Blog – Cultural Curriculum for Bristol: First Steps

Here Tanuja Amarasuriya updates us on the first steps of the CCfB project pilot, finding ways to effectively embed art and creativity into the national curriculum for young learners, by bringing artists into primary schools to collaborate with teachers.

Theatre Bristol is all about how we can enable as many people as possible to make and experience exciting and transformative art. It’s about being fully alive in the world. And despite what many politicians might say – imagination and creativity are core skills for living (and core skills for business and future jobs, if you want to make that argument).

One of the big projects we’re working on currently is a pilot Cultural Curriculum for Bristol (CCfB). We’re devising and testing ways of bringing art practices into primary school classrooms as a way to help learning across all kinds of national curriculum subjects.

It’s a response to the decline in cultural education in schools that’s been driven by “academicisation” and the increasing focus on EBacc and STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths), and the resulting marginalisation of arts and creative subjects in the national curriculum. The Cultural Curriculum for Bristol project is about exploring ways by which artists and arts organisations can collaborate with teachers to help children learn more effectively – in a way that has a measurable impact of children’s attainment and without feeling like additional stress for the teachers.

It’s so so so so vital that we make sure ALL children have access to art and creative activity and reflection. I’m no expert, but Sir Ken Robinson is, and his animated TED talk is a brilliant distillation of why we need to change up our education paradigms.

The 18-month CCfB pilot is funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and managed by Bristol Plays Music, who are leading on the music element. The other arts partners are Bristol Old Vic (theatre), Spike Island (visual art) and Theatre Bristol – we’re leading on dance. The school partners are the 4 E-ACT Academies in Bristol.

We’ve brought the brilliant Dance artist, Laura Street, onto our team to lead on the CCfB. Laura’s been making and touring dance for young children for years and has recently completed formal Early Years teacher training, so she’s bringing loads of specialist thinking and experience into both the project and to Theatre Bristol.

Over the course of the project, we’ll be posting Laura’s blog updates on how she’s working with the teachers, what they’re discovering together, and the (not inconsiderable) challenges and delights of working in schools.



Laura’s first update for TB came as an email to me. I’m an artist who has never worked in schools and I found it fascinating to get this nuts and bolts insight into what that entails, so I asked Laura if she’d be happy for TB to publish the email. Here it is:

We haven’t quite come up with a way of reporting yet but I thought it might be useful after this initial meeting to ping you an email to keep your the loop.

I have arranged to have my ‘primary school placement’ as part of my UWE teacher training course to be at St Ursula’s so I’ll gain an extra two weeks with the teachers and children for free. 

The teachers I’m working with all have creative degrees, one in illustration, one in drama and english and one in dance so they are all highly skilled creatives already. They want the arts and culture to be represented but have very strict time constraints and have to teach english and maths all the time so this way of working excites them as it puts the arts at the forefront of teaching methods and makes sure the children get experience this way of learning. The children already see art as a ‘fun’ lesson…

They see creating the resources [lesson plans and education resources will be outcomes from this research] very much as a collaborative thing between us, with me bringing ideas and inspiration from the cultural life of Bristol to the table. They see the budget for resources as I do, for using it to bring practitioners in, us going out to engage with culture and me forming some myself and bringing this to the project. 

We have discussed using a google drive or something similar to share documents, either ideas we’ve had, resources we’ve started to create, and they use email a lot so we will share electronically.

We see the Senior Leaders Session [Senior Leaders of the Academy Group] as an opportunity to excite the leadership team and let them know exactly what we are doing/keeping them informed. The leadership team are focused on targets so showing them how we will include assessment in our plans is important, they took me through the way they do in house assessment. I will lead the session on behalf of the team and they have let me know that I will need to book in this session after the 29th June as there is a deadline for the Senior Leadership Team on this day.

We will use the topics that each class does as inspiration and a starting point for the resources. They will gather information on what each class are doing.

We will generally have our meetings on a Monday after school as this is the best time for them.


I am not completely sure of the resources wanted. All of the teachers I am working with are year 1 and 2 teachers but as I understand it we need to create resources going all the way up to 3, 4, 5 and 6. Do we need some for reception/early years also? This is not a problem as we feel confident in doing this, I just want to check.

Are the resources made ‘pilot’ resources or a final product that will be fully tested for rigour?


This was the beginning of the project back in June. As you can see, it’s early in the research with lots of stuff to work out. I met Laura again in mid-July and what feels most exciting is how much ownership of the process the teachers seem to feel already and how all the time that Laura is spending being present at the school is developing real trust and a sense of shared ambition.

We’ll keep you posted on how things progress.

 Read the Cultural Curriculum for Bristol blog here.