‘Enlightening, Exciting, Educational!’ Primary Teachers, Gallery Educators and Children co-constructing Cultural Capital for a ‘Full Curriculum’ in the C21st: Teachers’ Perspectives

  • Murray, J. (Author)
  • Kate Noble (Author)
  • Caroline Smith (Author)
  • Darren Smith (Author)
  • Anna Carter (Author)
  • David Meechan (Author)
  • Rebecca Aberton (Author)

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsConference Presentation


During the early twenty-first century (C21st), the number of arts education and art specialist teachers declined in English primary schools (Cooper, 2018; NSEAD, 2016). Subsequently, during the academic year 2018-2019 England’s Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) announced a major change to its inspection framework, incentivising primary schools to provide ‘the full curriculum’ (Ofsted, 2019), rather than teaching narrowly to national tests in English and mathematics. From September 2019, Ofsted (2019: 9-10) would inspect the quality of education according to the extent to which it gives ‘all pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils…the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life’. Whilst Bourdieu (1986:46) defined cultural capital as ‘the immanent structure of the social world’, yet culture is ‘complicated’ (Williams, 1976) and Ofsted’s espousal of cultural capital as a resolution for social inequalities was strongly contested (Mansell, 2019).

This paper reports on an aspect of a study conducted in 2018-2019 to elicit views of children aged 8-9 years (n=328) and teachers (n=25) in one primary multi-academy trust (MAT) in the English midlands about their experiences of a collaborative art education programme (AEP) during 2018-2019. The MAT location is characterised by socio-economic deprivation and a high percentage of poorly performing schools (DLUHC, 2019; Ofsted, 2016). The AEP was devised by a publicly funded art museum and promotes visual arts within education to inspire a lasting love of art and learning. During the AEP, the art museum educators worked with MAT teachers to plan and implement an adapted programme of learning for children featuring opportunities to develop creativity, exploration and engagement with highbrow culture, including an art museum visit (Bourdieu, 1984; 1986). A ‘test and explore’ intrinsic case study was conducted alongside the AEP to investigate beliefs and attitudes of participating MAT children and their teachers concerning the AEP and its effects on teachers’ professional development and children’s learning in selected areas. This paper focuses on participating teachers’ views.

BERA (2018) guidelines framed the study’s ethics, approved and monitored by the study higher education institution (HEI). Teachers gave voluntary informed consent before participating. Analysis of teachers’ data featured descriptive statistics, ‘wordles’ and thematic analysis. In pre-programme and post-programme questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, teachers shared their views about the AEP effects on their knowledge, skills and confidence for teaching writing, art and their students’ development of non-cognitive skills, rich vocabulary, art appreciation, critical thinking and cultural capital.

Although teachers said only some aspects of the AEP enhanced their schools’ curriculum development and curriculum outcomes, they thought the programme exceeded their expectations. By the end of the programme, teachers were more positive concerning their own teaching - and their students’ learning - in creative writing, non-fiction written critique and use of rich vocabulary for writing (Beck and McKeown, 2007). After the AEP, teachers were also more positive about their teaching and students’ learning in respect of all NSEAD (2019) criteria salient to children aged 8-9 years. Additionally, teachers believed they were better at supporting students to acquire C21st skills including motivation, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, social skills, critical thinking and creativity (Joynes, Rossignoli and Fenyiwa Amonoo-Kuofi, 2019). Teachers also became more positive about using paintings to inspire and plan for children’s cross-curricular learning.

Overall, teachers indicated that students’ presentations of ‘highbrow’ cultural capital markers had increased by the end of the AEP, including ‘legitimate language’ ‘aesthetic appreciation’, critical thinking and access to art works (Bourdieu, 1984; 1986:46). Furthermore, data indicated that teachers thought the AEP had gone beyond affording children opportunities to acquire ‘highbrow’ cultural capital. It also gave children specialised ‘powerful knowledge’ that is ‘differentiated from everyday thinking’ (Young and Muller, 2013:246). Equally, AEP enabled children to build skills for the C21st knowledge economy (IBE, 2013), including cultural and social competences, resilience, self-efficacy, communication, creativity, critical thinking’ (Joynes et al., 2019). Additionally, students’ active engagement with culture during the AEP had an agentic quality associated with academic achievement, especially among disadvantaged students (Mironenko and Sorokin, 2018:331; Burger and Walk, 2016). These heterogeneous competences resonate with ‘emerging cultural capital’: they may include – but are not limited to - Bourdieusian signifiers of the privileged (Savage, 2015:113). Teachers highlighted the value of the art education programme in supporting children’s ‘emerging cultural capital’ with potential to enable them to traverse eclectic and dynamic milieux likely to help them ‘succeed in life’ as the C21st progresses (Ofsted, 2019:9; Savage, 2015).
Period8 Sept 2022
Event titleBERA Conference 2022
Event typeConference
LocationLiverpool, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Arts education
  • Creativity
  • Primary education
  • Pedagogy
  • Multi-sectoral research