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Cultural Capital: What is it and how do you get it?

"Cultural Capital" - everyone, 2019.

Ah, buzzwords. Don't we just love 'em? It seems that 'cultural capital' will be the forerunner in educational circles this year, and that's only judging by the amount of times I've seen it written into an email in the last two months. 

So, what is it? It's a sociological term popularly accredited to Pierre Bordeau and Jean Claude Passeron from the 70s. Basically, the term refers to your accumulation of knowledge, skills and behaviours, and is marked by your ability to understand, appreciate and engage with people from backgrounds that differ from yours. It is unsurprising that Bordeau and Passeron believed this concept to be one that reinforces societal divisions. 

Our access to knowledge is, to this day, impeded by many things, including gender, class, race, and income. Social mobility is certainly not something the UK can brag about either (have a read of this).

It's understandable why cultural capital is finding its way into so many conversations currently, given that a lot of schools have found that the new GCSEs are proving more difficult for students to attain the highest grades. In my own experience, I've been involved in a number of analyses of student work which have made exceptionally clear that those who have the most success in line with the new English mark schemes are also those who have a grasp of local and world news, empathy, other cultures, religion, history, literature, and so on. 

Evidently, developing students' cultural capital is a no-brainer. We all win. Just like literacy and creativity, resilience and independence, these are all things that improve prospects, and (sadly the main motivator for some) exam results. 

But can we actually do this in an impactful way, rather than adding another impossible demand to teachers' workloads or shoehorning in something that masquerades as cultural capital in the months running up to the GCSE exams?

The next few months will no doubt throw up a range of interesting approaches to this idea, and I for one am keen to see them. Hopefully some of them will include project based and cross curricular learning that supports students to make links between their learning; more trips and visits in the local area replacing equally beneficial learning in the classroom; enrichment that broadens experiences; space and time to explore; and tidbits of knowledge sneaking their way into the curriculum.