Overcoming London’s Cultural Education Problem

With seven out of every ten visitors to London arriving to explore the city’s diverse culture, it is a great shame that many of London’s young people don’t have the chance for a cultural education.


It is a shame too that in London only 1 in every 6 jobs are in the creative sector, despite the fact that with over 400 museums and hundreds more arts organisations it has the largest creative industry in the world. With 25% of 16-24 year olds in London currently out of work and creative industries providing so many of London’s roles, the importance of encouraging young people to enjoy art and culture is evident. 


But what can we do to combat this?


A new initiative, created to improve the cultural education and young people’s cultural engagement, is being led by A New Direction with financial help from Arts Council England. Called the Cultural Education Challenge, the project has helped seven lead partner organisations work with more than 1000 organisations, from housing associations to early year’s settings, local authorities and - of course - schools. This programme is a 3 year scheme costing £900,000 that will combat the barriers stopping young people getting into arts and culture.


For schools in London the problem is not that there is not enough cultural activities available to them, or that they are too costly (as many are free), worryingly is that not enough students are interested. This interest is something that has to be cultivated and grown, and this process can begin at school. 


One reason for the lack of cultural engagement in young people is geographical. In fact as 64% of students live in outer London, and the cultural centres are mostly concentrated in Central London, 1 in 5 Londoners under the age of 19 believe that theatre and galleries are too hard to reach. But is this true, or is it just that schools are unaware of the options they have? Only 25% of schools in London who are interested in doing more cultural activities feel they receive enough information about potential cultural activities, and less than a quarter feel they are being sought out by cultural centres.


Another barrier is wealth, as disadvantaged children are read to half as often as the richest children, and they are far less likely to visit an exhibition, museum or gallery. For those young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds schools and teachers are usually considered the primary source of cultural engagement.


So schools want to have more access to culture, students need schools to encourage and plan cultural activities, and an interest in culture will help you find work in the long-run? The answer is obvious, schools need to be given the means to plan schools trips and activities to help their students gain an interest and get involved in London’s lively and ever-growing cultural landscape. To start this process the Cultural Education has invested in 7 partner initiatives:


1.       Creative Futures– £50K to promote early year’s music programmes in London’s nurseries and children’s centres. Aside from helping these students get ready for school and giving them a head-start in language, speech and learning it is hoped that these weekly music lessons will open the children’s minds to culture and encourage them to seek out more cultural experiences in the future.  

2.       London Youth- £67.7K to provide dance lessons at London’s youth centres. With the aim of promoting exercise, healthy living, and inspire a long-term relationship between informal settings and creative experiences.

3.       Barbican Centre - £170K to broker a relationship between schools and organisations from across the arts, voluntary, public and education sectors.

4.       Wandsworth Council and Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership - £85K to engage children (aged 7 to 19) with a programme of creative activities in schools and promote local opportunities to young people in the area.

5.       Ovalhouse – £128.6K to encourage young people from housing estates to get aspire educationally and artistically by offering a programme of creative activities and cultural visits.

6.       Croydon Music and Arts - £50K to help a group of skilled young ambassadors create and promote a platform for creative opportunities.

7.       Westway Trust- £140K to work out how developing the Westway flyover and local infrastructure can support the exposure of cultural activities and opportunities to young people.


Do you think these initiatives are enough to increase young Londoner’s cultural engagement? How do you think this new programme will help schools in your area? Let us know your thoughts on social media.


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