard to measure what has been learnt."

Requiring courses to be accredited in order for them to attract funding could stifle innovation and flexibility in teaching methods, he added.

"With outside funding, you can work with an artist in residence. A group of musicians can be given the opportunity to work through a masterclass or workshop, and they can learn a lot that way. But you might not be able to do that if you are following an accredited approach," he said.

Centre director Eleanor Hartley said that while she andher colleagues had productive working relationships with a diverse range of funding partners, talks with funding council officials had yet to produce a solution.

She said: "It's a question of how flexible they can be in their accreditation system. The difficulty here arises because we are working in the performing and visual arts, where it is not as easy to fit into traditional accreditation patterns. That means we need to find new ways of accrediting and funding these courses."

She added: "There are some sensible ways of developing accredited work in the arts for people with or without disabilities. It's just that so far not enough time and effort has been devoted to it."

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