How to build cultural capital

Image: Students from Nightingale Primary School on the stage at Hackney Empire with technical manager Othman Read

Have you heard the term ‘cultural capital,’ something which schools will be expected to develop in their pupils from September? It means how the education, knowledge, language, habits and references that you acquire in childhood and develop over time influence your ability to ‘get ahead’ in life.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu linked increased capital with increased power, and many studies have subsequently shown that some types of education and family background confer advantages over others.

It’s a strong thread running through via our multi-arts programme, working with schools in disadvantaged areas of London and Birmingham. Our programme enables young people – who may have a variety of challenges at home – to meet and learn from professional musicians and artists and role models; experience live music; try a musical instrument; or explore a local cultural venue with the people who work there.

This year one of the schools we’ve partnered with is Nightingale Primary in Hackney. As well as school sessions, we combined a special behind-the-scenes tour of Hackney Empire with follow on workshops with our professional musician and artist workshop leaders.

Rachel Horowitz is the Creative Learning Producer at Hackney Empire, who programmes free workshops, events and shows for and by young people. She explains: “The young people we work with want the opportunity to express themselves and have a platform to do so. Accessing the performing arts builds confidence and provides space to learn about yourself, your environment and the world we live in.

“It’s important for young people to come into our building and feel that it is theirs, that they can access it and we are here to support that. I think it opens the door wider and gives the children the feeling that they can come here either with their families or as they get older as individuals to participate in projects if they want to.

“Going backstage and meeting a technical manager gives children the chance to imagine themselves there and be excited about it. For example, when the lights come on there may be one child in the room who thinks ‘wow I want to do that’… this journey may not even start without knowing that the roles exist and that you can be creative without being on stage.”

The sessions fired the imagination of the young people from Nightingale Primary, and the school’s Wellbeing Coordinator Madaleine McGinty believes they will have a lasting impact:

“This day provided the children with a completely new experience, as many of them had not attended a theatre before and they felt very proud that they would be the first people in their family to have been there. What was particularly lovely was that the following week the children were keen to share activities from the workshops back at school with their whole class. It was so positive to see them sharing their new musical knowledge and taking ownership in this way. I believe it has ignited a passion in many of our creative individuals to pursue their interests in the arts, as well as potential future careers.”

She added: “Experiences such as this do have a huge impact on how we as adults educate young people, as it encourages us to be creative and open-minded and not be afraid to try new things when teaching the curriculum… The skills learnt in these workshops are so applicable to all areas of learning, teaching collaboration, problem-solving, flexible thinking and finding humour and it has been a pleasure to see many of our young people using these newly developed skills back in our school setting.”

Please support The Abram Wilson Foundation to help us reach even more young people through our schools multi-arts and professional musician career development programmes.

References: Ofsted Education Inspection framework; and The Cultural Learning Alliance’s article ‘What is Cultural Capital?’ offers an excellent exploration of the topic.