By Sharon Givans (Associate Director, EdComs) and Meghan Oliver (Senior Research Executive, EdComs).
The second Schools Forum of 2014 took place on 20 March at the Museum of London, and was attended by teachers and representatives from arts and cultural organisations across London. At the forum, we shared the findings from research recently commissioned by AND and carried out by EdComs (a research agency), exploring brokerage between London schools and arts & cultural organisations, as well as how schools are engaging their pupils with the arts. The event gave teachers an opportunity to discuss the research in light of their own experiences, before collaborating to develop their own top tips for encouraging greater cultural engagement amongst schools across London.
The research was carried out through an online survey for cultural practitioners and organisations, and through focus groups for teachers. The key findings from the research with cultural practitioners and organisations were that: cultural organisations would like a greater understanding of how to effectively communicate with schools, that relationships and communications with schools were predominantly lead as a result of the personal touch (eg. previous experience of working together, personal contacts within the school or via word of mouth endorsements from other teachers, and face-to-face visits at schools), that face-to-face contact with schools was seen to be the most effective way to communicate with schools, that direct marketing and organisations websites were perceived as further popular sources of information for schools to find out about organisations and that communications were commonly directed to schools all across London.
Teachers participating in the research focus groups felt that their schools currently had a fair level of cultural activity, and that this was unlikely to increase. These schools tended to take up ‘off the shelf’ offers from cultural organisations, and didn’t always rely on a pre-existing relationship with the cultural organisation they worked with. Quality assurance was important to ensure that teachers would commission a cultural activity with an external provider.
These teachers were generally confident in how they searched for new cultural opportunities, often going back to good past experiences, recommendations from other teachers and general searching online. Direct marketing had little resonance as a way of finding new partners.
The main barrier identified by teachers in the focus groups to increasing arts and cultural activity with partner organisations and practitioners, was the time needed to research and organise them, something that chimed with the Forum’s attendees.
Through table discussions, teachers explored and responded to the research findings. The forum attendees broadly agreed with the findings, and shared their own experience and practice. We’ve drawn out some highlights below:
Finding arts and cultural partners
For many teachers, word of mouth from colleagues is the best way to find out about good quality partners for arts and cultural activity. Attending conferences, networking events and taster or INSET sessions can be a great way to find out what is available and test quality before thinking about a larger piece of work. Your local music hub (every borough has one) may offer networking events or be able to recommend local organisations to work with. If your school is part of a teaching school alliance, you may have a Cultural Ambassador – see here to find out more. Arts Council England recently launched a database of teaching resources for creative and cultural education which might provide a few ideas of organisations to work with.
Planning arts and cultural activities in schools
Although schools may have natural advocates for arts/cultural activities, it cannot be the responsibility of one person. Relationships, and information, can be lost when individuals change schools/roles. Work with arts and cultural organisations is most effective when it is tailored to the needs of the school, by working with staff to co-plan. This is particularly important for teachers who are organising activities across subjects and/or year groups. Schools may be able to work in partnership with arts and cultural organisations to apply for joint funding to deliver a bespoke project. Long term partnerships can be particularly effective; a model based on staff INSET followed by co-planning and delivery enables staff to develop their own skills as well as those of students. Local opportunities can also be helpful in reducing the time and cost involved in travel, and reinforceconnections with the local community.
Time and quality
The biggest challenge identified for schools in the focus groups and at the Forum is lack of time to find partners and plan projects. Schools are concerned about ensuring the quality of work with new partners – as mentioned above, tasters, INSETs, conferences and networking can be useful ways to start to overcome both of these challenges.
In the second part of the forum, teachers compiled their ‘top tips’ for brokerage and partnership working with arts and cultural organisations.
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