Cultural Learning: where do we go from here, what next?

19 June 2020

Cultural Learning: where do we go from here, what next?

by Jeanne Hale, governor in three Newcastle primary schools and a Chair of Governors.

I’m writing this blog from the perspective of a school governor. I am a governor in three Newcastle primary schools and a Chair of Governors in one of them and I know that there is a lot that is currently consuming thinking in schools, as you will no doubt understand. 

School leaders are being bombarded on a regular basis with updates and guidance from the government. They are dealing with the reorganisation of schools, as we know them, the associated risk assessments, food vouchers and distribution, keeping in touch with vulnerable families, and pupil and staff wellbeing. Teachers are now spending their time between working from home preparing resources and supporting pupils’ home learning and teaching in schools with children of key workers and vulnerable pupils and the priority year groups.  

Looking forward and thinking longer term is challenging for everyone and affects every facet of our lives. We are faced with an unknown and uncertain future, so if we were to even ask a question about the future of cultural learning in the context of where we are now, then we might need to take some time to consider the answer.

The three schools I’m privileged to work with as a governor have all invested over time in developing a rich cultural offer for their pupils. Before lockdown, Knoplaw Primary School was beginning to plan a programme of work for the coming year that would open the doors, for pupils and their families, to a range of cultural venues in their city. Who knows when those venues will be accessible again? The ‘In Harmony’ music programme is a key feature of Hawthorn Primary School, developed in partnership with Sage Gateshead. As with many cultural venues, the building is closed and activity suspended and the children’s musical development is on hold. Hotspur Primary School has embedded an innovative approach to cultural learning and had a rich cultural offer for the summer term and was planning for next year working with partners and freelance artists. Exciting, creative and innovative work in these schools is on indefinite hold whilst we create a ‘new normal’ way of working. 

Amid this pandemic, as lockdown eases, where does that leave us, where do we go from here, what next? Whilst we are learning to live with the ongoing presence of COVID-19 we don’t know how learning in schools will develop, what it will look like or what it will feel like. The need to have ‘social distancing’, whether it’s 2m, 1m or somewhere in between, will no doubt impact on many activities. It might have a big impact on those that are often at the heart of cultural learning where children need to work collaboratively. Another big unknown we face is a future where we don’t know what kind of cultural offer will be available to us even when we are back in school. When will the cultural sector be open for business and what will it look like as it reopens? 

In supporting our schools to move forward and carefully navigating a future path we can, as governors, make sure that cultural learning remains a key feature of the curriculum offer in school. As pupils spend longer out of school there will be a lot of pressure to ‘catch up’. We must try to ensure that we are not propelled again down a narrow path where all the wonderful curriculum development work that was happening in schools before all of this is lost. 

We hope that the cultural sector, as and when it emerges, has the capacity to respond to the different needs of schools. We hope that the partnerships, developed as schools looked to find partners to work with and to bring expertise into schools, are rekindled. We hope that it can be the same but let us not assume that it will be. Out of necessity it might, in many ways, be different. 

Many organisations are already looking at a greater online presence and presenting a wealth of digital materials. Will we be able to make more of our knowledge of the capabilities of the virtual worlds we have all been inhabiting with our Zoom and Teams meetings. Can we have network and CPD for teachers in a virtual world to share expertise, still communicating with each other but in different ways?

One thing I’m convinced of, is that more than ever, we will need to give our children and young people the best possible opportunities to know more about their own world and the world around them. We will emerge from our small lockdown existences into a changed world. Many issues that have become a focus for us currently; the social inequalities that impact on far too many in our country, the powerful ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and our response to climate change will become the issues they must deal with in the future. There will be some ‘catching up’ with lost learning to do but it is equally important to catch up with many missed experiences that enable children to understand their world, to be curious, to imagine, to create and to find the things that make them happy and feel safe. 

It will all be new and it might be challenging.

I have been working as a consultant with Culture Bridge North East on the development of Creative Classrooms and have been challenged, like many of you, by the changing world in which we find ourselves. We have tried to respond to the emerging situation by developing the Creative Classrooms online Compendium as a support for teachers. Currently feedback from cultural organisations and practitioners that have sent in content and from teachers has been positive. We have begun to think about the future for Creative Classrooms, we are all now wondering where do we go from here, what next?

If you have any ideas or suggestions for Creative Classrooms moving forwards please send us an email: bridge@twmuseums.org.uk