How do we make space for creative exploration?

31 October 2016

This was the provocation put forward at the first session of this year's Cultural Learning Community - our CPD leadership programme for teachers.

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These are challenging times for arts and cultural education. From the arts-free EBacc to the recent decision to end A-level art history, the arts and culture are struggling to maintain their place in British education… even though the qualities they represent – risk-taking, creative thinking, experimentation – are more important than ever to 21st century children and their future.

It was in this context of challenge and change that we began the first session of this year’s Cultural Learning Community programme. Involving 26 selected teachers from across London, the Cultural Learning Community is a year-long exploration of what ‘culture’ means in today’s societal, political and learning landscape, and how teachers can build their skills, knowledge and action towards supporting a robust arts and culture offer.

The Cultural Learning Community is bound together by six half-day CPD sessions, each at a different London cultural venue, to give teachers a first-hand connection to the cultural sector. Our first session on 19 October was at the Ministry of Stories, co-founded by author Nick Hornby and part of a global reading and writing development organisation.

Each host venue will be an active participant in our Cultural Learning Community sessions, and Rachael and Emma from MoS started us off with the following provocation:

What are the key challenges to creative arts education in schools? How do we make space for creative exploration?


Some key points and questions emerged from the discussion that followed, which was held open space-style - looking at the provocation questions from the point of view of schools, cultural organisations, and society more generally:

  • How can we better engage parents and the broader community with the value of cultural and arts education, so that they become influential advocates? One suggestion was to take school displays to places like tube stations and libraries, to literally educate the community where it lives and works. Greg briefly mentioned a project Nimble Fish produced some years ago called Learning Town, in which 13 schools took over a local shopping mall for an entire day
  • How might arts/culture organisations ‘double up’ their offer to schools so that it meets mandatory CPD requirements as well as offers enrichment to children?
  • How could organisations collaborate more closely with schools to craft offers that would better resonate with schools in the context of tight budgets and some scepticism about the value of arts and culture? Focus groups and roundtables were some suggestions
  • How can we better use current government language around educational priorities to highlight the value and power of arts and culture to achieve aims and targets? In this context, we reviewed and discussed the Case for Cultural Learning by the Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA)…some of the language rankled some teachers, until we put it in the context of CLA’s advocacy work with government and society.

We had a fascinating conversation about definitions of ‘culture’, with one teacher making the case that the word itself can be off-putting or limiting with certain audiences. ‘Culture isn’t always Shakespeare,’ he said. ‘To make our case more effectively, we need to think harder about what culture is for the communities we serve.’

Our next CLC session will be held on 25 November at the October Gallery. We’re very excited to pick up the conversations that started at the Ministry of Stories and take them to another level.