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The spark cultural education can ignite in the children and young people of Leeds today

Image Credit: LeedsCEP

Kathryn Welford, our Children & Young People’s Partnership Manager writes about what happens when culture and learning come together

I had a comprehensive education in the 70s and 80s in a working-class mining village in South Yorkshire. It wasn’t the most salubrious of beginnings. My schools were surrounded by council houses, balding recreation grounds and walls daubed with graffiti intended for non-striking miners. ‘Kestrel for a Knave’ by Barry Hines, better known as Ken Loach’s 1970 film ‘Kes’, was a set text and it was hard to separate fact from fiction.  

It should have been miserable, but looking back, the education I received was transformative. It was something that was apart from and above the surroundings in which it was received. At that time, teaching and learning in Yorkshire was heavily influenceds by Sir Alec Clegg, Chief Education Officer of the West Riding County Council. A charismatic, innovative teacher and public administrator, Clegg championed the vital role of music, drama and dance in children’s lives and the importance of the arts in any humane system of education.  

Young people at Bracken Edge Primary School taking part in a workshop as a part of Letting Culture Loose with LEEDS 2023. Photography: Ant Robling.

My primary school was progressive and open-plan – circular rather than rows of tables, a carpeted reading corner, a ceramics area and visiting authors. At High School, the local newspaper took over and transformed the Physics lab into a newsroom. Students were the reporters, trusted to tell our stories which were published alongside those of professional journalists. This all happened because of a culture within education (borne from Clegg’s tenure) where the arts and creativity were valued, where children were deemed important and interesting enough to be given a choice, and where they were allowed to learn by doing and following their own interests. This wasn’t the norm – we in the then West Riding, were privileged.  

I have worked in creative education, in galleries and arts organisations, for the last 25 years. During this time, the cultural sector has seemed like a rare space for a type of learning which was creative, child-led, unfettered by the constraints of testing and inspection. I had the privilege of a progressive, creative education and I am driven to give children and young people at least some of that same opportunity. 

Kathryn Welford delivering a workshop in Bracken Edge Primary School as a part of Letting Culture Loose with LEEDS 2023. Photography: Ant Robling.

Leeds Cultural Education Partnership (LeedsCEP) is a network that brings together cultural organisations, the education sector, community organisations and policy makers.  Its vision is to grow the aspirations and talents of all children and young people in Leeds through access to high quality arts and cultural opportunities. LeedsCEP is the space through which schools and creative partners can connect, where we can understand and build on our strengths and expertise and work together for strategic change. 

LEEDS 2023 is committed to reaching every school in Leeds, to bring culture and creativity into the heart of the school and its wider community.  2023 will be an amazing year for children and young people, but it can also be the start of a more joined-up relationship between education and the cultural sector. LeedsCEP is at the heart of this partnership approach and will still be here when LEEDS 2023 is a happy memory.  Education, done well, can raise children and young people out of their surroundings, it can be transformative. This is a long game, but LEEDS 2023 can be the start.   

For more information about LeedsCEP visit Leeds Cultural Education Partnership – Artforms Leeds 

Sign up to the LeedsCEP membership mailing list to find out more about our activities and ways of getting involved.