Working in partnership with cultural organisations and practitioners: a guide

Core to our research was to understand what happens when teachers in schools – that is, formal educators – work with cultural organisations and practitioners, in essence colleagues involved in non-formal education.  There was a sense among the research team that schools are not always confident in working collaboratively with local cultural organisations and their staff.  The routes into teaching in each of the five countries are codified and formal, which is not necessarily the ‘training’ that artist-educators have experienced.  There can be some suspicion of cultural education practitioners among teachers in formal education environments, which we wanted to remove.

The schools in the partnership have long histories of working in partnership with cultural organisations and practitioners.  These non-formal learning spaces and individuals have long contributed to our schools’ enriched curricula, but there has not always been a full understanding of each other’s practice. 

Written into the design of our research was collaboration with partner organisations.  This ranged from learning walk-style experiences to shared teaching opportunities.

Typically, during the shorter research visits to Sweden, Hungary and Spain, we undertook learning walks to partner organisations.  Our visit to Sweden enabled us to observe a series of El Sistema workshops.  This international approach to music education is a core component of the offer of Örebro Cultural School, which children from Almby skola access outside of school hours.  In Hungary, colleagues from the school’s partner university – Kodolányi János University – engaged in joint observations of our teaching.  One of the research team also teaches music at the university, so we visited the rooms where degree-level teaching takes place, and heard music sung and played by current undergraduates.  We visited the Hermann School of Music in the centre of Székesfehérvár, taking a tour through the range of instrumental lessons taking place that evening and meeting with the school’s director.  During our virtual visit to Manacor, we spoke with the director of IES Joan Maria Thomás at which 30 students follow a music and dance scholarship programme in  conjunction with the Conservatori Professional de Música i Dansa de Mallorca that provides enhanced training and study in these two subjects.

During the staff and student exchanges to London and Kaiserslautern we worked much more collaboratively with a range of cultural partners and practitioners.  London’s Roundhouse partnered with us for the UK exchange.  Education Officer Louise Rickwood was involved from the project’s application and planning stages as we discussed how we might involve spoken word artist-educators in the research.  The timetable for the week allowed each participant to take a tour of the world-famous venue, with all students then taking part in spoken word workshops with Roundhouse creative practitioners, each of whom is also a working artist.  The week culminated in a scratch-style performance at Regent High School, crafted and directed by the Roundhouse artists, during which students shared the outcomes of the various workshops they had experienced during the week.

Internationally-renowned pianist and composer Martin Tchiba collaborated with us during the exchange to Kaiserslautern.  Having endorsed our application for funding, Martin taught composition to students during our week in Germany.  There were additional workshops from the city’s Musikschule, Pfalztheater, and drummer Tobias Urbanczyk.  As in London, the week concluded with an opportunity for the students to showcase their talents in a concert at the Jugendzentrum (JUZ). We also met with staff at the Heidelberg School of Education to share our research and emerging outcomes.

Each research visit also afforded an opportunity to engage with the cultural life of the host city, from Örebro’s medieval royal castle to London’s English National Opera and British Library, Székesfehérvár’s Bory Castle and Balett Színház, to Schloss Heidelberg and Kaiserlautern’s Pfalzgalerie, we enriched our understanding of the context of cultural education and artistic participation by experiencing these activities directly.

We very firmly believe that the partnerships that our schools have with cultural organisations and practitioners in their local areas provide opportunities that our schools alone cannot offer to students or staff.  This possibility for engagement and enrichment keeps our teaching fresh and relevant, and provides opportunities for students to be immersed in these subject areas.  The core research team and our cultural practitioner collaborators agreed that working directly with each other positively benefited our shared practice and understanding, suggesting new ways of thinking and working.  One teacher said of the London visit that the Roundhouse practitioners ‘…were very supportive and encouraging, which made the students dare to participate, try to do things outside their comfort zone.’27  Students enjoyed the opportunity to learn from a range of different people and in a variety of different ways.

