Young people’s right to a cultural education

  • Young people’s right to a cultural education

At Arts Council England, we believe that great arts and culture should be an integral part of every young person’s education. We know that children’s engagement in arts and culture drops off after the age of ten, but with the creative industries now generating 1 in 20 new jobs, it is vital that we continue to cultivate young creative talent.

Cultural education sparks creativity across the curriculum, encouraging young people to be inquisitive, disciplined and determined. We believe that every child should have the right to create, to compose and to perform; to visit, to experience and to participate in extraordinary work. However, we know that not all of them are getting those opportunities. We know that the provision of cultural education is inconsistent. With public finances stretched, and more than eight million pupils in 24,000 schools, we need to develop new ways of working collaboratively to enhance our cultural education infrastructure.

Important opportunities

That’s why in October this year we launched the Cultural Education Challenge, to encourage sector leaders across the arts, education, local authorities, schools, higher education institutions and others to work together in ‘Cultural Education Partnerships’ to create joined-up arts and cultural provision across the country.

We want these partnerships to drive clear, visible and coherent local arts and cultural offers, to ensure that more children and young people have access to great arts and culture both inside and outside of school. The partnerships will respond to local needs, whilst maximising local assets, pooling local expertise and developing shared visions and priorities. It will be vital to have the participation and leadership of schools, governors and head teachers in shaping these local partnerships.

The Department for Education supports this. School’s Minister Nick Gibb spoke at the launch of the Cultural Education Challenge and said; “Not only does cultural education build the cultural literacy of our pupils, it also has the ability to build positive character traits amongst pupils such as confidence, perseverance, and the ability to cooperate with one’s peers”.

The Governors’ handbook now states that ‘cultural education forms an important part of a broad and balanced curriculum’ and it is a ‘legal requirement for both maintained schools and academies to promote the cultural development of their pupils’. Ofsted has also confirmed that school inspections must take account of whether schools offer a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum.

Much has been done already to increase the quality and provision of cultural education for children and young people. Artsmark, now redesigned, by schools for schools, can help unlock the potential of children and young people, help to develop character and talent, and increase their knowledge and understanding. The new Artsmark award will help schools to deliver a high quality arts and cultural education and to demonstrate this to Ofsted. Artsmark have access to exceptional resources that will help them develop and strengthen their arts provision.

Artsmark complements Arts Award, which we run in partnership with Trinity College London, and which recognises the outstanding achievements of individual young people. Music Education Hubs bring together all local music education providers to ensure that every child has the opportunity to engage and progress across musical genres. We have also invested £10 million in ten Bridge organisations across England, which play a crucial role in connecting young people with cultural provisions. Over 7000 schools work with their respective Bridge organisations already.

Linking together

Work with children and young people is a part of our funding agreements with arts organisations and museums across the country, who will be key partners in designing local cultural education offers. And we are seeing new platforms, partnerships and ways of working. Recent examples include the development of the new TES online platform that gives teachers access to arts and cultural teaching resources from organisations such as the V&A, BFI, and the RSC.

The Arts Council has identified 50 new Cultural Education Partnerships across the country, in areas of most need. They will be modelled on pilot partnerships established in Great Yarmouth, Bristol and Barking & Dagenham, initiated by the Arts Council with partners the British Film Institute, Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage. Our national Bridge organisations will catalyse and support these partnerships.

We are focused on getting these 50 partnerships up and running by 2018, and we are encouraging other strong convenors to come forward to help deliver the Challenge in other areas. It is simply impossible for the partnerships to deliver what pupils and schools need, without the input of schools, and we call for all schools, governors and head teachers to get involved in shaping these local partnerships.


Althea Efunshile is deputy chief executive, Arts Council England.