News and Blog

Join us for the SCEP Expo on Monday 11 March

Join Southampton Cultural Education Partnership (SCEP) for an evening of networking and celebration at John Hansard Gallery on Monday 11 March, 17.30-19.00.

We are delighted to host the Connecting Culture Project and the young Cultural Connectors as they launch the Young People’s Manifesto for Culture and Creativity in Southampton. Connect with arts and cultural organisations and meet SCEP members who will be sharing examples of activities and resources available for children, young people, and schools in Southampton.

Cultural Connectors at What’s Next Southampton? Credit: @devplacephotos

Directions to John Hansard Gallery can be found here. If you’d like to attend, please RSVP below.

Youth Governance – Four Lessons Learnt from Working in Widening Participation

by Ellie Grant

Ellie Grant is the University of Southampton’s new Arts and Culture Coordinator. Ellie joined the university in July 2022 and initially worked within the Widening Participation and Social Mobility Directorate. Prior to this, she supported students as the President of Arts University Bournemouth Students’ Union.

It’s no secret that young people can provide amazing insights into a variety of issues and offer solutions that nobody else has considered. However, understanding how to engage young people in decision-making can be challenging for organisations exploring youth governance for the first time. Luckily, there are a variety of sectors we can look to for inspiration, and, for this blog, I’ll be reflecting on the lessons I learnt from my time working in Widening Participation.

Prior to joining the Arts and Culture team this January, I worked in the Widening Participation and Social Mobility Directorate at the University of Southampton. I supported a number of students as part of the university’s flagship social mobility programme, Ignite Your Success, and it was during this time that I developed an understanding of the importance of youth governance. While there are many elements of youth governance and leadership that I could discuss in this blog, I’ve selected four key lessons that I believe can be applied to cultural education.

  1. Embed co-design at every stage

Whether you’re developing a project or a policy, one of the best ways to capture the youth voice is to embed co-design into every stage of your workstream. In my previous role, I was lucky enough to have access to a Student Advisory Board, a group of students from a variety of backgrounds who were consulted on different projects. These students helped to identify potential pitfalls in our proposals and worked with us to find creative solutions.

“For co-design to really work, the young people involved in a project should feel that they are making a tangible contribution to its objectives and outcomes.”

Not every organisation will have the resources to set up a youth consultation board, but luckily, co-design can take many different forms. Depending on the scale of the project, it may be more suitable to hire an intern or work with an elected representative. In any case, for co-design to really work, the young people involved in a project should feel that they are making a tangible contribution to its objectives and outcomes.

  1. Support and encourage youth-led activity

Giving young people the tools they need to create and lead their own activities can often result in more successful outcomes. In Ignite, we facilitated this by forming a student social committee. As staff, we provided administrative support in the form of processing bookings and payments, but the students themselves were responsible for planning, promoting, and delivering the events. Not only did these events have better levels of attendance and enjoyment, but the students on the committee developed teamworking and leadership skills.

While the level of independence will vary depending on the ages and circumstances of the people we’re working with, good youth governance asks us to consider what support young people need in order to run their own projects or create new policies. This might include access to meeting spaces, specialist equipment, training, or funding. Even things that we might take for granted, such as transport to meetings, should be considered.

  1. Empower leadership in all its forms

[We will ensure] All children and young people have a voice, are listened to and can influence the services they receive.

Southampton City Council, Children and Young Peoples Strategy 2022-2027

Joining panels or running activities won’t appeal to all young people but that doesn’t mean they can’t be leaders. It’s important that we find ways to empower leadership for those who are—for a variety of reasons including lack of confidence or lack of trust—less able to participate in traditional forms of youth governance. There are still insights to be gained by encouraging these individuals to participate in things like small group work or classroom discussions and then building towards more challenging activities such as peer mentoring or reverse mentoring.

