Cultural Learning Alliance: What we did in 2011

26 January 2012

We are now firmly entrenched in 2012 and are pressing on with our plans to create some practical tools to ensure that cultural learning thrives in the current climate. However, we thought it was worth a little bit of reflection on some of the things that the Alliance collectively achieved last year. The CLA doesn’t operate like a traditional organisation, but instead is supported by the expertise, passion and graft of its 7,000 signatories, advisory panel, steering group and chair that are championing cultural learning all over the country and making the case for its central importance to the lives of children and young people.

In fine CLA tradition, here is a quick round-up of what happened:

We made the case …

2011 was an unprecedented rollercoaster year of policy change, cuts and new ways of working. The CLA drafted and consulted on six major government policies, and a large number of minor ones; from the National Curriculum Review to Open Public Services. We submitted joined-up responses which reflected ideas and priorities from across the sector and championed cultural learning to different departments and decision making bodies.


One of our main aims was making sure that the voices of the Alliance were heard and informed our work and the work of others. We set up a consultation roadshow with partners all over the country (thanks so much to all those who contributed, hosted, chaired and helped) and met face-to-face with representatives from 142 organisations to talk about cultural learning. We held specialist sessions for teachers, heads, the early years sector, the youth arts sector and for partners engaging in digital cultural learning. We also received hundreds of e-mails, comments and calls from Alliance members keen to let us know about their ideas and practice. We wrote up and analysed all our findings and these are just some of the uses we put them to:

  • 28 Key Recommendations for government which were directly submitted to the Henley Review of Cultural Education
  • A set of core, shared definitions for our sector including terms like ‘cultural learning’, ‘arts’, ‘heritage’ and ‘equality’
  • 10 shared key principles which underpin effective, quality cultural learning

We shared what we knew …

Last year we wrote 36 news bulletins and policy summaries, trying to make sense of the new landscape as it emerged. Of these, the most read by you were our Curriculum Review guide and summary, closely followed by the Wolf Review Summary, the report on Arts Council’s National Portfolio decisions and our most recent report on the December Expert Panel Curriculum Report.

Colleagues across the country also took part in a programme of Cultural Swaps. Nine head teachers and nine cultural leaders gave up their time to learn about each other’s lives and share their ideas and concerns, leading to new partnerships and friendships springing up to support cultural learning practice.

Our numbers grew …

Over the last year the CLA has grown by approximately 2,000 members (and if you are one of our supporters who hasn’t officially registered on the site, please do! It really strengthens our voice with government and decision makers); our twitter followers have more than doubled; and over 14,000 of you have used our newly developed website and resources.

We created new resources …

The CLA meta-analysis of evidence of the value of cultural learning was a labour of love and involved detailed scrutiny of data and reports from all over the world. We worked with a host of data and research experts (thanks particularly to our steering group, the Centre for Longditudinal Studies at the Institute of Education, the DCMS CASE team and our fantastic funders and advisers at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation). The project led to our five key findings: robust statements, backed up by data, which demonstrate the impact that cultural learning has on young people’s attainment, cognitive skills, employability, citizenship and social mobility. Never again can we be told that we don’t have the numbers to back-up our beliefs and our passion.

In November we published ImagineNation: The Case for Cultural Learning – our calling card, and a clear, practical set of reasons as to why cultural learning is so important. Leaders from across the learning and arts and heritage worlds came forward to put their names to this agenda, and we can’t thank them enough for pledging their support. Over 2,000 of you have downloaded it from the website and we have already seen ImagineNation being put to good use by colleagues who are cutting and pasting the arguments they need to advocate for their own, and our collective cultural learning practice.

We shouted about cultural learning …

Although there are many very important and complex issues facing cultural learning in the current climate, through discussion with you all we realised that there were a couple of pressing, unanimous concerns. These centred on the need for a cultural learning entitlement for all children and young people, accessed through school. Our CLA spokespeople rallied to this issue and we used the publication of ImagineNation to shine a light on the issues presented by a fragmented curriculum offer and the introduction of the English Baccalaureate. You can read some of the press coverage here.

We charge on!

Over the next six months we will be continuing to deal with all the knotty issues above, but we will also be working to create a practical routemap which we can all use to navigate the world we find ourselves in. As ever, if we are not collectively delivering something you need, or you have any ideas of ways we could work better together, please do get in touch so we can start to form a plan.

We can’t sign off this post without heartfelt thanks to all our funders and supporters in-kind, for their unwavering wisdom, support, enthusiasm and guidance.