Education and Culture – re-imagining a Grand Partnership

27 June 2013

I joined an illustrious panel at the RSA last week to debate the current picture regarding the relationship between arts & culture and education.

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As we spend pretty much every waking minute at A New Direction thinking about these issues it was great to have an opportunity to hear from others and test some of our views with the room.

Sue Horner, the chair of the RSA academies wrote a very thoughtful and useful paper in advance of the event which outlined current challenges and made the case for all schools to have an arts policy. The RSA and the Arts Council (joint sponsor of the event) are going to publish this and the other papers in this series in September – with an analysis of the implications and future steps.

Also on the panel were Caroline Sharp from the NFER and Michael Boyd – former director of the RSC – both of whom spoke with passion about the positive role cultural organisations can play in the education of young people.

I highlighted three very well developed international initiatives to help illustrate where this 'grand partnership' might go;

The examples I chose were:

The Lincoln Centre Institute – set up over 25 years ago by the Lincoln Centre, currently opening 18 new charter schools in the Bronx all of which will be based around the design principles of imaginative and creative learning.

Big Thought in Dallas – a programme of cultural and creative opportunity for young people (especially from the most deprived neighbourhoods). In a city of 1.2 million people they reach over 300,000 young people, teachers and families per year.

Kuopio in Finland – where they have a system called 'Cultural Paths' which means learning takes places in arts and cultural organisations across the city, creating bonds between students, the cultural sector and the wider community.

In different ways these examples suggest a radical approach to collaboration between culture and education and they are all about structural and long-term working, not project-based or transactional relationships.

The current dynamism in the schools system could make this kind of radicalism a possibility in the UK – thinking about the 90,000 new school places needed in London by September 2016 and the hunger from schools for support to innovate around the curriculum (particularly within academies/free schools) and use the arts to bring to life 'non-arts 'subjects.

The three challenges for the cultural sector could be:

  • Who might be prepared to set up schools in the manner of the Lincoln Centre?
  • Who might be willing to collaborate differently? Maybe even pooling resources across cultural organisations and speaking with one voice to schools.
  • Are we sure that our practice is good enough in a learning context? If we are not one hundred per cent clear on this how can we have a sensible conversation with a head teacher?

The discussion in the room (of about 50 arts leaders) was very rich with lots of good suggestions coming forward as to how we (the cultural sector) can move this agenda forward.

Much of the debate centred on whether we could (or should) push a notion of a minimum level of cultural provision for all students and/or how to catalyse local partnerships (perhaps drawing on area based curriculum models) to try and engage more schools in cultural partnerships on the ground.

Matthew Taylor made the point that if we are looking for a way of providing a universal solution to reach all schools it might be better to think in terms of minimum 'capacity' in all places to develop initiatives and broker partnerships across schools – rather than a minimum level of provision all schools have to offer. Potentially arts organisations, libraries, museums – and others – could fill this space – (with the Bridge coordinating and supporting?).

This was the last of three discussions instigated by Peter Bazalgette's Grand Partnership speech and ACE will publish the results in September 2013. In the meantime we would love to hear from you if you have an opinion on this subject.

  • Is there mileage in campaigning for a minimum level of cultural provision across schools - or is that a distraction?
  • Could the cultural sector provide crucial brokerage capacity at local level?
  • What are the most important actions a cultural organisation could take in order to do more in an education context?
  • Are there brilliant examples of cultural education work you would like to share with us?

To find more examples of innovation and to join the Connected London discussion on how to build cultural education capacity across London click here

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