In 2012 A New Direction commissioned the NFER to investigate cultural education in London Schools. It involved a rapid evidence assessment, a survey of senior leaders in London Schools, detailed consultations with ten schools and a segmentation of the schools which responded to the survey.

The study is an important step in the process of understanding the extent to which schools in London engage with cultural organisations and the key barriers and drivers of engagement.

It showed that, overall, schools are reasonably committed and active when it comes to engaging with cultural providers. However, it also highlighted that commitment to cultural education is by no means homogenous across all schools. A substantial minority do not refer to cultural education in their school development plans or have a member of the governing body with responsibilities for cultural education.

London schools also tend to be far less engaged with the creative and cultural industries (e.g. digital arts, broadcasting) than they are with music, theatre, museums and galleries. Geographical proximity to cultural opportunities also seems to be having an impact as schools in outer London are less engaged than those in inner London.

The research also identified some key barriers to schools’ cultural engagement. These include lack of funding, transport issues (particularly for special schools), lack of information about the available opportunities, and time to arrange activities.

In terms of factors that encourage schools to build partnerships with cultural providers, a tailored offer from cultural organisations is crucial. Schools want activities that are relevant to the curriculum, that meet their needs, that are high quality in terms of planning and communication as well as delivery, and that ultimately benefit their young people’s life chances. Best practice from consultations with schools highlights the importance of accessing local cultural provision, incorporating teacher development into activities, school-school collaborations, and leveraging funding from various sources.

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