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Considering Cultural capital …

One of the good things about attending courses, conferences and presentations is that they often validate one's own good practice. Another plus point is being able to hear about the work inspirational colleagues, consultants and academics are doing to improve the ‘lot’ of the youngest members of our society. Such opportunities get me thinking, planning and reflecting on how I can implement their ideas at my own setting to ensure that we are giving children the best opportunities we can. Unfortunately, sometimes I have attended courses and have come away wondering ‘what was the point of that?’ Thankfully these are few and far between. Another category of content that I have been fortunate to come across are courses and presentations that spark a realisation in you that you've ‘missed a trick’ or that something that you thought was a really good idea was not so great after all.  
One of the ‘ooh, what’s that?’ moments happened for me following the Ofsted presentation launching the proposed new inspection framework consultation. Draft EIF pic.png Much of what I heard I recognised as common sense. However, the term ‘cultural capital’ was thrown into the mix and it wasn't something I was familiar with. My colleagues at FSF were similarly in the dark. Following some research and conversation with my colleagues I felt I had more understanding of what this new terminology might mean for me in my setting. 
My setting is a full day care nursery which serves a predominantly white, middle-class area. Most of our parents are working professionals - we have a number of teachers, doctors, office managers and retail supervisors. We have few families who are solely accessing their ‘Free’ hours. The point I'm making here is that the ‘cultural capital’ of my nursery reflects the broad demographic of our immediate local community. Our children attend a wide range of ‘out of nursery’ experiences such as music, dancing, swimming (on, and under the water), rugby, baby signing and baby yoga. On the whole, the children access a variety of enrichment activities that add to their cultural capital. Our setting is adding to an already rich tapestry of opportunity. Cultural capital slide.png
Having read around the ‘Cultural Capital’ academic landscape a little I find myself struggling with what the delivery of this might look like in my setting. If I'm seeking to provide what Ofsted say children ‘need’, who gets to decide what that should be? Do I decide what they need? Will I be ‘told’ what they need from a curriculum document? This notion of ‘need’ bothers me. For example, I find certain music, art and poetry incredibly moving yet others make me feel restless and uneasy. Should I only expose children to the things I find enjoyable and stimulating? Were I to expose children to only my personal cultural capital I may inadvertently limit their experiences and give them a blinkered view of what is ‘cultural’. 
Looking at the phrase ‘cultural capital’ it's too easy to get caught up in the word culture and assume that what we are striving for is an appreciation of the Arts. If that is indeed the case, then we may as well call all children's splashy paintings “Homage to Jackson Pollock” or perhaps we should put Radio 3 on at lunchtime and be done with it. I am concerned that with ‘Cultural Capital’ we run the risk of creating a ‘British Values’ situation with flag waving and national anthem singing. To me, Cultural Capital is so much more than this and I don't think the phrase reflects what Ofsted want it to mean. shutterstock_96812923.jpg
After discussing this at length with colleagues and following the points that Ofsted have posted on their various social media sites, I think that what we are being asked to consider is how we can harness ‘awe and wonder’ for young children. To nurture and build children’s cultural capital we need to encourage them to be bold in their questions: ‘How does that work?’ ‘Why do I like it?’ ‘Why doesn't my friend like it?’ for example. We should encourage children to challenge themselves and think: ‘That's an interesting thing to say … that's an interesting thing to do … why do you think that?’ We should teach children to be more accepting of differences of opinion and differences of preference: ‘I didn't know about that, but I do now…I'd like to see, hear and know more about it.’
Bearing all this in mind, how will I be going about fulfilling this new requirement? I can safely say that in the same way that I didn't have a display of The Queen or The Houses of Parliament when British Values came into the Statutory Framework, I will not be having a pyjama party to watch The Proms nor will I be arranging outings to Tate Modern for my toddler group. Instead, I'll be looking at the existing EYFS and looking to see where I can enhance my provision’s cultural capital within the current requirements.  At first glance I can see that a very narrow interpretation of cultural capital fits the age and stage development descriptors in the following areas: CoEL.png

  • PSED/ Making Relationships: particularly when one considers such aspects as shows interest in the activities of others or exploring new environments or sharing experiences 
  • PSED/Self-care and self-awareness: child is confident trying new activities 
  • PSED/Managing feelings and behaviour: A child shows awareness of their own and others feelings 
  • CL/Listening and attention: A child listens to stories and responds appropriately 

… all of those are found on p16 of Development Matters!

I don't think therefore ‘cultural capital’ is new, I think it’s just been edged to the top of our agenda. I don't think Ofsted mean ‘Culture’ as in ‘Arts culture’ I think they mean the attributes and dispositions we see already present in the Characteristics of Effective Learning - nothing that isn’t already valued within our EYFS. Looking to the bigger picture, we want a society for children where there is tolerance and acceptance of the views of others. Particularly, we want to develop understanding and empathy for those whose views are different to their own. We want the children to be interested and intrigued in a wide range of experiences. We want them to ask questions to find out more and to have the confidence to celebrate the unfamiliar. We want them to develop an understanding of their own experiences and an optimistic welcome to and delighting of the experiences of others. By carefully building a child’s ‘awe and wonder’ in the world we can support children to be life ready as well as school ready when they finish their early years.

FSF Rebecca
Rebecca's family hail from Liverpool but she was born and bred in the south of England. She gained a PGCE from Cambridge and an MA in Education researching school improvement. Rebecca taught in the primary sector for several years before setting up her own nursery, gaining EYPS and later working in nurseries and other early years settings helping identify areas for improvement. For some years she was the FSF Education Adviser and Web Content Editor and she is now an Education Consultant for the FSF and Tapestry.

Edited by Rebecca

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