Are we missing something….? by Sam Cairns, Co-ordinator, Cultural Learning Alliance

Measuring the quality of cultural learning programmes for children and young people seems to provoke endless debate in the cultural sector, and almost none in the education sector.  If teachers, who are experts in assessment, feel it should be easy to assess the quality of cultural learning provision I find myself wondering if we have needlessly complicated things?

To me, measuring quality seems complex, not just complicated (take a look at this article on the differences between these). As Anna Cutler, a Cultural Learning Alliance steering group member, points out in her contribution to Creativity Money Love:

If creative learning is the creation of one’s own ideas, or learning to create one’s own ideas – or even understanding that learning is the creation of new ideas – and if every human has the capacity to do this, then we are talking about something very significant and complex.

If we want to measure quality we have to know what we are measuring. In the Cultural Learning Alliance publication The Case for Cultural Learning: Key Research Findings we have brought together what we know about the impact of cultural learning. We can prove it impacts on cognitive skills, on attainment, on voting, on employment.  But they are only some of the instrumental outcomes: what about the intrinsic benefits of cultural learning? If we can’t even track what cultural learning provides, how can we measure if we are delivering quality?

And yet, teachers don’t think measuring impact and quality is a problem, and they are people who are expert at assessing children, who do it on a frequent basis and are assessed themselves frequently. Outside of our sector, experts look at the complex and find ways to render it simple; for example see this three-minute TED presentation by Eric Berlow.

As a sector do we need to be learning more from how the education sector assesses quality? Are there conversations we need to be having with teachers about the intrinsic and instrumental impacts of cultural learning and how they would measure them? Do people feel they are already having these conversations? It will certainly be interesting to see how the upcoming Henley Review of Cultural Education frames these conversations.

I think it would be easy to dismiss the education system’s assessments as not appropriate to cultural learning, and easy to make an argument that the benefits of cultural learning cannot be measured in the same way as school subjects, that our delivery is so different to school teaching you can’t compare it. But I don’t think we can afford to do that.  We need to work hand in hand with the education sector if we want to have any chance of offering a baseline of access to cultural experiences for the children and young people of the UK, and if we are to construct any kind of national narrative about the importance and value of cultural learning that reaches beyond our sector into every home and every life.

Within the Cultural Learning Alliance, about 40% of our 7,000 members are from the education sector. We have worked hard across the cultural and education sectors to agree the principles upon which we work and to draw up practical ways we can be empowered to work better together. All this work points to the fact that we need to work together more, that our practice and delivery will be enriched by closer collaboration and better understanding of each other’s work.

And who knows, maybe together we will come up with a simple unifying way to measure the quality of our work?

Sam Cairns co-ordinates the Cultural Learning Alliance with Lizzie Crump. The Cultural Learning Alliance is a collective voice working to ensure that at a time of social and economic stress all children and young people are able to have an active engagement with the creation and enjoyment of our arts and heritage.

Agree? Disagree?

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2 Responses to Are we missing something….? by Sam Cairns, Co-ordinator, Cultural Learning Alliance

  1. I wanted to comment on the quote from Anna Cutler near the start of this article:
    ‘If creative learning is the creation of one’s own ideas, or learning to create one’s own ideas – or even understanding that learning is the creation of new ideas – and if every human has the capacity to do this, then we are talking about something very significant and complex.’
    I think the quote places too much emphasis on individual ownership of ‘new’ ideas. iI is significant that the article as a whole is framed in terms of Cultural Learning which implies that creativity and creative learning take place within a cultural context. Whether it be a (young) jazz musician improvising around an existing melody or a visual artist producing work informed by (or in resistance to) an artistic tradition we learn from and measure the quality of work by its relationship to the work of others, past and present.

  2. Jo Smith says:

    Referring to the article’s central point – Having been party to one of the revised Artsmark scheme pilot projects last year, where we were advocating the use of teacher peer assessment for the review of applications for the award, I suggest that the voice and opinion of teachers has already being canvassed regarding quality at a certain level, but more could be done. I wonder what vehicle could be used to adequately capture and distill those opinions and suggestions so that they are something that could be of practical and meaningful use to artists and arts organisations going forward. There’s certainly a need for some kind of communal space where these discussions could be had. As part of the ROH Creative Partnerships final programme year, we introduced a variety of localised and small scale projects and opportunities where teachers came together to share ideas, learn new creative skills, and discuss similar topics in an informal setting, although didn’t tackle the quality agenda head on. Would have made for an interesting discussion and further opportunity to learn. Isn’t the quality question an area that ccskills are looking into in more depth? And if so, do they have teachers directly involved in that investigation?

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