Headteacher Symposium on Creativity & Education


On the 27th January 2020 a symposium was held at the Royal Opera House (ROH) in Covent Garden to consider the question “What is the role of creative and cultural learning in a quality education?”

Organised by a partnership between the three Bridge organisations for the south east of England       (Artswork; Festival Bridge; ROH Bridge) and the Cultural Learning Alliance, the event brought together more than 100 Head teachers, senior school leaders, CEOs of Multi-Academy Trusts and Bridge staff to debate key issues presented by this question.


Context to the Day

What we want to achieve together today?
Theme: What is the role of creative and cultural learning in a quality education?
This conference is giving us the opportunity to:
Think deeply about our work, share with our peers, and together develop a plan for how we are going to advocate, together and separately, for the value of arts culture and creativity in a quality education

Context and rationale
We’re coming together in the context of the new (ish) Ofsted Framework – one that aims to look differently at quality, which aims to foreground a broad and balanced curriculum, and which has introduced the term ‘cultural capital’ to its judgement.
Today Arts Council England has published its new 10 year Strategy and will be publishing a delivery plan later in the spring – which we fully expect to include recommendations and initiatives for schools and for young people and the artists and organisations working with them.
This comes hot on the heels of October’s Durham Commission which made recommendations to government and the Arts Council which include:

  • Developing and funding a network of nine ‘Creativity Collaboratives’, in which schools collaborate in establishing and sustaining the conditions required for nurturing creativity in the classroom, across the curriculum.
  • Better recognising, researching and evaluating teaching for creativity in schools and a recognition of this teaching in the Ofsted inspection process
  • Inclusion of the arts as standard in the curriculum to key stage 3, and a National Plan for Cultural Education

This is time of unprecedented change. We’ve seen a decade of austerity and a decade of new policy – from the development of the new National Curriculum to the introduction Progress 8 and Attainment 8, the rise of free schools, academies and trusts and the publication of the new Ofsted Framework.

Over the next few months we’ll see the implementation of the Conservative Manifesto (which includes a pledge for an Arts Premium for Secondary Schools at £110million a year). We’ll see a government keen to shore up votes in constituencies which have not historically supported the Tories.
The budget on March 11th is expected to confirm spending, and then a significant three-year Spending Round in summer or autumn which will set out departmental spending for the next three years.
We are expecting a political reshuffle in the next few weeks – and the whole education world will be holding its breath to see whether Nick Gibb retains his post as the longest-serving Schools Minister in recent memory. We’ll see a new Labour opposition leader in April, and of course, at the end of this week the UK will be exiting the European Union.
All of these changes provide us with an opportunity make our case: locally to our MPs, Local Authority colleagues, parents and students, and to our peer headteachers, feeder schools and university colleagues.
We can advocate nationally to Unions, Government Ministers and the Civil Service, using our own examples of excellent practice and partnerships to illustrate and justify the policy changes we want to see.
If we all use our influence and voices to champion a quality education, we may begin to see some real change.



Useful Reading

Below you will find links to the reports, reading and presentations referenced through the event

Table Top Discussions

The content below is a synthesis of notes recording Table – Top discussions.



Discussion One: How do you articulate the unique contribution that creative and cultural learning makes to the quality of education?

Delegates felt that the unique contribution of creative and cultural learning is best ‘articulated through action’. Approaches were described as constantly evolving.


Develop a shared understanding of the benefits of creative and cultural learning with staff

  • It’s very important to have a strong school vision. What ‘habits of mind’ do you want to foster?
  • Define this for your school, defining can help with lobbying
  • Schools need layers of language to describe their intentions for a variety of audiences
  • Can become a mantra e.g. ‘Creativity; Cognition; Community’
  • Don’t rush. Change takes time.
  • Ensure staff have an understanding of the impact of ‘cultural deprivation’ – this is particularly important where settings have a lot of recently qualified teachers



Promote creativity

  • Describe creativity as a pre-requisite for learning (skills rather than subject knowledge.)  Life requires you to adapt.  Creativity helps. It builds resilience in learners.
  • Packaging the arts up within ‘creativity’ helps to circumvent staff nervousness about teaching the arts because they don’t feel sufficiently skilled. Teachers may be risk averse until teaching for creativity becomes their custom and practice. Offering CPD is very helpful.
  • Actively involve parents in creative activity, particularly in areas of disadvantage and low aspiration
  • What the children learn in school moves into their family lives.  Exposing children to creativity in the classroom means they bring it with them back home

Keep up with those who assess the quality of children’s education

  • Reference the new OFSTED framework. Be consistent in your messaging and use data efficiently and effectively
  • Supply governors with information about learning outcomes
  • Proving cause and effect is hard and can be subjective but evidence brings parents and teachers on board
  • It is a false sell to use better results as an incentive. It is about building the whole pupil…which might in turn help results through boosting confidence, engagement and well-being but that is a long term effect.