In supporting schools and cultural organisations to work together, here are some key aspects to consider:

  1. Attitude: are you open to collaborating with external partners? Do you have an appetite for exploration and experimentation?
  2. Mapping: what organisations are local to you? Do you have any existing relationships that you would like to develop, or new partnerships you would like to create?
  3. Alignment: do you have shared aims and intentions? Can your collaboration help to meet these?  Is there a personal connection between the school and partner organisation to guarantee the sustainability of the collaboration?  Are the collaborators former students of the school?
  4. Funding: how will the partnership or project be funded? Can one partner pay the other?  Is philanthropic funding available?
  5. Environment: what is the differentiation between a regular lesson and the space in which that is taught, and the time and space used for work with external practitioners? Is there any connection between the curriculum of the school and the experience offered by the cultural organisation partner?  Who is responsible for managing the situation, space and students?
  6. Reflection: how will you monitor and evaluate your partnership or project?

In many cases, schools and cultural organisations often have a desire to collaborate but not the structures in which to do this.  It is important to enter into collaborative relationships knowing that there will be opportunities and challenges to explore and resolve, but also being aware that this shared journey enriches all parties.  Given the increasing importance of knowledge, skill and experience in post-industrial societies, it is, arguably, through this partnership approach that we are able to develop interesting and interested children and young people who are able to achieve success and happiness in their future lives.  It also serves to enrich teachers’ practice and to provide them with professional networks that support their creative and cultural selves.

Reflections from partner organisations: Faculty of Jazz, Kodolányi János University

‘The Faculty of Jazz of Kodolányi János University took part in the project ’Innovate to Create II’ as an external partner. During the staff meeting in Hungary in October 2019 the colleagues from the partner schools visited the university, where they took a look at the extraordanary infrastructure, the set of instruments and the studio. What is more, they were able to observe students performing in the studio.

'The visit had an amazing atmosphere, particularly when one of the jazz pianist students of the university and Ugo Rosano, music teacher from the UK, improvised an unforgettable song that made everyone present feel united. It was a feeling that all musicians experience on stage unrelated to which country they come from.

'In Hungary there are only two institutions – Kodolányi János University and Music Academy of Hungary – where there are courses for jazz music performers. Besides traditional jazz, there is a great emphasis in the course on high-quality pop music. Versatile alumni of the university become well-known, successful members of Hungarian pop and jazz music, as they are able to perform music in various genres at a highly professional standard.’

Eszter Mits-Kovács and Péter Mits, Associate Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, Kodolányi János University

‘As an expert I had the opportunity to watch and monitor different classroom activities in Kodolányi János Gimnázium during the staff visit. I was able to observe how teachers supported class activities, stimulated engagement and helped the students get to work by using the different intuitive tools they prepared for them. We could see how students were involved in the classroom activities, and how they enjoyed these classes.

'After the lessons we had the chance to discuss classroom activities. We could change ideas and discuss how classes could be designed to create safe, joyful, and engaging environments and school communities for both students and teachers.

'We were able to observe good practices, however, using a critical approach we were also able to  highlight those practices that should be changed or developed. Evereybody agreed that teachers have a unique opportunity to show a positive attitude towards students, and as individuals, the personality of the teachers can give a lot to the curriculum. These personal examples teach an extra lesson and are still very important to students, which can last for a lifetime.’

Andrea Glavanovics, Kodolányi János University

Kaiserslautern, Germany:


Musikschule KL

Martin Tchiba


Jugendzenrum (JUZ)

Tobias Urbanczyk

Visit to Casimirschloss

Visit to Heidelberg School of Education

Visit to Kaiserslautern City Hall

Visit to Pfalzgalerie

Székesfehérvár, Hungary:      

Hermann Music School 

Kodolányi University

Visit to Balett Szíínház

Visit to Bory Castle

Manacor, Spain:

Conservatori Professional de Música i Dansa de Mallorca

IES Joan Maria Thomàs High School

Örebro, Sweden:

El Sistema and Örebro Cultural School

Visit to Örebro Castle

London, United Kingdom:


Visit to British Library

Visit to Camden Market

Visit to English National Opera

Visit to Museum of London

Visit to Tate Modern


27 Swedish teacher, 2019.

Picture of a group of people