Background to the project

There is a wealth of evidence to show that studying the arts fosters creativity, innovation, empathy, and resilience; that the arts are crucial for our economic prosperity; and that the arts enrich lives, making us happier and healthier.1

As a partnership of five schools across Europe, we fundamentally believe in the vital importance of a rich cultural and creative education for our children.  As Darren Henley, now Chief Executive of Arts Council England, said in 2012 when he conducted a review of cultural education in England:

For children to leave full-time education without having engaged in Cultural Education… would be a failure of a system which sets out to create young people who are not only academically able, but also have a fully-rounded appreciation of the world around them. (p.23)

Though these words were written almost a decade ago, they have had resonance for us as we have sought to explore what an effective cultural education means and how it can be best delivered in our schools and beyond.  We agree that, in order to provide a rich cultural education for our young people, we require teachers who are inquisitive, skilful and fervent about cultural and creative education pedagogy.  It is this sentiment that has resulted in our partnership exploring pedagogy in visual art, drama and music, as well as digital media and English language through our three cross-Europe projects.

The Henley review warns us not to underestimate ‘The impact that great teachers and great teaching can have on a child’s engagement with Cultural Education’3 (p.47).  The UK government’s subsequent summary of cultural education programmes states that ‘We want all children to grow up experiencing a rich cultural life, supported by high-quality and engaging opportunities available in their local area’4 (p.13).  More recently, the Royal Society of Arts’ (RSA) Arts-rich schools study5 identified the essential cultural education elements that these schools embody, and a 2021 update to the Durham Commission on Creativity and Education found that ‘Covid-19 has shown that creativity and cultural experiences are fundamental to the lives of young people and the culture of schools’6 (p.9). 

Henley and the government’s perspectives provided us with our initial framework7 for a collaborative study into effective music teaching practices in five European countries, with a focus on what ‘great teaching’ looks like in these different contexts. 

This project was conceived in the first instance as having an impact on music and English language teachers in the partner and other schools to advance pedagogical understanding in and between these two disciplines to develop their skills, knowledge and experiences. The objectives of the project for teaching professionals were as follows:

  • to audit the teaching and learning approaches in music and English language across the partnership schools;
  • to explore which teaching and learning approaches are successful in individual and partnership contexts and why;
  • to explore and exploit shared pedagogical approaches between these two disciplines, for instance through spoken  word and performance poetry;
  • to explore which informal learning approaches are used by cultural organisation partners and which are successful in  individual and partnership contexts and why;
  • to create a toolkit of effective teaching and learning approaches in music and English language education for sharing beyond the partnership to improve pedagogical approaches across Europe by inspiring teachers and practitioners and creating impact for learners.

Our project has also involved working directly with students in our five schools to explore in practice which music, English language and shared pedagogical approaches are the most impactful and why, using an action research methodology to guide this. There are, therefore, associated objectives in terms of the participating students, which are:

  • through participation in an action research project, students will be able to contribute their thoughts and experience in what makes effective teaching and learning in music and English language lessons;
  • students will work with teachers from four other countries and through that will experience a range of teaching and learning approaches;
  • students will increase their English language and subject-specific vocabularies, which in turn increase their capacity to access higher education and work;
  • students will understand the importance of (transnational) collaboration and communication.

Our five schools’ experience of working with external partner organisations further prompted us to examine the work of Carron and Carr-Hill8 to interrogate what happens when the worlds of formal and non-formal9 education merge.  A desire to explore how school-to-school collaboration could support school improvement across our respective institutions provided the final impetus for our research.10

The project culminates with the creation of this online toolkit of effective teaching and learning approaches in music and English language education. Our toolkit is being shared within the partnership and our existing networks, and across Europe using each schools' websites.

This project has aimed to support school staff to reflect on, develop and extend their expertise in the teaching of music and English language. This will serve to strengthen those staff members' commitment to their subjects and schools, while sharing excellent practice with a much broader range of schools to enhance teaching in these subject areas. In working alongside practitioners who work in non-formal contexts, the school teachers have also been introduced to non-formal learning approaches that are showing evidence of increasing students' engagement and success.  We worked, for instance, with the Roundhouse in London and Martin Tchiba in Kaiserslautern to understand their approach to spoken word and composing, respectively.  We observed their workshops in the same way that we observed our various lessons, to understand the pedagogy behind this approach to cultural and creative education delivery.

More extrinsically, we hope our research and toolkit will support the ongoing professional development of the teachers involved, as well as, indirectly, their departmental colleagues, and increase their commitment to remaining in their schools. We are aware of the increasing challenges faced in recruiting and retaining exceptional staff in schools, particularly teachers, and this project will seek to change this in the partner schools and offer re-energisation to colleagues in schools across Europe.


1 Cultural Learning Allice.  ‘About us’.  London, 2021.  Visit this website.  [Accessed 26 June 2021].

2 Henley, D. Cultural Education in England: An independent review by Darren Henley for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education.  Departments of Culture, Media & Sport and Education, London, 2012.

3 Henley, 2012. 

Departments of Education and Culture, Media & Sport.  Cultural Education: A summary of programmes and opportunities.  London: Departments for Education and Culture, Media & Sport, 2013.

5 Cairns, S. et al.  Arts-rich schools.  London: Royal Society of Arts, 2020.

6 Serota, Sir N. et al.  Durham Commission on Creativity and Education: Second report 2021.  Durham: Arts Council England and Durham University, 2021.

7 The recent RSA (Cairns, S. et al, 2020) and Durham Commission (Serota, Sir N. et al, 2021) reports are a more recent reminder of the vital importance of cultural learning opportunities for our young people.

8 Carron, G, and Carr-Hill, R.A. Non-formal education: information and planning issues. Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning, 1991.

9 Cedefop. ‘Glossary of key terms’ in Terminology of European education and training policy: a selection of 130 terms.  2nd ed. Luxembourg: Publications Office, 2014.  Visit this website.  [Accessed 17 February 2021].

10 It is noted that there remain ‘evidence gaps’ in proving the impact of school-to-school collaboration (p38).  Greatbatch, D. and Tate, S. What works in delivering school improvement through school-to-school support.  London: Department for Education, 2019.

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Picture of a group meeting