New research reveals the challenges that need to be overcome to improve communications between schools and cultural organisations.

Students participating in a Jungle Book workshop

Lafayette College (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Teachers tend to base decisions about working with arts organisations on previous experience and word of mouth recommendations, meaning many children could be missing out on relevant cultural opportunities, according to newly published research by A New Direction (A.N.D.), London’s lead Bridge organisation. The research findings are being used to inform the development of a new education portal that will help London schools find information and opportunities, and develop partnerships with arts and cultural organisations across the capital.

The research was conducted among London schools with a declared interest in delivering cultural opportunities for their students. It found that teachers are cautious about developing relationships with new arts organisations and tend to work with known partners, with many believing that this route is both less risky and less demanding. Most marketing material aimed at teachers “is binned immediately, else piles up and binned at end of term”, and several teachers expressed “scepticism around the quality of organisations which had to advertise”. But a searchable online facility to help schools find and evaluate a more diverse range of cultural opportunities from a wider geographical area was thought to be a potentially valuable resource. Teachers thought such a facility could save them time, but would require a measure of quality assurance, including a guarantee that all practitioners were ‘school appropriate’.

The website, which is currently being tested and refined in collaboration with a small group of teachers and organisations, is being developed by a Fellow of the Culture Hive Digital Marketing Academy, with guidance from A.N.D.’s research. Some such services already exist elsewhere, such as Creativity Scotland and Mocca in Amsterdam; and within London itself, Camden, has created a ‘market place’ for schools and cultural organisations, and Creative Islington has recently launched its own education portal. But since the portal run by LONSAS (the London Schools Arts Service) closed in 2012, there has been no London-wide online facility.

Fellow Steve Woodward is hoping that, by creating a better means of brokering partnerships, the portal will increase the number, depth and breadth of relationships between schools and the cultural sector. He told AP: “…there are probably swathes of teachers who don’t want in depth partnership and are happy with the odd backstage tour, or off the peg workshop, but we’re interested in the full picture and finding ways for those schools who are inclined, but just don’t know how or where to start, to engage through more informed (and possibly even two-way) dialogue with the cultural sector.”

Liz Hill