Schools are playing a critical role in levelling access to the arts in London, but those in outer London are still missing out, according to new research.

Schools have been identified as key drivers for engaging children in more ‘formal’ cultural activities, such as art exhibitions, museum visits and theatre. An investigation of cultural engagement by young people living in London has concluded that “without schools introducing young people to these experiences it is likely that young audiences would be seriously in decline.” The study found that teachers and their schools provide a particularly important gateway to culture for young people from lower social grade backgrounds, in contrast to those from a higher social grade background, who cite family influence as the main reason for their engagement.

The report ‘Cultural Engagement by Young Londoners: An Introduction to key trends, drivers and challenges’, published by A New Direction, is described as a starting point for understanding how young people engage with London’s cultural venues and events, and the drivers for participation and possible barriers to engagement which may need further research. It details the findings from a survey of over 1,600 young Londoners aged 11-25. The research suggests that overall, levels of engagement for young people in London are high – above the national average for adults across the UK – but there are significant differences between artforms. Nearly 90% attended the cinema last year, compared to just over 60% who went to an art exhibition and 45% who attended a live dance performance. There is a tendency for engagement in cultural activity to decline as children become young adults, and those ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ post-16 (NEET) are among those less likely to access cultural activity. Whilst a third of 16-25 year olds in paid employment or doing an apprenticeship, training or internship had been to the theatre in the past year, the equivalent figure among those NEET is 44%. Rates of attendance were also found to be lower amongst those living in Outer London, rather than in central locations, suggesting proximity is a clear driver for engagement. Apart from in relation to cinema, 11-25 year olds living in Outer London were less likely than those in Inner London to have engaged with the arts.

Author(s): 
Liz Hill