Report: National Cultural Organisations and Bridges

A summary of key findings from a short investigation into how national cultural organisations, Bridges and schools currently work together

1 December 2020

In early 2020, Arts Council England's 10 Children and Young People Sector Support organisations (Bridges) commissioned a piece of research into how we could work more effectively with national organisations for the benefit of children across England. The work was commissioned prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the research took place as the first national lockdown started. This had a significant impact on the timescale of the research as many staff from the learning and participation departments of national organisations were furloughed. The research, however, was completed in the summer, and we are really pleased to share the Executive Summary to support a more joined up and strategic conversation with national organisations over the next year.

Read the executive summary

The starting point for this work was the premise that national organisations are a highly significant asset and resource in the national cultural education ecology. Many have national touring remits and exercise a sector leadership role, with a strong brand identity, a reputation for quality provision, a range of models, programmes, and a body of knowledge that has a status and currency, particularly with schools outside of London. A significant amount of their national delivery is distributed through their learning and participation teams who are balancing innovation alongside large scale delivery. Some national organisations also have the capacity to commission research, and many choose to invest in local and regional partnership infrastructure.

The Bridge organisations have a clear remit from Arts Council England to work strategically to ensure all children and young people can engage with high quality arts and culture. This is achieved through their own programmes and their stewardship of the network of Local Cultural Education Partnerships that they nurture. Each Bridge has a significant knowledge of the variety of cultural and educational provision in their region and the communities they serve.

We found in our research that the dialogue and relationships between Bridges and national organisations has not been consistent. For instance, Bridges are often unaware when delivery takes place in a region, and national organisations are often unaware of how we might support them. This feels like a missed opportunity to create an equitable distribution of offers in a place and ensure that the wider cultural infrastructure collaboratively reaches the widest number of children and young people possible.

We were keen for the research to:

  • provide insight to inform joint planning of schools/young people provision across the network of Bridges and national organisations
  • inform Arts Council England and other investors of key challenges and opportunities that are relevant to the development of a national strategy around schools engagement
  • uncover and share good practice across the cultural education community that will help raise the standard of work across the sector
  • extend networks and contacts
  • provide greater awareness on questions of remit and specialism, that will help develop joint working in the future.

Since the work was commissioned, obviously the world has changed and it is likely to continue to change over the coming months and years. The pressures on schools and the cultural sector and the uncertainty we all face around how we can work together more effectively is going to be challenging. In the short term as we all reset and rebuild, the ten Bridges are planning to hold a series of conversations in the Spring of 2021 (most likely online) to explore future collaboration, dialogue and partnership working with national organisations. Dates for these will be shared in early 2021.

One of the key findings from the research was that, until now, Bridges have not had a consistent system for national bodies to engage with them. The ten Bridges are all unique organisations operating collaboratively, but within their own delivery systems. We accept that to reduce confusion we need a simple, clear way to ensure national organisations can engage with the relevant Bridge for the regions they are considering working in. As a first step, each Bridge has identified a lead individual as a point of contact. Details below:

Names of national leads

We hope you enjoy the Executive Summary, and hope this is a first step to better co-ordination of regional and national cultural learning infrastructures that will place the aspirations, needs and situations of children and young people at their heart. We are grateful for the work of Natalie Highwood and Chloe Bird in undertaking the research.

Where next?

our research

our local partnerships programme

our cultural sector programme

Image credit: Roger Brown for A New Direction