Launch of the Cultural Education Challenge

15 October 2015

On Wednesday 14 October Arts Council England (ACE) launched a new national initiative: the Cultural Education Challenge.

This post tells you what it's all about, how you can get involved and what we make of it.

The launch

At the launch the Arts Council challenged all cultural learning stakeholders to find new ways to partner one another to ensure that every child and young person has access to arts and cultureEd Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools, took to the platform at the Barbican to endorse the idea. You can read Nick Gibb’s speech here. The Ministers were joined by Darren Henley and Althea Efunshile of the Arts Council.

The London launch will be followed by a number of more practical regional workshops hosted by the Bridge organisations. These kicked-off yesterday afternoon with an event in Brighton where South East Bridge Artswork launched their Connecting with Culture resource.

What is it?

Arts Council is urging everyone to use existing projects and funding as ‘pegs’ to support new partnerships that reach every child and young person in the country, ensuring that each has the opportunity to: create, compose, perform, visit, experience, participate, know, understand, review – through early years, school and extra-curricular activities.  ACE has created an infographic which sets out the vision and which you can view here.

Arts Council is asking Bridge Organisations to lead on setting up ‘Local Cultural Education Partnerships’, and aims for the partnerships to include Music Hubs, schools, libraries, museums, arts organisations and many other stakeholders.

Although the aim is for this to eventually happen everywhere, ACE states that it has identified 50 new priority areas where the first wave of local partnership groups will be established, and that these will be in place by 2018.

Even though Bridge organisations are being asked to lead, everyone is asked to accept the challenge and take personal responsibility for the children and young people in their local area. The call to action is for everyone to pick up the phone to their local Bridge to ask how they can contribute

To find out more you can read articles in The StageArts Professional and a blog from ACE Director of Children and Young People, Laura Gander-Howe.

What resources are available?

It’s important to note that there is no funding for this initiative. Arts Council is suggesting that existing funds can be used more strategically and the supporting website largely details activity and projects that are already underway.

Arts Council wants colleagues across the country to use some of its resources to help them take this work forward:

What’s good about it?

  • It was good to see Ministers from both the DfE and the DCMS up on stage talking about the brilliant cultural learning that happens all over the country. As we said in our Manifesto we urgently need Ministers to clearly and publically communicate to parents, schools and partners that this agenda is critically important and that they are behind it.
  • It was great to hear the Arts Council's commitment to prioritising disadvantaged children and young people. We couldn’t agree more that, in this time of shrinking resource, these children have to be our focus. We also agree that better partnership and unlikely alliances are our best strategy for making this happen in the current landscape.
  • At the same time as launching the Challenge, Arts Council also re-launched its Artsmark scheme for schools. We’ll be writing more about this in a separate post but it’s been re-imagined to fit closely with schools’ needs and to help them champion and nurture the arts and culture.
  • Darren Henley, Chief Executive of ACE, gave an interview to the TES claiming that cultural leaders have a moral responsibility to become school governors – again, we absolutely agree and it’s brilliant to see one of CLA's Manifesto pledges being endorsed and supported in this way.
  • There is a film that celebrates cultural learning work across the country. The link seems to be temporarily removed from the ACE site but we’ll let you know when it’s back up. It was also heartening to read the twitter feed on #CulturalEdChallenge yesterday and see all the examples of the cultural learning work with, for, and by children and young people.

What is of concern?

  • It was very disheartening to hear Schools Minister Nick Gibb again quote misleading statistics about the state of arts learning in schools. Do see our previous post which sets out our problems with the numbers he used. There was also the familiar and worrying division between ‘core’ subjects, with the arts described as ‘extra-curricular’.
  • It is extremely important to view the launch of this initiative in the light of the very imminent government spending round – where plans for extensive cuts of around 25-40% have been trailed across the board. As Nick Gibb said in his speech, from 2012-2016 the DfE will have spent over £460 million on arts and education programmes; money that goes directly into the infrastructure that is tasked with leading this work: Bridges, Music Hubs, Museums and Schools Partnerships and much more. For the ambitions of this Challenge to be realised it is critical that this investment is continued and protected and we need this to be assured. We urge you to write today to both Nick Gibb and your local MP explaining how this funding is used locally by you and your colleagues and calling for it to be protected. Do also see our previous post on the spending round for more details on how to make the case for culture.
  • The cultural learning ecology is a complex one, and whilst it must be correct that we all make it our personal responsibility to champion young people, it is also essential that the Government and the Arts Council put in place policy and funding conditions which enable this work to thrive. It is important that this Challenge is taken-up directly by them as well as by the sector. The DfE and the DCMS must assume ongoing leadership roles to promote cultural learning. We need both Nicky Morgan and Nick Gibb to speak directly to all schools and communicate the importance of arts and culture.
  • There are some slightly confusing elements to the launch of the Challenge:
  1. At the time of writing the downloadable document detailing the 50 priority areas for the Challenge lists over 109 Local Authorities (including all the London Boroughs) and it would be good to get some clarity from ACE on which of these it plans to start with.
  2. ‘Local Cultural Education Partnerships’ shouldn’t be confused with LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships), which are about economic growth.
  3. One of the Arts Council Bridge Organisations, A New Direction, has an existing ‘Cultural Education Challenge’. AND is investing £900,000 in seven new projects that aim to tackle identified disadvantage across London. The Bridge is challenging each project to find 100% match funding to help them reach even further. Although this local London project obviously exemplifies the kind of practice that ACE is talking about and will contribute to the overall goals of the National scheme, this one is a funded programme, and is separate to the initiative launched yesterday.

What’s the history of the Cultural Education Challenge?

This is one of the legacies of the Henley Review of Cultural Education and the subsequent government summary of funded programmes.

In 2012 a Cultural Education Partnership Group was set up comprising Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the British Film Institute and Ministers from both the DfE and the DCMS. This group commissioned pilots which explored an enhanced partnership approach in three geographical areas (Bristol, Barking and Dagenham, and Great Yarmouth) over three years. NFER evaluated these pilots in this useful reportACE is hoping that the learning from these pilots will be used as the basis for the local cultural education groups.