A Cultural Education Challenge

Written by: Laura Gander-Howe | Published:
Photo: MA Education

The Arts Council’s Cultural Education Challenge is aimed at bringing those working in schools and the arts together to deliver effective and inspiring arts education. Laura Gander-Howe explains

We know that art and culture often forms the basis for the best experiences that children and young people share with their families: the colourful books and repeated story-telling, the visit to a welcoming library, the music and laughter, the beloved fridge paintings, visits to see dinosaurs in museums, and the excitement of a trip to the theatre.

In school, the arts light up the classroom to create an enthralling learning environment, they animate teaching and they inspire invention and creative-thinking. The arts help children and young people reach their full potential across the full range of subjects.

At the Arts Council, we believe that every child should have the opportunity to create, compose and perform their own artistic work, be it dance, or drama, literature, visual arts, or music. They should all be able to visit, experience and participate in the extraordinary artistic work of others. They should know more, understand more, and be able to critically review the cultural experiences they have had. All our children deserve a rich cultural education: but not all of them are getting it.

Where are we now?

In 2010 and 2012, the government published two independent reports authored by the now chief executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley, on music and cultural education. They identified a number of strengths in existing provision and the passion providers had for ensuring all children accessed great arts and culture. In summary, the recommendations provided were for an improved national cultural infrastructure and more developed local delivery.

Over the past three years, we think there has been real progress towards developing a national infrastructure for teachers, parents and carers to get involved with. And we have worked with many others across the cultural and educational sectors to do this.

Music Education Hubs were founded to bring together all local music education providers and opportunities with the aim of ensuring that every child has the opportunity to engage and progress across musical genres. They are a key driver of partnerships in local areas between schools and local music education providers, identifying areas of least engagement, while enhancing music provisions.

There are now 123 Music Education Hubs across the country, funded by the Department for Education, with 84 per cent of schools reporting to their local hub.

We hope that hubs and schools will continue to work together to determine what the needs of pupils are and how hubs can encourage musical progression beyond the means of an individual school.

The Department for Education has also recently revised its Governors’ Handbook which now includes a new section on cultural education, emphasising the legal requirement for both maintained schools and academies to promote the cultural development of their pupils. It states that cultural education forms an important part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and children and young people should be provided with an engaging variety of cultural (including music) experiences throughout their time at school.

Ofsted has also confirmed that school inspections must take account of whether schools offer a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum. Music is clearly an element of such a curriculum and it is hoped that Ofsted will give more weight to subjects like music in future when deciding whether a school is good or outstanding. The Arts Council has been working with Ofsted inspectors to support them to identify and comment on cultural education in schools.

The Arts Council has driven up membership of Artsmark, now redesigned. It will be an excellent source of evidence for Ofsted, supporting inspectors to better understand the quality of cultural education within a school. Artsmark complements Arts Award, which we run in partnership with Trinity College London, and which recognises the outstanding achievements of individual young people.

Work with children and young people is now also a part of our funding agreements with some 82 per cent of our 663 national portfolio organisations and 21 major partner museums.

And to help bring these structural elements together we invest £10 million a year into 10 “bridge” organisations. These bridges play a vital role in building local cultural alliances, increasing provision for children and young people and bringing in more revenue. They are now working with more than 7,000 schools, and since 2013 they have levered in more than £11.5 million in additional funding.

All over the country, we are seeing new platforms, partnerships and ways of working to increase arts and cultural provisions. Recent examples include the Times Educational Supplement’s online platform that will give teachers access to arts and cultural teaching resources from organisations such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the V&A, BFI, and the Royal Opera House, with more to come.

There’s also the British Museum, Arts Council and TES Global’s live-streamed World Biggest History Lesson which will help develop skills in learning history using physical objects.

The Cultural Education Challenge

A great deal of progress has been made on a national level, but there is still a long way to go, with arts and cultural provisions remaining patchy across the country.

That’s why we are launching the Cultural Education Challenge – a call for the arts and education sectors to work together and create new ways of collectively addressing the gaps in arts and cultural provisions.

Through the Challenge, we want to encourage the formation of local “Cultural Education Partnerships”, bringing together schools, local authorities, further education providers and others to work together and help address provisions locally.

These Cultural Education Partnerships will be led and initiated by the bridge organisations, who will play a leading role in delivering the Challenge, although strong convenors are encouraged to come forward to help deliver locally as well.

As part of the Challenge, the Arts Council has announced 50 new Cultural Education Partnerships across the country in areas of most need of arts and cultural provisions. They will be modelled on previous pilot partnerships established in Great Yarmouth, Bristol, and Barking and Dagenham (initiated by the Arts Council with partners the British Film Institute, Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage, in response to a number of recommendations made in the Henley Review on Cultural Education in England). The goal is to have these up and running by 2018.

We believe that there should be no barriers to talent. It is our job to ensure that children and young people should not be excluded from the advantages of a quality cultural education through the accident of fate, or because of inequality, prejudice, poverty or isolation. The arts should not be the privilege of the few, but the right of the many.

We need leadership in schools, arts organisations and the partnerships – strong, committed leadership at a local level, individually and collectively. In particular, we need the participation and leadership of headteachers in shaping these Cultural Education Partnerships. It is simply impossible for us to deliver what young people need without the input of schools.

How can schools get involved with the Challenge?

Over the next few months a number of workshops will be hosted by the bridge organisations across the country, inviting local arts organisations, teachers, local authorities and others to attend and find out how they can get involved with the Cultural Education Challenge.

Discover how you can participate and make a difference to the lives of all our children. Details are on our website or available through your local bridge organisation. If you are not in one of our proposed areas, talk to us about how we could work together.

Let’s come together, get these Cultural Education Partnerships off the ground, and give all our children the opportunities they deserve.

  • Laura Gander-Howe is director of children, young people and learning, arts and culture at Arts Council England.

Further information

More information on how to get involved with the Challenge can be found at www.artscouncil.org.uk/culturaleducationchallenge or via the Twitter hashtag #culturaledchallenge


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