Cla Logo

Cultural Entitlement Programme for Virtual Schools  

A strategic, ambitious, creative programme for care experienced children

Description: My Creative Track page illustrations. My Creative Track Designed by Sophiya Thinklnfin for Arts Connect & The Mighty Creatives in partnership with Virtual Schools in the Midlands.

This case study tracks the development of Artslink, a partnership project across 14 Virtual Schools to strengthen the arts learning offer and support essential life skills for care experienced children. Written and led by Arts Connect.

This is one of 25 case studies highlighting the value of arts in schools and education settings, curated by arts education researcher Sarah B Davies. The suite of case studies illustrates the research The Arts In Schools: Foundations for the Future, by Pauline Tambling and Sally Bacon, due to be published in 2023.

About the project

In 2015 Arts Connect partnered with all 14 Virtual Schools in the West Midlands with the ambition that care experienced children who are linked to a Virtual School, wherever placed, can access high-quality arts experiences.

The Artslink programme was developed, supported by Arts Connect and managed by the West Midlands Virtual Schools Children in Care Foundation (WMVSCiCF), who supports 11,000 care experienced children in total, from Early Years to 16+ years. Artslink was funded by the Virtual Schools with matched Partnership Investment from Arts Connect, totalling £235,000.

Entitlement to the arts from a young age is a central focus of the learning experience advocated by Virtual Schools through Artslink. Artslink offers activities from pre-school to 16+ and is designed to reflect the diverse needs of care experienced children.

The programme is underpinned by a progression pathway, providing a range of opportunities for the children to develop their creative interests:

  1. Give it a Go: Creating initial sparks of inspiration by participating in taster sessions.
  2. Make and Create: Building aspiration to develop interest, talent and skills through medium length initiatives.
  3. Make it Mine: Arts specialism, developing independence and entrepreneurship, potentially leading to qualifications and careers.

Artslink is led by coordinators, supported by Virtual Schools Arts Ambassadors. All Virtual Schools work in geographical hubs, delivering cultural opportunities for care experienced children locally and region-wide.

A cultural entitlement framework supports the project which is integrated into their Personal Education Plans. There is training and accreditation for artists, arts organisations and key adults (each Virtual School has an Arts Awards Advisor) and Arts Connect has distributed 4000 free Let’s Create/Craft Arts packs. Five schools are now piloting a national Virtual School Artsmark.

The programme has involved approximately 2,000 care experienced children, 1,000 designated teachers and 225 arts and cultural leads.

What worked well

Artslink provides a strategic model supporting Virtual Schools in extending their existing arts offer by working in geographic clusters, enabling all Virtual Schools to work together, developing a quality, regional arts and cultural offer for care experienced children. This is particularly important as 40% of these children reside in other areas.

Artslink led to the establishment of the charitable Foundation WMVSCiCF, into which all Virtual Schools contribute financially. All Virtual Schools have committed to the Artslink programme, its leadership and delivery, both individually and collectively, and as a sustained model. WMVSCiCF, through Artslink, is committed to providing quality cultural experiences for children, ensuring inclusion, wellbeing and achievement in the arts. The Foundation has gone on to develop new offers including ActiveLink (Sports) and Creative Chances (CPD), sustaining its role beyond a single time-limited offer.

Arts Connect developed My Creative Track (MCT) with The Mighty Creatives (Bridge organisation for East Midlands): a progression framework to help guide children, and the adults who support them, to engage with a journey of arts and cultural experiences. The framework offers suggestions of arts and cultural activities. MCT has been rolled out to all Virtual Schools in the West Midlands and its impact is being evaluated. This themed framework increases the engagement, achievement and ambition of care experienced children and is integrated into their Personal Education Plan.

All children are supported in learning a musical instrument, in engaging in the arts as a spectator, performer, or creator – all of which are viewed as essential life skills for all care experienced children and supports commitment to a lifelong learning pathway. The arts programme ensures our young people access high quality arts and cultural experiences at a local, cluster and regional level.

“We want loads more of this cos it’s good and we can say what we want to say.” (Young person)

The Artslink programme will continue to increase the number of children and young people participating in arts activities and those achieving accredited qualifications. All Arts Ambassadors are trained Arts Award assessors and the aspiration for a 10% annual increase of care experienced children gaining accreditation is impacting positively.

What was challenging

Many of our care experienced children have had Adverse Childhood Experiences. But a major strength of the arts and cultural programme is how the breadth and depth of the offer nurtures children to make sense of themselves and each other and their wider group of peers. The structuring of the offer at local, cluster and regional level helps promote awareness, tolerance and understanding of a range of cultures and approaches to lifelong learning.

The children are educated and reside across the region, providing a number of challenges in awareness raising, engagement and progression. The programme ensures all activities are organised early and a range of promotional activities are used (verbally via Personal Education Plans, emails, flyers, website), balancing proactive ‘marketing’ with sensitive targeting.

All events need to be an excellent experience so are hosted at high-quality venues eg: Birmingham Rep and use leading artists and organisations that are care experienced trained. The ‘In-Care Experienced’ (ICE) training programme has been designed to support this. The timings and location are all planned to minimise barriers of accessibility for both care experienced children and their Foster Carers (who often provide the transport). This leads to predominately an out-of-school hours offer, but with high profile activity e.g. Welsh National Opera, being carefully aligned to a school offer. All activities are fully-funded and therefore free, to enable children to participate.

Development of the Artslink offer ensures that as many stakeholders as possible have a voice through this process, all providing valuable information to review, refine and improve the offer.

It is essential that the Artslink offer is delivered in a trauma-informed manner throughout. There is a sensitive approach to engagement, ensuring children are encouraged and nurtured and do not feel ‘singled out’, feeling valuable rather than vulnerable. All sessions are inclusive, supporting children with their emotional wellbeing as well as an arts experience.

What can others learn?

Arts Connect have been able to provide impetus, advice and specialist cultural links to support the Foundation to become regionally and nationally critical and have a significant advocacy and lobbying role with strategic bodies. This programme aligns to Arts Connect’s commitment to ensuring, through partnership working, that children have an entitlement to quality culture experiences, have a voice in developing their arts interests and talents, and are recognised for their arts achievements.

The partnership involving all the Virtual Schools and Arts Connect ensures a strategic and inclusive approach to engaging larger numbers of care experienced children and supporting adults.

The capacity and expertise to develop this offer has benefitted from regional Arts Coordinators, each Virtual School having Arts Ambassadors and Arts Connect providing sector expertise.

The lessons learnt from the pandemic about the use of digital technology will be used to its full potential for our children. The development of the WMVSCiC Foundation website has created new learning experiences, opportunities for displaying performance and allowed access to diverse Careers Education, Information, Advice & Guidance (CEIAG). This underlines that the arts can be delivered online.


  • How do care experienced children access quality arts and cultural opportunities?
  • How can you mitigate/plan/deliver a programme with minimal barriers – transport, progression of interests, children placed out of authority, funding and subsidies, the support of the key support adult/s?
  • Who do you need to work with to ensure this entitlement?
  • How can you develop strategic partnerships to ensure sustained opportunities and not just one-off projects?
  • How can you celebrate success, encouraging sustained engagement and advocating for arts entitlement?