How to expand narrow definitions of ‘cultural capital’
'Cultural capital' doesn't have to be limited to culture that's mostly white, middle-class and male. Find out how to provide your pupils with cultural capital that celebrates all cultures and values diversity, to prepare them for life in modern Britain.
Ofsted will consider your 'cultural capital' when assessing your quality of education. Find out what cultural capital is and how it’s inspected here.
Cultural capital isn’t just one thing
Cultural capital can include experiences, art and knowledge from a variety of cultures
Cultural capital doesn’t just come from British 'high' culture (e.g. trips to the ballet or opera, or an understanding of Dickens and Shakespeare). It can include experiences, art and knowledge from a variety of cultures, and popular culture (e.g. Indian dance or Nigerian cooking, or an understanding of The Beatles or Stormzy).
These different forms of cultural capital should be included throughout your curriculum and enrichment activities, to avoid elitism. Ofsted Chief inspector Amanda Spielman called cultural capital “a golden thread, woven through everything you do to teach children well”.
This may be something you’re doing already, without thinking about it. Our anti-racism curriculum review tool can help you spot the gaps and make changes to your curriculum to improve diversity.
Understand your pupils’ own culture first, and help them to value it
For your pupils to be able to appreciate and understand other cultures, they need to feel confident in their own cultural identity first – start here when thinking about cultural capital.
Remember that all pupils bring with them a wealth of cultural traditions and history that shouldn't be ignored. To get started:
All pupils bring with them a wealth of cultural capital
- Look at the different cultures and ethnic groups that make up your school, and think about your local context – think about social class as well as ethnicity
- Make sure the achievements and culture of your pupils’ heritage is represented throughout your curriculum and enrichment activities – view this as part of your cultural capital offer. 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 don’t know about your pupils’ cultural heritage or it doesn't feature in your curriculum, it’s your job to find out more. To do this:
- Talk to parents, local community leaders
- Consider setting up a working group
If you have families from around the world, you might want to hold international days or events where pupils/parents/staff wear traditional dress or bring in traditional food or objects of cultural significance to share. 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.
Remember that 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
- Goes beyond race – are women’s achievements celebrated in science? Do you read books by LGBT+ authors? Is the working-class history of your local area represented?
Incorporate and celebrate cultures that aren’t within your school
This is about preparing your pupils to live in culturally diverse modern Britain
It’s important that you also expose pupils to cultures from outside their school (especially if your school is mono-cultural, e.g. if your pupils are mostly white) – so make this part of your cultural capital offer. This is about preparing your pupils to live and thrive in culturally and ethnically diverse modern Britain.
To do this:
- Think about what kind of cultural experiences your pupils aren’t getting, don’t have access to, or might not be aware of
- Remember to take a broad approach – don’t just think in terms of white, English 'high' culture that pupils might not have access to: think about other forms of art, dance or music they might not have experienced, e.g. Islamic art, African dance and Gamelan music
- Think about experiences 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
- Make sure all pupils are able to access enrichment activities such as clubs and trips – you can use your pupil premium funding for this
Think about your school's context:
- If your school is in a majority white area, are pupils exposed to black and brown 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 English culture?
- If your pupils are majority Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME), 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 anti-racism: how to review and re-frame your curriculum
You can still include more traditional interpretations of cultural capital
Of course, it’s still important that 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 one form of culture, with many other forms of culture alongside, of equal value.
Make sure your staff know this isn’t the default at your school, and it isn’t the only way you define 'cultural capital'. To support staff with this more, share our staff handout on how to talk to pupils about race, racism and Black Lives Matter.
Tell us how you're challenging narrow definitions of cultural capital in your school
Get in touch at [email protected] and tell us how you're expanding your cultural capital offer, especially during the pandemic. We'll let you know if we share the idea with other schools across the country.
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.