Maintain a visible commitment to the arts.

  • Arts, culture and creativity provides a school with character and a uniqueness
  • Don’t articulate – Show! Enjoyment builds confidence. Word of mouth about the school will follow. Families will then appreciate what is taking place and see the benefits themselves.
  • Celebrate students’ achievements, valuing the creative learning process as well as the final pieces/performances.
  • Some children require repetition to make learning ‘stick’ and part of this repetition needs to be reminders about the different stages of their learning journey.  This also helps with assessment.

Work collaboratively with other settings and the community

  • Share funding and responsibility
  • Activate the ‘doers’
  • Encourage ‘buy –in’
  • Raise aspirations and combat insularity
  • Push place-based links
  • Helping town to thrive
  • Open up local opportunities for the children Share excitement and build value through use of  social media and film. Schools have to be outward facing in order to grow. The key to successful cultural education is working with cultural organisations – forming, developing and growing those relationships.
  • Use Artsmark as a tool, particularly across a group of schools. The Artsmark framework is robust and helps to assure SLT support and investment in the longer term.
  • Each setting is unique and contexts are equally as varied e.g. academisation of networks of schools…


Design your curriculum with creativity in mind

  • Tailor your learning offer by knowing your learners and doing what is right for your school community – if it works for your setting and your pupils it is easier to assure success and make the case to inspectors
  • Consider the connection between structure and design: when creativity is embedded throughout the curriculum it prevents ‘silo’ working
  • Connect what students learn in different subjects
  • Connect what they learn in school to what life is teaching them
  • Use ‘golden threads’ in curriculum planning. Much easier to interweave the curriculum in a primary setting.
  • When planning develop learning objectives and L 2L objectives ( split screen teaching)

Foster student voice and wellbeing

  • Student voice can be a powerful advocate for creativity. Create a common language about creativity and cultural learning that children can share. Children can become ‘agents of change’ themselves.
  • Build cultural capital and help young people converse in any given situation. Access to culture is a right of every child.
  • Keep pupil wellbeing high on the agenda in school.  Wellbeing is very important to parents.


Discussion Two: Are your arguments carrying weight with your stakeholders?

Delegates felt that using arguments to influence stakeholders is a constant process and that using the presentations form this event could help.




  • There is apprehension. You are only as strong as your last inspection.
  • The new OFSTED framework can offer leverage.
  • Useful in staff meetings to be explicit about value and expectations.
  • Teachers can be as much of a blocking force as parents: while they may be easy to engage in discussion of arguments in theory, they can be resistant to changing their practice, ‘Is it worth giving time to this?’ Constant persuasion is often necessary
  • Staff need further professional development around creative pedagogy and upskilled in curriculum development.
  • Arts subjects: skills v creativity – be careful with assessment
  • The new arts premium may help staff be more receptive to change in secondary schools
  • Value the learning process
  • Establish a leader of cultural learning in every school (Durham Commission recommendation)


  • Be innovative e.g. ask for parents to pick up children from off-site activities in museums and encourage the crossing of unfamiliar thresholds. Get families on board. Use social media, gather feedback.
  • Parents forums; school newsletters; curriculum leaflets…it’s important to be explicit
  • Target key parents (influencers) who can bring other parents on board
  • Be aware of the parents in need who are ‘falling through the cracks’ and others who are sceptical/hold entrenched views. Evidence of impact helps (case studies)
  • Creative career insights to be available to parents
  • Tell parents about the benefits: employability; making learning memorable; wellbeing…
  • Parents want creative and engaging learning for their pupils. They like to see their children taking part in arts activities. Keep cultural activities free/good refreshments. Activities need to be memorable/leave legacy.


  • Will be anxious about league tables
  • It can be a fight to have creative and cultural learning as a core aim. Getting an LA governor or other governor on board helps to influence staff
  • Use governors’ meetings to be explicit about value and expectations. Explain that cultural learning needs funding.
  • Sell the idea of the benefits of building cultural capital and the perils of a narrowing curriculum
  • More rigorous systems to measure impact are still needed.
  • Artsmark can help to identify ‘value added’


  • Pupils’ voices give the arguments more weight
  • Think about the whole child and access for all. Start them young: build foundations. Rich cultural learning helps children want to be at school.
  • Expose young people to experiences they would otherwise not have. Use pupil premium resource to fund cultural activity
  • Use cultural learning to contribute to the health and wellbeing agenda and help pupils feel valued
  • Explain that cultural learning helps pupils to ‘hold their own’
  • Combat the tendency for pupils to only value what they will be examined in – impact of English Baccalaureate (EBACC)?


