Curious Minds was established in 2009 to deliver Arts Council England’s Creative Partnerships programme across Lancashire and Merseyside [1].

Creative Partnerships was England’s flagship creative learning programme, designed to develop the skills of children and young people across England, raising their aspirations, achievements and life chances. 

Curious Minds have worked in partnership with 350 primary, secondary and SEN schools and 4,000 teachers and school leaders. Bringing creative workers such as artists, architects and scientists into schools to work with teachers and inspire young people, helping them learn.

Curious Minds’ Vision

Curious Minds have a vision for a future where creativity and experiencing arts and culture is a regular aspect of every child’s learning and leisure time.

They work to make high-quality creative and cultural learning opportunities available to all children and young people, both in and out of school.

They do this by connecting teachers and youth workers with artists and creative practitioners; giving them access to information, expertise, space, and resources to facilitate collaboration and innovation in the field of creative and cultural education.

Curious Minds believe that cultural education is equally as important for children, as academic education. Therefore, they have developed a number of training programmes for teachers to become cultural education leaders.

Cultural education includes archaeology, architecture and the built environment, archives, craft, dance, design, digital arts, drama and theatre, film and cinemas, galleries, heritage, libraries, literature, live performance, museums, music, poetry and the visual arts.  

The Cultural Education Challenge

The Cultural Education Challenge is a call for the art, culture, and education sectors to work together in offering a consistent and high-quality arts and culture education to all children and young people.

The scheme developed by Curious Minds, asks art and cultural organisations, educational institutions, and local authorities to come together to create a joined-up arts and culture offer locally.

It calls for organisations to share resources and bring about a more coherent and visible delivery of cultural education through Local Cultural Education Partnerships.

The concept of a Cultural Education Challenge is to give every child and young person the right to:

  • Create, compose, and perform their own musical or artistic work.

  • Visit, experience and participate in extraordinary work.
  • Know more, understand more, and review the experiences they’ve had.

Underpinned by the principles of:

  • Access, reach, diversity and equality.
  • Impact and accountability.
  • Voice and influence of children and young people.

Schools can track their progress and mark their accomplishments with a Cultural Education Challenge plaque provided by Curious Minds. Participation in Artsmark, Arts Award and the following training programmes will set schools on a path to completing the Cultural Education Challenge.

Specialist Leaders in Education

“Specialist Leaders in Education (SLE) are outstanding middle and senior leaders in positions below the headteacher, with at least two years’ leadership experience. The SLE role is about developing other middle and senior leaders so that they have the skills to lead their own teams and improve practice in their own schools.”

DfE 2010; SLE Application Guidance [2]

In 2013 Curious Minds identified a need to create SLE with specialisms in cultural education. They created a training programme called Specialist Leaders in Cultural Education (SLiCE) for senior and middle leaders. Providing them with the skills, knowledge, and expertise to:

  • assess the needs of other schools around cultural education, support them to select and commission the right cultural partner.
  • use culture appropriatelyin a specific curriculum area or to tackle a particular learning need.
  • support teachers to recognise quality cultural activitywhen they see it – in the process of the teaching and learning and in end results.
  • offer advice and signpostingfor schools and teachers on Artsmark, Arts Award and other strategic initiatives for cultural education.
  • lead on strategic activities that will raise the profile and highlight the value of cultural education across the alliance or school network.
  • make the case for deploying budgets for cultural education and that any investment is most appropriately targeted.
  • ensure that budgets for cultural learning and enhancement activities are suitably programmed so they are inclusive and relevant, and engage young people appropriately

Specialist Leaders in Cultural Education (SLiCEs) increase access to and raise the standard of cultural education for children and young people in their school, the alliance and in the North West.

Leading the Arts in Your School

Leading the Arts in Your School is a modular arts leadership programme also developed by Curious Minds. It is for early to mid-career teachers to develop their school’s arts and culture offer.

The programme has things in common with the SLiCE scheme, but it mainly trains teachers to:

  • Explore what a quality school arts action plan should include
  • Investigate and reflect on leadership and management styles and begin to interrogate the concept and benefits of partnership working
  • Delve deeper into understanding effective arts leadership in its wider context
  • Examine cultural education and arts policy and the impact at local, national, and international level
  • Explore approaches to measuring impact and see how they can contribute to effective advocacy for the arts in schools
  • Explore how to present evidence and how to report to a range of stakeholders
  • Explore effective communication and advocacy as an Arts leader
  • Undertake facilitated sessions on Equality and Diversity, Young People’s Voice, Employability and Skills

Curious Minds developed the programme after becoming aware that many teachers did not have the requisite skills and knowledge to manage programmes effectively.

