Published: 12 March 2021 
Author: Steve Moffitt 
Two young men sit at laptops wearing headphones and using video editing software.
Participant on A New Directions Creativity Works programme. Photo credit: Eric Aydin Barberini

Teacher Development Fund advisory Group member and CEO of A New Direction, Steve Moffitt reflects on the challenges and opportunities for his organisation over the last year.

Covid-19 has caused huge disruption to our lives, our professions and our learning. The pandemic has also had a significant impact on cultural education and how this is likely to be delivered in the future.

The appointment of Sir Kevan Collins as the Education Recovery Commissioner will be interesting. He is personally committed to cultural and creative learning, and his new role will advise on the design and implementation of interventions that will help students catch up on learning lost due to the pandemic. We have yet to see how cultural and creative learning will sit within these plans, but there is a real opportunity to rethink how we deliver our work as part of this new framework.

The organisation I lead, A New Direction, works between the education and cultural sectors. We connect, support, broker and create opportunities for partnerships to grow, develop and support creative and cultural learning. In the final week of March 2020, we along with the rest of the sector went completely digital. This was challenging for many organisations. Learning officers who were previously designing projects and managing programmes suddenly became digital content producers overnight. Since March, much of this work has been created at haste with limited time for co-creation and co-construction with stakeholders. Analysis has yet to reveal whether this work has been useful to schools, teachers and relevant to learning.

Reset is a programme we have designed to support the cultural sector, teachers and schools and the various partnerships we work with through the pandemic. Key challenges that have emerged through the three lockdowns for Reset participants include: school closures, programme delivery, longer term planning, restructures and redundancies of teams, the mental health and wellbeing of practitioners, the repurposing of funding agreements and the introduction of the furlough scheme. Fundamental to this has been the isolation of cultural education practitioners, particularly freelancers. Many individuals are still on furlough or are just beginning to return to work on a part-time basis, roles have needed to change, and many teams have been restructured and experienced redundancies. Other challenges include maintaining partnerships and targeted learning work, the digital divide and access to equipment, and trying to reach specific demographics and characteristics that are typically harder to stay connected with during the lockdowns.

For those who have been able to work through the pandemic, this has been a time to try new things and pilot new activity (virtual tours, visits, performances, etc.) with relative freedom. We have collated a number of these new pieces of work on our signposting platform LookUp, which shares schools offers and opportunities from London’s arts and cultural sector. As an organisation, we have also been testing new digital resources ourselves – such as our Arts Award Online resource – and sharing new ideas and content including our Keeping Creative at Home blog series.

Is this new engagement with the digital world and a commitment to innovation a stopgap or a system change? We have found through the Reset programme that there is definitely an appetite for systematic change, and the fact we’ve been in a cycle of in and out of lockdown means that people are planning for more differentiated delivery and are developing work to be more responsive.

What will remain of the cultural education ecology? This will be the key challenge for all of us who work in the field, but also for funders and the funding landscape. Key to the future of this work is the resilience and ability to adapt. We know that we can, and indeed have to, adapt and work differently, move quickly and innovate. Let’s take this chance to reset and move forward with what we know works, leave behind what doesn’t and introduce new ways of working, together.