Find Your Talent programme

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Finally, the Government is taking cultural capital seriously with a programme to enhance teachers’ and pupils’ aesthetic appreciation and artistic skills. Joe Hallgarten reports on the ‘Find Your Talent’ programme.

Imagine a generation of young people who are as familiar with a piece of clay or musical instrument as they are with a pencil or keyboard; who can read scripts and sculptures as well as they can read books; who feel as comfortable in a museum or theatre as they would in a leisure centre or chatroom; who see schools as places where they can vent their creativity; whose views about culture are always evolving, shaping what they are being offered; whose artistic talents are spotted and nurtured, and barriers to the development of their talents are systematically removed.

Now imagine the same generation as adults: taxpayers, who understand and are prepared to pay for great art. Audiences, who are willing but critical consumers of culture. Citizens, who are contributing to our cultural collateral as participants and creators; and parents, who are playing an ever greater part in helping shape their children’s cultural experiences.

Finally, imagine a society where, through the systematic nurturing of our children’s imagination, England has avoided our industrial revolutionary ancestors’ mistakes.
150 years ago, smug in the knowledge of being the ‘first to industrialise’, we allowed others to overtake us. In the 21st Century ‘creative decline’ has not been allowed to occur, and we have retained our creative edge in the face of increasing global competition.

Imagine a civil society where the quantity and quality of public discourse about culture is continuously improving. And imagine a community of teachers, artists and others, working in unity to sustain this transformation, constantly refreshing each other’s skills to take on this task.

This is the vision of the Find Your Talent programme - that a sustained engagement with high quality culture, as audiences, participants, creators and leaders, will both help shape a great childhood, but also sustain itself into adulthood. The programme is testing the feasibility of the Government’s ambition, expressed in the Children’s Plan, that ‘no matter where they live, or what their backgrounds, all children and young people can get involved in high quality cultural activity in and out of school’.

The programme will support young people to:

  • learn in and about culture – develop as informed  and reflective spectators, helping young people be participants and creators in the cultural world around them;
  • learn through culture – using engagement   with culture to boost creativity, attainment and  personal development.

As a minimum it is expected that a comprehensive cultural offer will include a range of the following activities:

  • attending top quality theatre, orchestral and dance performances
  • visiting and engaging with national and local exhibitions, galleries, and museums
  • visiting heritage sites, significant contemporary buildings and public spaces
  • engaging creatively with library and archive services
  • learning a musical instrument
  • playing music or singing in ensembles taking part in theatre and dance performances producing a piece of creative writing,
  • taking part in a reading group, or listening to authors talk about their work learning about and making films, digital or new media art
  • making a piece of visual arts or crafts.

We are working with 10 pathfinder areas, diverse in geography and starting points, to trial different ways to develop a comprehensive, coherent offer for all children and young people in their areas, forensically targeting children who might be missing out. Multiple agencies, programmes and projects on the ground do not always join up in a way that makes it easy for schools and other settings or young people themselves to know what is on offer. The 10 pathfinders are tasked with overcoming these obstacles to develop an offer of the highest quality, that both works with students’ existing interests as well as taking them on challenging new cultural journeys. You can find out more about each pathfinder area at

The programme builds on a rich landscape of cultural programmes and provision but in one crucial aspect is different. Unlike Creative Partnerships or many other programmes, the central rationale for Find your Talent is intrinsic. Those cultural outcomes are good in themselves, not just instrumental. Yes, culture can be a powerful force in motivating and engaging young people, developing skills such as communication and teamwork, and ultimately in raising achievement. Culture can change lives, often in small but important ways, and occasionally in profound, transformative and unexpected ways.

But, for once, culture is not just the servant to these other agendas: culture is the agenda. The best result for the programme may not be additional funding, but the creation of a sixth Every Child Matters outcome, ‘be imaginative’, with a number of cultural and other outcomes and indicators sitting beneath this.

Creative Partnerships has, along with many other people and organisations, spent much of the past decade reinforcing the point that creativity is not confined to the arts, but can be developed across and beyond any part of the curriculum. Now that this argument has largely permeated our education system, perhaps now is the time to refocus on what particular contribution the arts and culture can play in developing these skills. There is a long history of research and evidence around the impact of culture on learning. The Find Your Talent programme, timed to coincide with the development of the new curriculum at Key Stage 3, the birth of 14-19 diplomas, and eventually the changes to the primary curriculum, as well as the new QCA focus on personalised learning and thinking skills, gives us a new impetus to innovate and improve our understanding of what culture can do.

The pathfinder programme is crucial, but can only ever be part of the story. To achieve the transformation our children deserve, we need not just a campaign but a coalition for culture and young people. We have always had a campaign, with cultural institutions and artists, schools and teachers making their own case for culture. But, until now, this has been atomised and at times divisive: ‘My art form is better than yours/gets less funding than yours’.

The prize, a universal cultural offer for all children and young people, has now been dangled in front of us by Government, and is too great to allow these divisions to continue.

To win the argument, we first need to communicate evidence of demand – that people want this. The large number of applications to the Find Your Talent programme demonstrated one level of demand, but we need to unearth the demand from parents, children and young people. Second, we need to communicate evidence of outcomes – that this is why people want this. Finally, we need to communicate evidence of our proposition – this is how we should do this. Again, the pathfinders are helping to find out how, but we need the views of anyone passionate about culture and young people to help create the evidence and shape the proposition. Young people will also be involved, at pathfinder and national level, in designing this proposition. You can register your interest at

Culture is the means through which, as human beings, we understand and create our identities. And if that isn’t central to the learning game, it is difficult to see what is.

Joe Hallgarten is leading the Find your Talent programme.

In April 2008, the Find Your Talent programme received 141 applications, from which 10 areas were selected as pathfinders:

  • Bolton
  • Customs House (North and South Tyneside)
  • Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) (serving specific areas in Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton)
  • Leeds
  • Leicestershire (Young Ambassadors)
  • Liverpool City Region (serving Knowsley, Liverpool and St Helens)
  • North Somerset
  • Shepway (serving Shepway District and including Folkestone, Hythe and Romney Marsh)
  •  Telford and Wrekin
  • Tower Hamlets

Many of the pathfinders are focussing on exploring how their programmes can impact on young people’s capacities for creative and critical thinking.

Creative Teaching & Learning