A scheme intended to give every primary school child in the UK access to at least five cultural experiences each year is to begin piloting this September.
Inspired by similar schemes in Norway, Germany and Israel, the Arts Backpack UK is the brainchild of charity Action for Children’s Arts, which campaigns for young people’s access to culture.
The Arts Backpack programme will aim to enhance cultural engagement in primary schoolchildren, which ACA said is currently being overlooked in comparison to arts provision for other age ranges.
For its pilot period, the Arts Backpack will begin working in four areas of the UK – Fife, Cardiff, the North East and South West of England – where a lead partner organisation will link up with eight schools.
The lead partner could be a local authority or major cultural organisation, and in collaboration with ACA it will then act as a “networking agency” between the schools and local arts organisations to facilitate a minimum of five experiences across the school year. This could be through discounted or special schools tickets, engagement with artists and other cultural learning
This will be brought together through the concept of a digital backpack, an online collection and reflection point for all the arts, cultural and heritage engagement they experience as part of the scheme.
ACA said it particularly wanted to focus on primary schools because it identified a “lack of focus” on culture provision for children this age as opposed to secondary schools, where arts education and the role of the English Baccalaureate are given more attention.
Specific partners for the four pilot areas have not yet been announced, however work is due to begin in September and the scheme will begin piloting with children from January 2020.
The charity said it hoped to roll out the scheme more widely once the pilot project had been evaluated, with ambitions to expand nationwide in future.
ACA said it also wanted to use the pilot to explore challenges such as travel cost, lack of parent and pupil engagement and staffing difficulties, as well as how to create an Arts Backpack that does not add to teachers’ workloads but will equip them with additional skills and confidence around arts education.
The project will also explore different funding models for which to support the Arts Backpack over a sustained period, however ACA is still campaigning to recruit individual members, who give £30 per year to help fund its activity.
New chief executive Janet Robertson was recently appointed to oversee the delivery of the Arts Backpack.
Some similar schemes already exist at a local level in the UK, including the Cambridgeshire Culture Card.
Earlier this year, the London borough of Southwark unveiled a new programme to offer every primary school-age child in the borough a free visit to the theatre every year by creating a resource that will link schools with theatre ticket schemes.