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Developing a Cultural Curriculum, by Dame Sally Coates

Recently the Social Mobility Commission published a survey showing that the younger generation feels increasingly “on the wrong side of a profound unfairness in British society”, leaving them less well-off than their parents, with worse job security and poorer housing prospects.

Given this, it is more important than ever that those of us working in education equip young people with the skills and knowledge to achieve well and lead successful lives.

At United Learning we have developed a knowledge-rich curriculum that stretches our primary and secondary students.  Our unique nature as a schools group that works across both the independent and state sectors drives collaboration with this curriculum, where teachers benefit from wide sharing of planning, resources and best practice.  This is ably supported by expert support from group-wide subject leaders.

But if we’re serious about preparing our students to thrive in society we must develop a cultural curriculum every bit as enriching as the classroom curriculum.

Beyond the classroom, schools should seek to envelop students in rich cultural experiences.  For more affluent children, trips to the theatre, national parks, galleries and museums are an integral part of growing up, yet in London I’ve taught teenagers who have barely left their postcode.

During my time at Burlington Danes we introduced Cultural Capital – a programme of cultural visits to attractions around London.  The culture of high stakes accountability in which schools operate can deter head teachers from investing time and money in anything which doesn’t directly improve students’ grades.

At United Learning we place real value on the broader curriculum, following the example of the independent sector in particular where music and sport are held in high regard.  These subjects are really valued for their role in developing character and broadening opportunity for young people.

Throughout my career I’ve seen boys and girls develop sportsmanship, learning to win and lose with good grace through their involvement in local and national fixtures.  And teams aren’t just in the domain of sports; involvement in a theatre company, choir or school orchestra gives students an added motivation to succeed beyond the classroom and teaches them about not giving up, just as being in the Rugby 1st XV or a football team can.

At United Learning we have developed a mastery curriculum for our primary and secondary schools across a range of core subjects.  Music and sport are true mastery subjects by their very nature, emphasising the importance of deliberate practice to improve rapidly.  Wider education can learn lots from the example set by musicians who dedicate hours to scales and exercises, and those in the field of sports who perfect drills and penalties.And as we look to transform rapidly schools in this country through skilled school improvement, it’s important to remember the role that sport and the creative arts can play in raising student aspirations.  By being part of teams and wearing the school colours, young people have an opportunity to represent their school with pride within the local community.

This summer, our IDeas Festival will allow schools and their communities to explore their personal, local and national cultural identities as they engage in high-quality events linked to their new curriculum.  For example, a nursery in Banbury has brought families together for a literary festival inspired by 'Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross'.  Students in Lambeth are celebrating the rich cultural heritage of south London, with Charlie Chaplin and David Bowie inspiring learning and collaboration with local primary schools.

These projects are examples of our comprehensive programme of activities for the 35,000 students and 7,000 teachers in the Group, including residential opportunities, performances in national venues, sports ambassador visits and many more.  All of this to equip them with the confidence and mind set needed to aim high - to bring out the best in everyone.

It is so important that young people believe that they will be able to do even better than the generation before them.  By fully understanding the world around them, and beyond, we can begin to inspire hope in our young people.

To find out more about the IDeas Festival, please visit our dedicated microsite.

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