The Case for Culture North East
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Case for Culture 16 April 2024
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The Case for Culture in North East Schools

As part of our ongoing North East Case for Culture work, the North East Culture Partnership recently convened a meeting of child health, education and culture colleagues who have an experienced overview of the sector in the North East. The meeting was proposed by Professor Chris Drinkwater and the overview and recommendations below are drawn from the group meeting including Professor Drinkwater's observations:

The Case for Culture in Schools

Child poverty has increased from 26% to 35% of all children in our region over the last ten years – NE Child Poverty Commission.

Poverty has a significant effect on educational outcomes and on mental and emotional wellbeing – What are the effects of child poverty.

This is associated in the NE with higher-than-UK average levels of pupil absence and referral to mental health services.

What is Creative Health?

Creative Health engages children in creative activities such as dance, drama, visual arts, film and music to bring a wide range of health, educational and wellbeing benefits to young people in the North East.  Children and young people who are able to access Creative Health opportunities can benefit through increased social and emotional skills, and emerging evidence demonstrates that this improves educational attainment and health outcomes with the greatest benefit for children in low-income families.

How can a Case for Culture in schools help?

Primary schools are key assets in local communities but they are struggling with limited school budgets, an increase in poor levels of mental wellbeing and a national curriculum with too much focus on educational outcomes and STEM and not enough focus on social and emotional learning.

The Cultural Learning Alliance has published evidence for the impact of cultural learning on educational and health outcomes with a particular focus on the benefits for low-income families key research findings: the case for cultural learning.

There is also an evidence review of social and emotional learning by the Education Policy Institute which highlights the importance of these skills for educational success and lifelong wellbeing.

Local Examples

There are a number of successful examples across the North East that have been funded by a variety of sources including the Arts Council, the current North of Tyne Combined Authority and the NHS. These include for example, work around creative health by the North East and North Cumbria (NENC) Child Health & Wellbeing Network NENC Healthier Together: Creative Health, the Glasshouse In Harmony project and the local cultural education partnerships hosted by Tyne and Wear Museums.

 A problem with all of these is that funding is time-limited, and there is not enough focus or funding to sustain and spread what works!

A potential way forward

There is increasing interest from the Arts Council England, which has recently funded the National Centre for Creative Health to employ seven creative health associates to work with NHS Integrated Care Boards, including the NENC.

This programme aims to embed creative health within healthcare systems with a focus on mental health and wellbeing in children and young people.  Alongside this, funders are also driving for more integrated and collaborative approaches.  The new Combined Authority provides an opportunity to bring together key players across a defined geography to develop a proposal that meets the interests of all parties and that would be attractive to a range of potential funders.  This should build on the learning from local projects and should be targeted at schools in disadvantaged areas where children do not have access to the creative opportunities available to their better-off peers because the evidence suggests that children in low-income families will get greater benefits.

Local Cultural Education Partnerships (LCEPs) are strategic-level place-based partnerships connecting the cultural and education sectors. Focusing on the wider needs of young people living in their area, they break down barriers to arts and culture. In the North East, our eight LCEPs cover the entirety of the region, and are supported by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. This network can support region-wide strategic work with schools, ensuring that initiatives are targeted where they are needed the most.

 What might this look like?

  1. Co-design and develop a proposition that meets the interests of all partners.
  2. A potential starting point would be to identify and work with three primary schools in the most disadvantaged areas in each of the seven local authorities that make-up the new combined authority.
  3. Build on what is already available in local areas, as this is likely to be more sustainable.
  4. Develop a three-year creative health programme with the schools, their students and local arts providers.
  5. Work with the NENC Applied Research Collaborative to develop a common framework for measuring impact and outcomes. Ideally this would also include matched comparison with similar non-participating schools.
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