The Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, announced earlier this month that character and resilience are “as crucial to young people’s future success” as academic qualifications. Laying out ‘Five Foundations for Building Character’ (including creativity, sport and performing), Mr Hinds pledged to work with schools and external organisations (including charities and membership bodies) to help all children access activities within each of these categories.
As an arts charity that provides such a resource for children, we are very pleased to hear our goals being acknowledged by the government as being as important as we have always believed them to be. The Culture Challenge, which we launched five years ago, was created to help support schools provide cultural opportunities for children and young people and to actively link up those schools through a live database of screened and approved cultural providers.
Our recent study, entitled “Culture Clubs and their impact on children’s wellbeing and engagement”, sought to discover if a sustained period of cultural activity has an impact on wellbeing both within and outside that activity and, in addition, if providing activities that are arts and activity-led enables children to sustain higher levels of involvement and wellbeing. The results were positive – the aggregated averages of the three primary school groups involved in the six-month long study, showed an increase in wellbeing and engagement of between 17-20%.
Moreover, one of the unanticipated outcomes of the Culture Challenge, but one that has proved to be highly fruitful, has been the establishment of Culture Clubs in a number of schools. In the majority of cases, these clubs were set up to reach particular groups of children, including children with specific wellbeing or educational challenges. The clubs provide a regular, sustained opportunity for creative and cultural input for these groups, with weekly after-school or lunchtime sessions led by a teacher, built around visits by artists and/or cultural trips provided by The Culture Challenge. A teacher from one such school commented that it “enables [children] to experience things they don’t have access to because of their circumstances – it’s not about developing their academic knowledge, it’s about providing opportunities to take with them to the next part of their life.”
We are not alone in providing such a service, organisations such as the Arts Council’s The Cultural Education Challenge, the National Trusts’s “50 Things To do before you’re 11 and ¾”, the Arts Award scheme and the Duke of Edinburgh Award, all seek to support and/or provide opportunities for young people who might otherwise not have access to them.
The Education Secretary also stated in his vision that this is not a Department of Education “plan for building character”, rather that schools should rely on communications amongst themselves to learn how this system might work, as well as businesses “pitching in” and community groups “speaking up and inviting schools in”. I think anyone who has worked in education or for charity organisations that already provide such services would know, this approach is only part of the solution. The strength of The Culture Challenge is its ability to “broker” relationships and build bridges between those that need and those that wish to provide cultural experiences for young people. Having said that, its success would be extremely limited if we hadn’t introduced ‘Culture Vouchers’ to support schools through the process. Culture Vouchers provide a dedicated amount of funds that can be used by schools to spend on any of our cultural providers, which include individual artists as well as local museums, theatres and other cultural organisations. And we are not talking, necessarily, about large sums of money, a small bit of funding can work wonders in supporting a one-off project, or giving schools the support and courage to launch their own in-house cultural schemes. Schools are, perhaps more than ever, shuffling around a finite source of income, which makes investing time and resources into extra-curricular activities an extremely daunting prospect.
It is positive to hear the Culture Secretary announce plans to support out of school activities, this combined with Ofsted’s plans to introduce a new inspection framework that will look at how schools can ensure a child’s education is about ‘more than just exams’ requiring ‘a broad and balanced curriculum’, prove that the issue of children and young people’s wellbeing is becoming more than just a media buzzword. These are all encouraging steps – we just need to ensure that support is more than just processes; funding will need to play a part in this if it is to have wide-reaching and long-term success. After all, we are all aiming for the same things – providing the next generation with the widest array of practical and emotional tools to send them confidently on the path to adulthood.
Kayte Judge, Youth Participation Officer, Bedford Creative Arts