  • Use of Social Media
  • Build a reputation for the school as one which is known for creative activities
  • Locate school events in local cultural venues
  • Use creative thinking to solve community problems, encouraging parents and partners to work together
  • Strong creative industries help engage schools with the value of a creative approach
  • Circulating messages about the needs of employers for creative and flexible thinkers
  • Use DfE ‘activity passport’ as a starting point.  Create a local ‘I have never been to/seen X to create a canon of local activity to try.

Other heads/ Principals of Colleges

  • How schools network and connect is changing.
  • Working with other heads from different phases is positive and important
  • The Maths and English focus at primary level has masked social disadvantage and this catches up with children as they go through the systems
  • Why are only secondary schools entitled to pupil premium?
  • Narrowing of the curriculum in some schools is making it harder for colleges to approach creative subjects because of students’ lack of prior experience.

Discussion Three: What do schools need to implement a quality education that embeds creativity and cultural learning at its heart?



Changes to policy and strategy

  • How can we lobby DfE? The DfE needs to go on a journey and listen to schools’ rationale behind creative and cultural learning.
  • DfE and OFSTED need to be more aligned.  They have conflicting values and judgements are inconsistent.
  •  Schools prioritise creative and cultural learning despite policy rather than with it. This area needs government investment.
  • OFSTED engenders fear.
  • It needs to support the quality of leadership not make value judgements

Well trained and knowledgeable staff

  • We need teachers who are learners.
  • Schools need resources that are fit for purpose (time; facilities; equipment; experienced staff)
  • More teachers and extended professional learning opportunities would help.
  • Pair less experienced staff with more experienced staff.
  • It’s OK to make mistakes
  • Creative approaches need to be embedded in Initial Teacher Training.

More flexibility, less politics

  • A strong vision and permission to prioritise creative and cultural learning despite pressure of EBACC and Progress 8.
  • Would be good to have more flexible performance / accountability measures reflecting our priorities. Less politics.

Strong school leadership

  • Can creative heads join OFSTED as Inspectors?
  • More leader autonomy
  • More mentoring of school leaders
  • Reduce fear – encourage bravery
  • Passion and courage
  • Everyone can be a leader

Supportive governing bodies

  • Clear and unconflicted messages from Governors.  Governors are hard to win round if academic standards are lower.
  • Succession planning

Stronger Collaboration

  • More co-ordination between institutions to share good and relevant practice and support  each other
  • More collaboration between special schools and mainstream schools and between key stage two and key stage three.

Platforms for young people to share work

  • Time is needed for students to engage with creative and cultural learning both within and beyond the school day
  • More opportunities to showcase pupils’ work e.g. pan-MAT talent comp.

Bridge support

  • Where and how do you find the good stuff?
  • Bridge cascading important info as Heads struggle for time.
  • More publicity to raise the profile and advocate for creative and cultural learning.
  • Practical advocacy

Reduction in pressure and criticism

  • Schools need more time to be able to reflect on new changes. There has been a bombardment of priorities. There is also ‘deep dive’ panic.
  • Remove the pressure of assessment. Who does it serve to have levels?
  • Could there be less punishment for under-performing schools so that they can experiment with creative ways to secure improvement.
  • Is it easier for high performing schools to be flexible about their approach to curriculum and creativity?

Capacity to assure quality

  • Money and the capacity to administrate, manage, co-ordinate and evaluate the impact of high-quality activity
  • We need a clear sense of what quality looks like
  • Ways of sharing high quality practice
  • Evidence of impact needs to be linked with school and local drivers.
  • Investors need to make schools more accountable for realising outputs/results

High quality cultural providers

  • Does the arts and cultural sector understand the challenges schools face?
  • Generally the feeling of the room was no.
  • Where are the high quality cultural providers?
  • More working in partnership
  • Broaden the pool of assets

Relevant, rich and broad curricula

  • We have to move with the needs of the children
  • More could be done to help children with ‘readiness for school’
  • Personalising the curriculum.
  • Use plans as a road map.
  • Flexibility of timetable and space to experiment with new curriculum models
  • Real life experiences: it’s easier to develop vocabulary in a rich and broad curriculum
  • Is progression assured?

Bridge Organisations

If you would like to start a conversation about anything noted above, please contact your Bridge Organisation

Artswork, Jane Bryant, Chief Executive, General email

Festival Bridge, Michael Corley, Head of Festival Bridge & Creative Learning, General email 

Royal Opera House Bridge, Sally Manser, Head of ROH Bridge Programme, General email 

Cultural Learning Alliance, Lizzie Crump, Co-director of CLA, General email