Helping a national children’s arts charity make the case to parliament for free cultural participation
Action for Children’s Arts (ACA) commissioned always possible, working in partnership with children’s theatre expert Michael Judge, to explore the idea of a virtual Arts BackPack being offered to every primary school child in the UK. The concept of the Arts BackPack is to serve as a digital collection point for a child’s arts, cultural, heritage and library engagements and experiences across the school year. The aim is to ensure that each child can access a minimum of 5 experiences. It is neither new nor original, but an idea that ACA feel would speak to every person in the UK in a clear and visible way.
The feasibility study needed to, among other targets, enable the creation of a national steering group and potentially regional steering groups. Key to the process was the identification of whether there is a strong case to support it across the UK. The study needed to offer clear reporting from a current review of published information and available literature related to the concept and scope of a UK wide initiative challenging all primary school children to connect with heritage, libraries, culture and the arts.
Research & reporting:
August 2018 – December 2018.
Presentation to All Party Parliamentary Group on Children’s Media & The Arts:
Primary School aged children
There is a lack of focus on culture for Primary School aged children as opposed to other age-ranges. There is a gap in research, in strategic thinking and potentially provision. There is growing research targeted at an older age range; there are campaign groups that address the arts curriculum at secondary level like BACC for the Future; and there is an increasing focus on creative skills for careers and employability. There is also an acknowledgement of the importance of early years. However, there is a case that the cultural life of primary-aged children is currently being overlooked.
The contexts for any new cultural initiative are very varied across the United Kingdom, and also different to the international contexts we have investigated. The variations are due to:
- different national policy drivers
- inequalities of provision in local geographic areas
It may be that some governments already have policy initiatives similar to the BackPack idea and it may be that some schools are already very culturally active. However, it is clear that there is an unequal approach to how children become culturally confident as they grow up, and the Arts BackPack may be a way to level the playing field. This study offers case studies from international models, and recommends which elements might work best in the UK.
Culture for intrinsic good vs Culture for education and health
There is a growing awareness of the need to evidence the benefits of culture, and an understanding of the difference between the intrinsic benefits, culture for its own sake, and extrinsic educational and health benefits. We have found that if cultural initiatives are too closely allied with extrinsic objectives, such as education and health, then quality may suffer and the offer may be less attractive to children. We have also found that any new initiatives requiring funding will need to navigate a balance between these potentially conflicting objectives.
An easily understood idea that has the potential to adapt to different contexts
We have found that the idea of an Arts BackPack is relatively easy to understand; and that it has been a successful cultural flagship project in different international contexts. The success of these international projects has been due to either the comprehensive backing of a national government that puts significant resources behind the project, or energetic partnership working in local context.
“What is profoundly clear from the report is that access to culture is extremely unequal across UK schools. As an organisation we are passionate about targeting those children who do not currently access arts and culture, and hope that the Arts Backpack will be a means of levelling an unequal cultural playing field”
Children’s TV presenter Chris Jarvis in Arts Professional
“A scheme intended to give every primary school child in the UK access to at least five cultural experiences each year is to begin piloting this September. Inspired by similar schemes in Norway, Germany and Israel, the Arts Backpack UK is the brainchild of charity Action for Children’s Arts, which campaigns for young people’s access to culture”
The Stage, May 2019
In July 2019, ACA and always possible presented the report to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children’s Media & The Arts, chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin
Working with Richard and always possible on our recent feasibility study for an Arts BackPack for all UK primary schools has been more than useful. Richard has been able to shine a light on the core relevance of ideas and very effectively connect them to a wide range of current thinking, research and practice. He knows ‘stuff’ in an incredibly detailed way and has that rare and valuable ability to identify, build and facilitate vital links between ideas, people and their practice.
CEO, Action for Children’s Arts