5 ideas that enable children and young people’s creativity, curiosity and agency

Karen Birch, Culture Consultant

An insight into ‘cultural capital’ and why it’s important to understand the difference it makes.

Cultural capital

In the new education inspection framework Ofsted talk about children and young people’s cultural capital, and developing resilience, confidence and independence, or character, through a ‘full curriculum’, one that enables children to focus on learning and teachers to focus on intent, implementation and impact. Does this give licence, the freedom and flexibility to design a creative curriculum and create the space to evaluate its impact?

‘‘Cultural capital’ is embodied by an individual who is knowledgeable about a wide range of culture and is comfortable discussing its value and merits. It is characterised by the experience and skill to be able to deploy the appropriate knowledge in any given situation: a job interview, a conversation with a neighbour, building a work network and so on.’

Earlier this month, The Cultural Learning Alliance posted What is cultural capital?, exploring the meaning of cultural capital, where it came from (Pierre Bourdieu), why it’s important now (equality) and why children and young people need it (grit).

Furthermore, the Cultural Learning Alliance question the efficacy of the definition of cultural capital used in the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook 2019, that it could ‘entrench’ the idea of high culture. If so, this would leave little room for cultural democracy or multi-disciplined ideas about cultural mobility – that culture is not static or fixed. Cultural capital is generated by a good education that builds knowledge, skills and the capacities children and young people need for education success and a fulfilling life.

Making a difference

So, if we promote cultural capital, how do we measure it? Perhaps a good starting point is to think about how we might measure non-academic and essential skills such as resilience, creativity, problem solving and teamwork. In Addressing the ‘evaluation deficit’ in schools: part two, Nesta make a strong case for measuring skills to improve the development of young people’s wider education skillset, efficiently taking the reader through the importance of validated and common measures, how to improve data analysis and that it’s OK to acknowledge the limitations to evaluating broad skills, as long as we do evaluate them.

In Thinking about the virtues of character measurement, Emma Taylor discusses how virtues, or character, can be measured, sharing the findings, pitfalls and possibilities from the Character in UK Schools study with 10,000 students and 255 teachers.

Helping us to ‘get to grips’ with evaluation, RSA have published The Cultural Learning Evidence Champion’s Handbook, a good companion, one that encourages us to ‘love’ evaluation.

A cultural checklist?

Supporting the development of character skills, last year the Department for Education published My Activity Passport, an activity checklist for children under 11. We also recently heard Ofsted’s Sean Harford advocating this approach to headteachers in Norfolk. Although this is an appealing approach it runs the risk of establishing what might be intended as a minimum entitlement as limit of what is offered. There is also the risk that the list becomes a series of disjointed experiences. I wondered what else was out there, the inspirational and innovative, the lists, passports, place-based initiatives and campaigns advocating for cultural breadth, diversity and experience. My top 5 cultural activity to do lists, in random order, are:

  1. City Passport, by The City Classroom’s cultural education partnership for Leicester and Leicestershire. A family-focussed cultural passport to the city, being piloted with 15 schools this summer and expected to reach 6000 children, each child receiving their own cultural passport. Designed ‘to keep children and their families learning through creativity over the summer months’, the passport coordinates and categorises listings on arts and cultural activities and events. The idea is kicked off in schools by a visiting poet talking to children about what they like about where they live, to stimulate cultural curiosity and introduce the passport in the local context. During the summer, children document their creative adventures in a booklet which they share when they return to school in September. Some children will get an Arts Award.


  1. Fun Palaces is an international campaign for cultural democracy, described as ‘community at the heart of culture’. Since 2014, 1367 Fun Palaces have been made in 11 countries by 32,800 Makers with 450,000 people taking part. With Ambassadors in the UK, a digital Toolkit and active social media communications, local communities are supported to co-create their Fun Palace, engaging local people in a weekend of creative activities and events in science, the arts and culture. With no hierarchy, no rules and free activities, people connect, get active and create together on their terms. This year Fun Palaces takes place on 5 and 6 October. You can search online for a Fun Palace in your area or become a Maker and join the revolution.


  1. A policy commitment by Islington Borough Council, the 11 by 11 Islington Pledge is a partnership between the council, schools and more than 50 cultural organisations pledging free creative and cultural activities for children and young people who go to school in Islington. Promoting ‘11 outstanding cultural experiences by Year 11’, the 11 by 11 Activity Menu lists cultural opportunities linked to key stages and curriculum areas alongside talks by creative professionals in assemblies, digital teaching and learning resources and CPD for teachers.


  1. Into Film Festival 2019 is a free annual UK-wide film festival taking place from 6-22 November for schools, children and young people age 5-19. With more than 600 cinemas, 130 film titles and education resources designed to support the curriculum, you can take part in film screenings (audio-described, subtitled and autism friendly), workshops, previews, premiers and Q&As with industry professionals such as directors, actors and stunt performers. 94% of teachers surveyed felt the Festival activities were valuable to the broader education of young people, and 83% said the festival is useful in helping to deliver the curriculum.


  1. 50 things to do before you’re five is driven by a partnership between St Edmund’s Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Bradford, Big Change, a social impact accelerator, and their technology partner, Frog Education. Initiated to tackle low literacy levels, language skills and lack of life experiences, parents and carers can access 50 ideas online, via an app or with a folder of postcards; as one parent said: “It’s brilliant, it’s fantastic and just lots and lots of fun”. Activity suggestions come with simple instructions, local links and additional information like supporting young children with special educational needs. A research project with the Education Endowment Foundation is on the cards and an ambition to engage every child in the country. I personally love #25 Creative Junk and #43 High Five!

Closer to home, we’re working with the Fenland and East Cambridgeshire Opportunity Area to pilot a cultural enrichment project called Creative & Cultural Futures to connect children and young people to culture across highly rural communities. We’re also backing the development of the Cambridgeshire Culture Card now branded XP/Xplore, initiated by My Cambridge Cultural Education Partnerships and recently cited in the updated DCMS Culture is Digital Report. Repurposing the free library card alongside mobile technologies and a bespoke digital platform, XP/Xplore uses innovation to improve young people’s access to culture and the sectors understanding of the benefits of experiencing culture. The feasibility study is now complete so watch this space.

These clever cultural initiatives get children and young people connecting with the world around them. They seed cultural curiosity and encourage boundless cultural experiences. The concepts are entertaining and playful, yet they take children and young people seriously, respecting their cultural spaces. Coming soon, Let the Children Play is a book co-authored by Pasi Sahlberg and Bill Doyle about the importance of play for children, schools and education. The authors argue that:

‘Play is how children explore, discover, fail, succeed, socialize, and flourish. It is a fundamental element of the human condition. It’s the key to giving schoolchildren skills they need to succeed – skills like creativity, innovation, teamwork, focus, resilience, expressiveness, empathy, concentration, and executive function.’

We can help children and young people build their cultural capital with a good education, broad cultural knowledge and quality experiences, but we shouldn’t forget about the importance of play, whatever age we are.

Arts Council England’s consultation Shaping the Next Ten Years draft 2020-2030 strategy is now open.