'Cultural capital': expanding narrow definitions
Prepare your pupils for life in modern Britain by providing 'cultural capital' that celebrates all cultures, and reflects your community and the country's diversity.
- Broaden 'cultural capital' to encompass all cultures and all art forms
- Consider social class, gender, sexuality and ability as well as world cultures
- Understand your pupils’ own cultures first, and help them to value them
- Incorporate and celebrate cultures that aren’t represented in your school
- Case study: Kensington Primary School
- Next steps
Ofsted will consider your 'cultural capital' when assessing your quality of education. Find out what cultural capital is and how it’s inspected here.
Broaden 'cultural capital' to encompass all cultures and all art forms
Cultural capital can include experiences, art and knowledge from a variety of cultures
‘Cultural capital’ encompasses experiences, art and knowledge from a variety of cultures. Though it can include traditional British 'high' culture (such as watching ballet or opera, and studying Dickens and Shakespeare), it’s important that it goes beyond this.
For example, it can encompass different world cultures and cultural groups in the UK (for example, by pupils learning Indian dance or Nigerian cooking), and popular culture (such as studying the music of The Beatles or Stormzy).
Avoid accidental elitism, or celebrating certain cultural expressions over others, by including different forms of cultural capital throughout your curriculum and enrichment activities as a golden thread, woven through everything you teach.
It’s likely you’re doing this already, but be sure you’re closing any gaps in your provision with our anti-racism curriculum review tool.
Consider social class, gender, sexuality and ability as well as world cultures
Remember: expanding your cultural capital offering in school is not only about considering ethnicity and world cultures.
You'll also want to include representation of different:
- Social classes – for example, by looking at books written by working-class authors
- Genders and sexualities – see our gender and LGBTQ+ inclusivity curriculum audit to make sure your teaching represents the diversity seen in modern Britain
- Abilities – when looking at role models in history, for example, make sure you don't only focus on able-bodied people
- Intersections in society – for example, when studying women's rights, you could look at how the experiences of 'working-class' women differed from those in the 'upper class'
Understand your pupils’ own cultures first, and help them to value them
Pupils need to feel confident in their own cultural identity before beginning to appreciate and understand others – start here when thinking about cultural capital.
Get to know your pupils' backgrounds
If you don’t know about your pupils’ backgrounds or cultural heritage, it’s your job to find out more. To do this:
- Use your MIS to look at the different cultures and ethnic groups that make up your school
- Think about your local context – consider social class, as well as ethnicity
- Talk to parents and local community leaders about what cultures are represented in your community
Use our guidance on:
Remember that this goes beyond ethnicity and geographical background – for example, pupils may have LGBTQ+ family members, or a parent with a certain impairment (e.g. who is deaf or blind), and are likely to come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.
Celebrate all cultures represented in your school community
If your pupils’ home cultures don’t feature in your curriculum and enrichment activities, make an effort to include them. View this as part of your cultural capital offer. This approach will benefit all pupils – if you're a diverse school, pupils will learn to value each others' cultures, as well as their own.
To get started:
- Look at your research about what cultures and backgrounds are represented in your school community and consider whether they’re also represented in your curriculum and/or enrichment activities
- For example, if you're in an ex-mining community, does your history curriculum look at the local history of mining and the contributions of miners?
- If you have families from other countries or regions, do you hold international days or events where pupils/parents/staff wear traditional dress or bring in traditional food or objects of cultural significance to share?
- Consider setting up a working group to look into how your school reflects the cultures represented in your school community
For more examples of the kind of changes you might want to make, see our article on anti-racism: how to review and re-frame your curriculum.
Incorporate and celebrate cultures that aren’t represented in your school
Expose pupils to cultures from outside their school (especially if your school is less diverse than others) – make this part of your cultural capital offer so you prepare your pupils to live and thrive in a culturally and ethnically diverse modern Britain.
To do this, think your school’s context, and consider what kind of cultural experiences your pupils aren’t getting, don’t have access to, or might not be aware of. For example:
- If your school is in a majority-white area: are pupils exposed to Black and other non-white role models (beyond musicians and footballers)?
- If your school is in a majority Pakistani area: are pupils learning about cultures other than their own and traditional British culture?
- If your pupils are mainly from ethnic minority groups, for example, Black, Asian, Indian, white Roma: are you preparing them to feel confident in situations (such as university open days) where they may be a minority?
Again, there are examples of how to do this in our anti-racism: how to review and re-frame your curriculum article.
Plan how to help pupils access a broad range of cultural experiences
- Take a broad approach – don’t just think in terms of traditional, 'high' culture that pupils might not have access to: consider other forms of art, dance or music that pupils might not have experienced, e.g. Islamic art, African dance, Gamelan music, and books that include experiences of immigration
- Plan what your pupils might need to fully access your curriculum – e.g. if you have a topic on ‘castles’, this will mean nothing to pupils if they’ve never visited a castle or read traditional British fairy stories
- Make sure everyone can access enrichment activities such as clubs and trips – you can use your pupil premium funding for this
This is about preparing your pupils to live in culturally diverse modern Britain
‘Traditional’ white European culture is still valid but is only part of the picture
Of course, it’s important pupils have an understanding of 'high' culture such as Dickens, Shakespeare and Mozart. But make sure you present this in your curriculum and enrichment as 1 form of culture, alongside many others of equal value.
Your staff need to know that these more traditional cultural expressions aren’t the default at your school, and aren’t the only way you define 'cultural capital'.
Case study: Kensington Primary School
Kensington Primary School in Newham, east London, has developed 'Curriculum K', which is built around:
- The world
- The arts
- Current events
School leaders carefully researched and planned a new curriculum to meet the needs of their school community, planning out both:
- Cultural coverage (such as music genres, art media, belief systems and current events)
- Cultural experiences (such as visits to outdoor environments, residentials, visits to places of worship, and participating in competitions)
They not only looked at what they intended pupils to learn but also how they learnt. This was broken down into:
- Acquiring new knowledge
- Connecting information and deepening understanding
- Improving retention through retrieval
Find out more about the work of Kensington Primary School's cultural capital work on its website.
- Take a look at how you can weave cultural capital into your curriculum
- Support staff in finding the words and the confidence to have difficult conversations, share our staff handout on how to talk to pupils about race, racism and Black Lives Matter
Gulshan Kayembe is an independent consultant with extensive experience of school improvement. She is passionate about the curriculum and its potential to inspire the best from our learners. Gulshan provides training and facilitation in a wide range of areas including teaching and learning and diversity.