This was particularly noted in primary schools, where a young non-specialist teacher with a passing interest in art would be given the Arts Coordinator Job, as well as being given the lead for getting the Artsmark Award.   

Artsmark is a strategic development tool for whole-school change and without support from senior leaders and broader staff, it can be a very challenging job.

Curious Minds developed the programme to help teachers take a more strategic approach to arts and culture within their schools, to understand how to build meaningful partnerships with arts and cultural organisations and to show the impact of arts and culture. It also supports teachers on their Artsmark development journey.

However, undertaking Artsmark is not a prerequisite to participating in the programme. Implementing what is learnt on the course should increase the breadth and quality of arts and cultural provision within schools.

Curious Minds have seen an increased interest from schools that are not already on the Artsmark journey.   

Case Study: The Bolton School

Naomi Lord is Director of Creative Learning and Partnerships at The Bolton School. Naomi embarked on the Leading Arts in Your School programme alongside her Artsmark development:

“Over the time period of the course and the first phase of Artsmark development in my setting, my role grew organically to become Director of Creative Learning and Partnerships. … as both Leading the Arts and my leadership of Artsmark in school progressed, the course helped me to identify purpose and ambition in my work and enabled me to articulate school and community-based ambitions for arts and culture to my senior managers.”

“The course gave structure to the identification of priorities, supported my ability to conceptualise change in my setting, taught management styles and helped me to grow and implement an action plan.”

“The impact of the course on my personal practice was remarkable. The knock-on impact on arts in our setting, was also significant.”

Other outcomes for Naomi and The Bolton School:

  • Other new arts roles, including Arts Award co-ordinators and mentors, have been established in the school. These colleagues have also gone on to take the Leading the Arts in your School course
  • The school have developed strong partnerships with a range of cultural organisations and are currently working on an outdoor arts curriculum

Curious Minds have shared how the Leading the Arts programme is to be developed further in 2022:

  • More depth and breadth in the training modules
  • The development of an online learning platform
  • Live, online Zoom sessions
  • Face to face full day sessions in cultural venues

The Ofsted Perspective

‘We can’t afford, as a country, to lose talent, imagination or the scholars of the future because we restrict their education too early. I am proud that Ofsted is now highlighting where this happens and rewarding the places where it doesn’t.” 

“We’ve seen schools that have been cutting back drastically on all children’s opportunities to discover the joys of languages, art, music, drama and humanities – so that most children have to give them up at age 12 or 13, when they have barely begun to discover what these subjects have to offer.”

“We mustn’t succumb to the seductive but wrong-headed logic that we help disadvantaged children by turning a blind eye to schools that narrow education in this way as long as they deliver acceptable grades at the end.”

Ofsted Annual Report by Amanda Spielman 21st January 2020

Curious Minds have highlighted that a school participating in Artsmark or the Leading Arts in Your School programme, will achieve recognition from Ofsted for their efforts to promote cultural education in their schools.

Inspectors will make a judgement on the quality of education by evaluating intent, implementation, and impact. The Artsmark framework sits nicely beside Ofsted requirements:

Intent: Artsmark leaders take on or construct a curriculum that is ambitious and designed to give all learners, particularly the most disadvantaged and those with SEND, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life

Implementation: Teachers have good knowledge of the subjects and courses they teach. Leaders provide effective support for those teaching outside their main areas of expertise.

Artsmark gives the school a framework to assess its provision, curriculum, and pastoral offer. It can offer new approaches to longstanding development plan issues. It gives senior leadership teams and teachers the evidence and language to articulate the quality of the arts and culture offer.

Overall, Curious Minds are providing quality training programmes to give educational staff with an interest in the arts, an opportunity to become leaders of the field. The more quality arts leaders, the better the cultural education that is provided to young people.

[1] Curious Minds

[2] National College for Training and Leadership. Specialist leaders of education (SLE) Application guidance

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Curious Minds aim to see quality cultural education as a regular aspect of every child's learning and leisure time. This article examines the training programmes offered by Curious Minds to help teachers become specialist leaders in cultural education.

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