Challenge London check in: Waltham Forest CEP

Sharon Trotter, Waltham Forest CEP Lead, looks back on the first two years of the partnership & shares the successes and challenges of embedding cultural learning in the borough

15 February 2021

Image: Young people with their portfolios at the LBoC19 Arts Award Bronze moderation at the William Morris Gallery. Credit: Chantelle Michaux

The story so far

We have achieved a great deal in two years, but there is still much to be done, particularly in terms of securing sustainability. One of the best things about the Waltham Forest Cultural Education Partnership (CEP) has been the building and strengthening of relationships. As William Morris Gallery Learning Manager and a member of the steering group, I have been able to develop contact with senior education leaders in a way that was not possible before. It has provided a new forum for the exchange of information and ideas and discovery of side-by-side synergies.

For example, the CEP was able to broker a connection with Gnome House Community Arts Centre to facilitate a post-lockdown digital art exhibition organised by Willowfield School. It means we are no longer ‘re-inventing the wheel’ and we are able to build on and share the good practice that is happening down the road and beyond.

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Primary Teachers’ CPD: Punchdrunk’s A Small Tale, an LBoC19 project designed to help develop imaginative teaching practices for literacy by placing the teacher at the centre of the creativity. Credit: Chantelle Michaux

Where we started

In 2018 the cultural education sector in the London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF) was fragmented with no overall lead or infrastructure, despite there being a number of arts and cultural organisations and schools doing good work.

In 2016, Key Stage 4 entries to arts subjects in LBWF schools followed national trends, which had fallen to the lowest in a decade. The new Ofsted inspection framework introduced an imperative for pupils to develop ‘Cultural Capital’, however teachers expressed concerns about delivery of this and felt there was a strong need for more borough-wide arts and cultural education advocacy, as these were a low priority with senior leaders. There was also a need for more opportunities to engage non-involved schools and to help local arts and cultural practitioners develop programmes which were relevant to current school needs.

The CEP grew from existing partnerships emerging between the William Morris Gallery (WMG) and the Waltham Forest Music Education Hub (WFMEH). A steering group was subsequently formed with senior education leaders representing settings from each education phase, other strands of Waltham Forest Council, and other local arts and cultural organisations including Soho Theatre, Artillery – the organisers of the E17 Art Trail – and the Barbican Centre.

The selection of Waltham Forest as the first ever London Borough of Culture (LBoC) in 2019 offered an exciting catalyst to address the issues identified by utilising established partnerships and creating new ones to embed cultural learning more strategically within the borough. Challenge London investment from A New Direction, along with matched funding from LBWF Culture provided the means to initiate this work over a two-year period, now further extended to three years. A part time CEP Coordinator was appointed to co-ordinate and oversee activities and events to fulfil the CEP’s Steering Group aims.

How we have achieved our aims

1. A borough wide strategic framework and sustainable legacy for cultural learning

The CEP currently has a wider membership of 114 partners, and has a core steering group representing 17 organisations or council departments. The steering group has created a strategic framework and action plan focussing on five main strands of work; Consultation and Strategic Mapping, Partnership building and Cultural Advocacy, Continued Professional Development (CPD), Increasing opportunities, Inspiring Excellence, and Creative Careers.

2. Improve access for all Waltham Forest young people to high-quality arts and culture and a significant increase in the number of cultural learning opportunities

The CEP engaged with all 88 educational settings within Waltham Forest either via LBoC19 events, special assemblies or CPD. Over 75% of survey respondents from educational settings said the CEP had increased awareness of the benefits of arts and cultural education, and 100% said the CEP had benefited both their setting and children and young people. Working with the LBoC19 programme, it also helped to broker and facilitate over 270 events with arts practitioners and cultural organisations which have attracted over 47,000 participants.

3. Support teachers and education settings to extend and embed creative learning, arts, and culture within their existing curricula through a high quality CPD programme, supporting Artsmark and Arts Award

The CEP has helped tp increase the number of LBWF Artsmark schools from 17 to 31 and enabled 56 children and young people to successfully gain LBoC bespoke Discover and Bronze Arts Awards. It has also delivered 44 high quality CPD events to 585 teachers and arts practitioners. 99% of evaluations rated these events as good or excellent.

4. Encourage LBWF schools to adopt a Cultural Education Lead and include cultural learning within school improvement plans

There are now CEP Leads in 64 education settings (77%) across the borough. Survey respondents reported that 70% of their settings now have arts and cultural learning within their school improvement plans.

5. Improve support and provide CPD for artists and arts and cultural organisations to develop partnerships and ensure their offers are relevant for educational settings

The CEP has established an Artists in Schools database and a fortnightly newsletter which enables communication around arts and cultural activities and opportunities on offer. It has run several networking and CPD events for capacity building individual practitioners and cultural organisations working with schools and has commissioned 22 artists to deliver CPD themselves.

6. Provide opportunities for young people to develop new skills and knowledge related to arts and culture, to enable them to access fulfilling creative careers and employment

The CEP’s Creative Careers Week in October 2020 featured presentations from local creatives and reached 629 secondary students. New resources on creative career pathways were developed to be shared across settings. Teachers, students and practitioners all gave very positive feedback, which has encouraging the set-up of a CEP creative careers sub-group.

Challenges and learning

Communication with some schools can still be challenging despite these schools having named CEP leads. Gaining CEP access to existing forums such as area subject head meetings proved one of most effective communication methods

Virtual CPD during and post-lockdown have also helped attendance. Teachers’ CPD has been much more effective when working closely with them in developing content and delivery. CPD for artists and arts organisations still needs more specific focus with more opportunities for joint training with schools

The Creative Careers pilot has been very well received. However, there is an identified need for an increased CEP focus on post-sixteen students and FE, and also to extend creative careers advocacy to primary level

The CEP’s contact with young people is mostly indirect through partner organisations. It needs increased focus on young people’s voices to identify how we can best to address young people’s views on cultural provision in our next phase

Dance has been neglected in many Waltham Forest schools but there is a new appetite to develop this, much inspired by the New Adventures Dance Company project with Roger Ascham Primary for LBoC19. An active specialist dance network of dance teachers and local and national dance organisations is taking this forward.

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Primary & Secondary Dance CPD with Matthew Bourne's New Adventures Dance Company in March 2020. Credit: Chantelle Michaux

The biggest challenge now is securing a financially sustainable legacy which can support the CEP infrastructure. While LBoC19 offered a unique opportunity and has led to unprecedented level of arts participation within the Borough, we now need to find a way to sustain engagement with a reduced level of resources.

Achieving all the project’s initial aims within the two-year time frame was ambitious. The necessary focus on engagement and delivery in Year 1 left strategic planning and sustainability to Year 2, which then met with the unforeseeable impact of Covid-19.

We are delighted to have secured a further year’s Challenge London funding and I look forward to what we can achieve by working together in our next phase.

This blog summarises a recent evaluation report by consultant Keda Richens. Read the full report here.

Where next?

Find out more about Waltham Forest CEP

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