Imagining a plan for cultural education

With the announcement following the publication of the White paper in England that work would begin on a National Plan for Cultural Education many will have applauded the announcement, and many will see this as part of a long history of policy and approaches that sought to champion cultural education. Music education has received considerable attention; the publication of the refreshed National Plan for Music Education renewed a commitment to music for children and young people though brought with it future changes to the mechanisms that enable it beyond schools (such as the refreshed approach to the Music Hub programme). I’ve previously written about the refreshed plan for the Cultural Learning Alliance.

Advocacy work abounds, and this is important; the Arts in Schools report revisited will be an important read for any Cultural Educational panel assembled to consider the plan chaired by Baroness Bull. I wonder how much will have changed since the original report in 1982; will recurrent themes emerge? I wonder too what role the recent work on creativity (Durham Commission and others) will contribute to a national plan for cultural education; will the plan aspire to introduce qualifications and assessments or will it focus on provision alone? Will this cultural education plan attempt to capture all the non-musical arts subjects? Is it more than subjects?

The opening picture at the top of this post was my attempt at a quick brainstorm for a cultural education plan. My priorities would be working with and through practitioners and organisations; I wouldn’t want to see organisations alone. I’d also want to think deeply about who cultural learning professionals are, and how brave we can be to encapsulate a range of practice and makers. This is why the local is so essential to me, but I recognise there will be educational settings where the local will be very different to others. And we have a variety of national programmes that are worthy of supporting.

Can we make systemwide commitments for cultural engagement where the local offer can be so variably? And the NPO announcement on Friday further exemplifies this. But the announcement on Friday of some reductions to some organisations might yield reductions in learning and participation work. The recently published salary recommendations from the Museums Association place L&P colleagues perhaps lower than teachers in schools; I wondered what might be possible if we were to align these roles in the expectations for salary.

I’d want cultural education to be more than short term experiences; I’d want to consider how we weave cultural experience, engagement and learning through the life of the school in and beyond the curriculum. I’d want there to be space for considering how networks of practice that bring educators and cultural learning professionals in the same space, how we can value the expertise on both parties (but recognise many professionals will occupy several roles simultaneously). There is no doubt work to do to demonstrate how a career can be forged in cultural learning too, including appropriate and progressive professional learning and qualifications.

I hope there will be space in the plan conversations to explore the distinctive pedagogies enabled through cultural education, particularly whilst there is the risk of pedagogical narrowing and genericism in schools. But I hope the pedagogies move beyond the troubling of subjects with seemingly disconnected creative endeavour; I’m less convinced that we need to dance about maths, but there could be deeper experiences possible rather than binary pedagogies in tension.

Ultimately pupils are the priority for me. Their voice(s) should be central to the work (such as past consultations I’ve commissioned in cultural education partnerships), but I recognise too there is a balance to be struck between cultural education as teaching and learning within the curriculum, and cultural education as experience beyond it; I hope the plan is more than encouraging a commitment to attend artistic events and places but such engagement is hugely valuable. I’ll never forget my school trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – mostly because it was so rainy I slipped and slid down a muddy hill.

Cultural education takes place in a variety of spaces; some of these settings will be formal educational spaces but others won’t be. A plan should embrace the potential of a range of settings where cultural learning can take place. Cultural education won’t be the preserve of conventional schools alone. I contributed a chapter exploring non-formal spaces for learning (including arts and cultural settings) for the forthcoming (2023) sixth edition of Becoming a Teacher. The MA Education in Arts and Cultural Settings at King’s College London (where I lead a module on creative learning in arts organisations, and have been a Visiting Research Fellow since 2017) further demonstrates that cultural learning takes place in a range of spaces, and as a consequence we need to embrace a broad portfolio of pedagogies.

Many of pedagogies in cultural learning spaces will be of benefit to non-arts spaces, and there might be some useful learning for cultural learning professionals about the various teaching and learning endeavours of more recent years (such as the research-informed agenda). I hope, too, that cultural learning professionals will be valued as educators on a par with those educators in more conventional settings; they deserve the status and professional learning opportunities too. And I’d love to see the professional bodies such as the Chartered College of Teaching offer memberships for such learning professionals, perhaps as Associate members.

As well as places where the work happens we have places that contribute to the debates of the various practices and disciplines; how might subject associations and learning societies, such as NSEAD, play a role in a cultural education plan? A cultural education plan has somewhat a broader remit to the Music Education plan, and to conceive the breadth of the ecology that supports and enables the work is awe-inspiring. Yet subject associations will provide an important contribution in the curriculum and pedagogical conversations going on with their members in schools. Teacher voice – school-based educators – will be important to hear.

Spaces beyond spaces are hugely important. Where does outdoor learning sit within cultural education? And what of concepts such as cultural capital?

Where does the cultural and creative potential of everyone fit into such a plan for cultural education? What contributions might the community cultural activities make to education? Now more than ever we need connected communities, and schools to be vital parts of their communities. Through culture be might be able to achieve the belonging many of us are keen to experience after (and during) the pandemic challenges.

We’re strengthening how we capture the impact of our work, thanks to the efforts of many and for me a highlight are the evaluation principles from the Centre for Cultural Value. Though rich stories of work are welcome, we’ll need to demonstrate a range of data to amplify the value and impact. And we can be braver to embrace when work doesn’t achieve the impact we desire, despite the need to ensure our funders see success. Though perhaps we need to modify what success looks like in cultural learning so we can remove some of the fear of achieving different impacts.

I’m still learning about how we can genuinely represent the beauty of our diverse cultural and creative sector; I’m still learning that equality, diversity and inclusion is more than who we see. But I hope a plan for cultural education will prioritise these important conversations and build on the growing body of work that reveals how hugely unequal our creative and cultural sectors are.

It seems the ideal time to create a national plan for cultural education. We’ve seen how the arts have been effected during the pandemic and we now the value they bring beyond academic curiosity; arts, creativity and culture are important opportunities in addressing the mental health concerns of young people too.

There are many people who will want a voice in the conversations to build a plan for cultural education. It will be a challenge to convene the broad church that is the creative and cultural education ecology in England. Can’t wait to see what happens next. But I’ll keep pondering my own cultural education plan, and return to my opening slide. As with any plan, with the best intentions it will continue to evolve and adapt.

What commitments can we make in a plan for cultural education that will be genuinely equitable and accessible, wherever you live and learn?

Can a cultural education plan be genuinely representative of the diversity of cultural practice; the vibrancy of different makers, creatives and practitioners?

Can we challenge the systemic inequality the creative and cultural sector perpetuates through a plan for cultural education? Can it embrace the work of the APPG for creative diversity?

Ultimately can a plan for cultural education work with the current educational policies and structures; what role will MATs place in activating a plan at scale, and will such work at scale be purposefully inclusive, equitable and arts-rich?

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