Cultural and creative education for young people

Paul Jackson – former Head of Gallions School – gives us his thoughts and views about our Cultural Capital research, young people in London and their access to cultural and creative education in the school.

2 March 2015

The report certainly gives food for thought...

The headline findings highlight that there 20% of boys are engaged with dance compared with 37% of girls and that 30% of boys are engaged with music compared to 46% of girls.

It highlights that young people from poorer background are less likely to take part in every category of cultural activity with around 60% of children from poorer backgrounds engaging and 70% of other young people.

I guess my concern is that the young people from other backgrounds is only 70%. That only 46% of girls are engaged with music.

For me this isn’t about boys versus girls, or disadvantaged vs. non-disadvantaged. It’s about all children and young people.

“Overall the activities that young people tend to engage the most tend to be those where school is likely to plan an important role” – This shows how important the role of the school is.

Children and young people do not have a choice whether they go to school or not. They have to go.They also do not have a choice over what their school offers. Is this fair?

If a school chooses to have compulsory music lessons for all their pupils, then instantly the engagement with music moves to 100%. If a school makes music optional, has poor music facilities and staff who are less than enthusiastic about music, then there will be a dramatic drop.

In the school that values music, music will follow the children into their life outside of school. It will give them opportunities to engage in a different range of activities. It will give them something to talk about.

I’ve chosen Music here, but for music, read, dance, drama, or art. What would education look like if all children and young people were exposed to these four areas for their whole time in education? And not just exposed, but taught by quality individuals. Had the opportunity to work with musicians, dancers, actors, artists…

I am 100% confident that they would become better readers, writers, mathematicians. Better people.

What if this was an entitlement for all young people, regardless of background, regardless of the school they attended?

What if we made a promise to our children and young people? That wherever they came from, their school would give them the opportunity to engage in more cultural activities. That all children would experience live music at least once per year, live theatre, a visit to a museum and a gallery. If we did this every year during a child’s school career – from the age of 3 or 4 until the age of 18 – habits would start to form. Our young people would not feel out of place in these environments. It would be natural for them to undertake cultural experiences.

When I interview, I of course look at academic qualifications. But if I have two candidates with equal qualifications, I want to look at so much more than that. I want to look at individuals who can show a range of experiences. Who can talk with passion about a subject. Imagine the type of individuals we would produce if all young people left school with a rounded exposure to arts and culture.

We can do this though. Schools have it within their power to make the choice

I was previously headteacher of Gallions Primary School in Newham. The school was in one of the 5% most deprived areas in the country. In 2012, it became the 7th most improved school in the country. There was a strong belief that all children, wherever they came from, would achieve the very best. But stronger than this, was the belief that all children should have access to creative and cultural experiences. At Gallions, every child from the age of 6 plays a string instrument. There is an artist in residence. A specialist Music Centre building and much more. We had a dream. A vision. And we made it happen.

Can it happen in other schools? Why not? Can it happen in secondary settings? Why not? – It’s up to school leaders to make brave decisions. To be creative. To believe. To make the right choices, not the easy choices. And in doing so, make it hard for people like me, when I am interviewing and every individual who presents themselves has not only excellent qualifications, but a rich cultural background and a wealth of stories to share.

Find out more about our Cultural Capital research and get involved in the conversation