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London Borough of Barking & Dagenham Cultural Education Partnership

Posted on 13 October 2015

A partnership driven by shared schools and local authority improvement priorities.

London Borough of Barking & Dagenham (LBBD) is home to one of the fastest expanding populations of early years and school age children, with significant levels of hardship in the community. Population expansion brings with it mobility and cultural variety, and new creative opportunities arise from the diverse experiences of young people.

The local council is developing a vision of Barking & Dagenham as a regional Creative Hub, attracting regeneration projects, investment and cultural enterprise. The local authority contains a network of schools which retain independent leadership and identities, while collaborating to support the best possible outcomes for children and young people.  

These relationships have led to the formation of a steering group for the Cultural Education Partnership. This group represents primary and secondary headteachers, the local Further Education college, libraries and cultural organisations.

Children sit cross legged in groups.
Barking & Dagenham INSPIRE festival 2015. Photo © Greenshoes Arts

The initial focus for the Partnership was:            

  • To establish achievable priorities
  • To identify and approach potential partners
  • To find ways of evidencing the Partnership’s impact – how do we know if we are making a difference?

Evidence and intelligence gathering

Early discussions pinpointed the following key benefits of cultural education:

  • An entitlement for all children and young people increases social mobility and accelerates personal development
  • Improvement of wider educational achievement
  • It supports an economic future for young people

The group reviewed the available data and considered the kind of evidence that would indicate the Partnership’s impact. This included local achievement and progression data along with London-wide cultural survey data through the bridge organisation, and information about the local area. This analysis identified some real strengths in artistic and cultural achievement in schools, along with challenges.

Convening and governance    

A steering group of key leaders has been established. This has provided a platform for authoritative proposals to be formulated. However, devising effective processes requires time and persistence. Influential groups including subject leaders, school governors and teacher ‘hubs’ are now working to common objectives, together with cultural organisations. Three major priorities and a suite of supporting documents have been developed, as per below:

  • A statement of entitlement; ‘A Broad Cultural Education for all’
  • A newsletter ‘Culture Matters’, circulated to lead governors for culture
  • A development plan setting out shared goals and priorities:
  • Developing and embedding cultural leadership
  • Creating an online portfolio for children and young people, aligned to Arts Award and Artsbox
  • Cultural development in schools towards Artsmark achievement
  • Clarifying and strengthening pathways into the creative and cultural sector

These priorities are streamlined with the borough’s wider education strategy, which aims to improve outcomes for young people through a broad curriculum offer.

Sustainable success will be achieved through utilising the shared expertise and experience of schools and cultural providers. Successful examples of this approach include our community music service and hub and University of the Arts London Partnership. The newly established INSPIRE arts festival for schools has strengthened the Partnership further.

Schoolchildren practise dance moves.
Barking & Dagenham INSPIRE festival 2015. Photo © Greenshoes Arts

Responding to Cultural Education Challenge

Some milestones to date include:

  • Most governing bodies have implemented a local statement of cultural entitlement. Many have a nominated lead governor, attending three development events
  • Two annual Cultural Education Partnership Conferences  with representation from Barking & Dagenham schools, national cultural organisations (Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, British Film Institute, Bridge), local cultural organisations including the lead National Portfolio Organisation for Creative People and Places, Elected Members and Council officers
  • The emergence of a core of headteacher cultural leads, central to embedding the strategy as well as forming partnerships across schools and cultural organisations
  • 21 Arts Award advisers trained
  • Launch of INSPIRE festival; a huge success in its first year, with future expansion planned
  • Preparation of progression pathways supported by further and higher education and cultural sector partners
  • An Early Years Foundation Stage cultural education profile written by practitioners
  • A regional partnership: East London Cultural Education Partnership is expanding scope and will broker access to high quality cultural education
  • Shared Cultural Education calendar across partners
  • Cultural Education Partnership work showcased at Eurasian Economic Forum on education cooperation in Xi’an, China

Evaluation and quality

A shared set of targets has been implemented, ensuring that goals are clear. This comprehensive set of priorities helps drive towards improved outcomes for young people. The partnership must now identify the difference it makes to young people in our community, and develop methods for evidencing this, including through application of the Quality Principles for children and young people.