Creating a Cultural Education Partnership for Newham

Eliza Wilson, Head of Education at Stratford Circus in Newham and participant in AND’s Connected London programme, gives an insight into how partnership working can further the quality and equality of cultural education in the borough.

23 April 2014

(Image Credit: Andrew Baker)

Working with the schools in Newham provides a unique context for what cultural education can and needs to do for its young people. Here in Newham and more broadly in East London we have:

  • one of the most diverse populations in the country, with over 200 languages and dialects spoken
  • the second most deprived local authority in the country
  • a very young population with 40% of people being under 25 years
  • a high unemployment rateover 55% of children growing up in poverty

As an arts and education centre working within these circumstances, Stratford Circus feels it is even more important that what we deliver with schools is the best it can possibly be. High quality arts need to be accessible for everyone, to improve the lives of those young people growing up in a challenging environment, to raise their aspirations and, possibly most importantly, to provide employability.

But how are we to do all of this? It is our belief the way forward is partnership working.

Over the years there has been some phenomenal arts education work taking place in Newham. For example, the Newham Arts Education Festival provided 10 years of high quality work in schools, continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers and wonderful large-scale performance opportunities for children; this was made possible by a partnership between Newham Council, the schools and the local arts providers. Now, the Council’s ‘Every Child’ programmes deliver an unprecedented cultural entitlement for young people (whether it’s playing an instrument or going to the theatre). This is fuelled by the rich variety of acclaimed arts organisations based in and working within the borough.

However, much of the cultural education work that takes place lacks integration, being delivered either by the local authority, the schools or the arts sector. Stratford Circus wants to push this work to the next level by creating a cultural education partnership that brings together, in synergy, all of these sectors to provide for our young people.

Stratford Circus already works extensively with primary schools in Newham through our Associate Schools Programme supported by Connected London, and the Every Child a Theatre Goer Programme with Newham Council. Also, more recently we’ve begun to explore the notion of a broader cultural education partnership with the Newham Music Hub. Together we developed a proposal that aimed to create a new strategic framework between schools and local and national arts organisations. This proposal was then taken to the Primary Partnership Board meeting, a group of head teachers and local authority officers who function as a steering group for decisions relating to Newham Primary schools. As a result, a committee of head teachers from five primary schools volunteered to work with us to develop the proposal further.

The committee met at the end of January and decided the best way forward was to develop a structure to collaboratively co-commission work, deliver thematic projects, and identify new cultural partners. We felt the first step towards this was to create a cultural brief: a set of criteria for the selection of any co-commissioned/partnership projects which lays out our shared aims and recognises all the relevant constraints including those of the schools.

We saw that we required expertise to move the emerging partnership forward in the most effective and dynamic way. So we utilised our key relationships with AND as well as the Innovation Unit as a result of our involvement in A New Direction’s Connected London and asked them to support us in creating the brief.

It is clear that partnerships working is one way forward to further the quality and equality of cultural education in our Borough, but where can we look for further help in moving forward in the most effective way?

A model that offers ideas and inspiration is the Salto Festival in Sweden. Schools sit collaboratively around the table with cultural programmers to identify work they want to see in the Festival. Artists and organisations then pitch their ideas and work is jointly selected by the schools and the cultural programmers. The Festival presents the selected works across different venues including the schools and, as a result, increasingly pupils are part of the performance. This model offers a way to meet the needs and interest of all interested parties; and our proposal will be to pilot a home grown adaptation. The aim will be not only to curate a successful programme but also to work towards a commissioning model which will enrich the work made by the sector and inspire children to be the makers of their own work.

We look forward to the committee’s next meeting in April/May after which we will be presenting the cultural brief to the Primary Partnership Board in June.

To find out more about Newham's work through Connected London, go here

About Connected London
A New Direction's action research programme and strategy for local areas in London. 'Connected' is a three-year programme (2012-14) with two years of action-research investment and one of transition or development funding. It is led by A New Direction, in partnership with the Innovation Unit and a number of London Boroughs and other cultural partners. Find out more here

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