An Education White Paper and a Cultural Education Plan

20 May 2022

At the end of March 2022 the Department for Education published its first White Paper for six years. Tightly focussed on literacy and numeracy, it sets out ambitions and plans to improve behaviour and attendance, teacher recruitment and retention, and for all schools to join a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT). It also includes a pledge for the Department to work with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and Arts Council England (ACE) to develop a National Plan for Cultural Education: something that the CLA has been calling for since 2014. This post gives you the headlines.

What’s in the Education White Paper?

School’s Week have a very good run-down of all the policies included within the White Paper – both new and previously announced.

Key policies for cultural learning include:

  • All mainstream schools to run a 32.5 hour week by September 2023; meaning possible new opportunities for out-of-hours cultural learning provision. Guidance for this is to be published ‘in the summer’. It is worth noting that most schools already have this level of provision in place
  • A new careers programme for primary schools in areas of disadvantage, and improved professional development for teachers and leaders on careers education
  • Oak National Academy to become into a new arms length curriculum body, offering adaptable digital curriculum resources and video lessons, free for all teachers
  • No changes to the national curriculum ‘for the remainder of the Parliament’, and GCSEs and A-levels to remain in place, returning to pre-pandemic grading in 2023

It is worth noting that the first few lines of the paper reference the Levelling Up ambitions for education, and echo the language and targets for literacy and numeracy. These are the metrics that the DfE will use to measure the success of the White Paper’s ambition.

You can read the White Paper here. You can also read analysis in the Times Education Supplement and in the Guardian.

On the 11 May, Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education wrote an article in the Telegraph (behind pay-wall), setting out the plans in the paper and in the accompanying Schools Bill. This Bill sets out the legislation needed to bring to fruition the government’s ambitions to crack down on attendance, and to ramp up academisation.

The Cultural Education Plan

The White Paper includes plans to publish a National Plan for Cultural Education by 2023. This is something that the CLA has been calling for since 2014. We look forward to working with the government on it, and want to extend our thanks to all those colleagues who worked to get it included.

The pledge reads as follows:

‘As part of a richer school week, all children should be entitled to take part in sport, music and cultural opportunities. These opportunities are an essential part of a broad and ambitious curriculum, and support children’s health, wellbeing and wider development, particularly as we recover from the pandemic. The government will publish updated plans to support sport and music education in 2022, and will publish a cultural education plan in 2023, working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England. This will include how best to support young people who wish to pursue careers in our creative and cultural industries. We will build on our high-quality citizenship education by supporting the National Youth Guarantee, promoting volunteering and expanding access to the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Cadet Schemes.’

Haven’t we had one of these before?

As demonstrated in our 20 years of Cultural Learning Policy timeline, this is not a new idea. In 2012, Darren Henley (now the Chief Executive of ACE), wrote a Review of Cultural Education for the government. This called for a National Plan, and was followed by the publication of one in 2013. However, the resulting document was quite different in scope to that envisioned by the Henley Review, and included no framework for delivery, no further investment, and no description of a national infrastructure. Instead, it was a summary of existing initiatives, case studies and of good practice.

It is also worth noting that plans for cultural education sit alongside separate plans for music education. The first National Plan for Music Education was written and published in 2011 and set out the framework and infrastructure for Music Hubs and for an entitlement for children and young people. We are now awaiting the second iteration of the Music Plan, with a panel of experts due to publish in the next few weeks. How the wider plan (to cover all cultural forms from visual arts, drama and dance to film, museums, heritage and literature) sits with these detailed (and funded) plans for music, will be key.

What else should we note?

It is good to see that this is a joint enterprise between both government departments, and to hear that a working group drawn from Arm’s Length Bodies has been convened (including Arts Council England, Historic England and the British Film Institute). As our policy timeline shows, it is extremely difficult to get traction for any national policy change and investment without having all these key stakeholders at the table, so this is a good start. 

The paragraph immediately uses the word ‘entitlement’, which will be central to any discussion on a National Plan, and indicates that the government could be debating a universal offer for all children and young people as part of the process. How this is balanced with a more targeted offer for those children experiencing depravation or facing systemic barriers to participation will be key.

The use of ‘richer school week’ is also significant as it signals that this plan might be linked to plan for out-of-hours and partner provision. For us at the CLA, it is key that the government consider all forms and settings for cultural education: from schools to museums, from early years to HE, and in informal settings and the homes of children and families. Given the White Paper’s pledge not to reform the National Curriculum, it seems unlikely that we will be looking at any substantive changes to this or to qualifications. We have always been concerned that cultural learning sits as statutory across the whole curriculum, has parity of status with other subjects, and is embedded within teaching and pedagogy, so it is important that the plan recognises this, and doesn’t push the arts into an optional or ‘nice-to-have’ space.

It is also worth noting that this paragraph references careers across the whole of the creative and cultural industries and not just the cultural sector, significantly widening the scope.

Timing and context

This is a timely pledge. As we detailed in our recent blog on the impact of Levelling Up on cultural funding, Arts Council England has been tasked with directing its funding to 109 new Levelling Up for Culture priority places in England. Partners in these communities are looking to use this policy to build on and develop their offer and infrastructure, and our largest organisations, and those based in London, are looking to form stronger and more complimentary partnerships in these places. This plan could be an invaluable resource for co-ordinating and mapping this work.

The timing of Arts Council England’s Investment Process is also worth considering. As we’ve noted in previous blogs (and as evidenced by the timeline), this is the first time that there has been no ring-fenced funding for cultural learning infrastructure in the portfolio, and, until decisions are made in October, it may be difficult for those colleagues drafting the plan to make concrete recommendations.