Schools urged to join cultural 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 form the basis for the best experiences that young people share with their families: the books and story-telling, visits to a welcoming library, the music and laughter, the fridge paintings, visits to see dinosaurs in museums, and the trips 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.

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. The recommendations 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 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 123 Music Education Hubs across the country, funded by the Department for Education (DfE), with 84 per cent of schools reporting to their local hub.

The DfE 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. The Arts Council has been working with inspectors to support them to identify and comment on cultural education in schools.

The Arts Council has driven up membership of the redesigned Artsmark. It will be a 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 achievements of individual young people.

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

To help bring these structural elements together we invest £10 million a year in 10 “bridge” organisations. These play a vital role in building local cultural alliances, increasing provision for young people and bringing in more revenue. They are now working with more than 7,000 schools.

The Challenge

However, there is still a long way to go, with arts and cultural provisions remaining patchy across the country.
That is 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 partnerships will be led and initiated by the bridge organisations, who will play a leading role in delivering the Challenge – although convenors are encouraged to come forward to help deliver locally.

The Arts Council has announced 50 of these 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 and the goal is to have these up and running by 2018.

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 new partnerships.

Getting involved

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 more to attend and find out how they can get involved with the Cultural Education Challenge. Details are on our website or available through your local bridge organisation. If you are not in one of our proposed areas, you can still talk to us about how we could work together.

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

Further information

Information on how to get involved can be found at or via the Twitter hashtag #culturaledchallenge


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