  1. Reach out to those who are ‘hard to reach’

Similarly to my previous point, my final key message is about the importance of trying to work with young people who are less engaged. Typically, the same students who sit on the board for their youth club are also school council members and scout leaders and activists and so on, and this often means that the voices we hear in these spaces aren’t always diverse. We then miss the thoughts and opinions of those who opt out of these opportunities to co-design and share.

In both my Widening Participation and Student Voice work, I found that it was often those who weren’t as engaged who offered the most valuable insights into a project. In many cases, these are the young people who face additional barriers in life and whose needs are often neglected by traditional youth spaces. Learning from these individuals is often the key to ensuring a project or policy works for all the young people you want to support. Naturally, there isn’t a one size fits all approach to reaching these young people, but trying to understand their circumstances and meet them on their level is a good place to start.

How can creative learning support wider education and transferable skills?

by Jem Rycraft, Enham Trust

Jem Rycraft has worked for Enham Trust, which manages the Skills2Achieve provision, since August 2019.

We all know creative learning can have a big impact on outcomes for young people, both in terms of their wellbeing and their employability and transferable skills, but what works well?

In Focus, a Steering Group member of the SCEP, is working with Skills2Achieve (S2A), an Enham Trust programme which seeks to mitigate the risks of young people becoming or remaining a NEET (not in education, employment, and training) statistic.

In Southampton at the last count there were 178 known NEET young people and 154 young people who at present are unaccounted for. Therefore, the likely number of young people being NEET is at least 332. Of the 178 young people known to be NEET, 4.2% are Looked After Children, 9.3% have an Education Health Care Plan, 20.69% have identified Special Education Needs, 4.6% are attached to youth justice services, and 8.8% are teen parents.

It is against this backdrop that S2A seeks to help and support young people make the transition from adolescence into adulthood. The programme is set up to help young people (16-25) achieve accredited functional skills qualifications in English & Maths, awarded by City & Guilds. Additionally, the young people follow a programme of employability, which aims to support them to identify goals, negotiate targets, and work towards an individualised progression route.

A person with long hair crouches down to take an artistic photo of the rust on a white van

During the S2A programme, In Focus have been delivering weekly workshops with two groups of NEET young people, providing access to professional photographic equipment such as DSLR Cameras, lighting equipment, and professional photographers. The young people have completed digital badges and are doing Arts Awards. They have a creative portfolio of work which includes photographs, collage, montage, and other related visual mediums, as well as creative writing which supports the visual elements of their work.

This has given our young people the opportunity to focus on developing and nurturing creativity and fostering the so-called soft skills and skills of transferability needed in the workplace.

In the three years that S2A has been working with In Focus Education and Development, we have seen an impact in ways which are often difficult to measure. We believe they include developing the following skills:

  • Respect
  • Starting a dialogue
  • Experimenting
  • Finding one’s voice
  • Make connections
  • Self-evaluation
  • Observation
  • Self-expression
  • Valuing aesthetics
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Embracing diversity
  • Envisioning solutions
  • Reflecting on our work
  • Perseverance
  • Having an opinion
  • Breaking away from stereotypes
  • Collaboration
  • See another point of view
  • Listen
  • Create
  • Innovate
  • Appreciate beauty
A group of five young people are stood outside. One of them is jumping and throwing a red object in the air, while the other four are holding digital cameras and taking photos of the object.

The partnership with In Focus Education and Development has enabled a number of young people to complete their programme with us and achieve additional qualifications such as Explore and Bronze Arts Awards (which are on the regulated qualifications framework) and Digital Badges, which can be used by both the student and potential employers to identify transferable skills for the workplace as they link to the government’s Indeed website for employment.

To find out more about Skills2Achieve contact the Enham Trust.

To find out more about photography-based learning and development contact

Choices: a creative approach to violence reduction in schools

This month we are featuring a guest blog from Southampton Cultural Education Partnership member Artswork. Discover how a creative arts project using fables and Forum Theatre is empowering young people to understand the risks of violence, knife crime and exploitation and make choices which keep them safe.

Artswork empowers young people through creativity. We are currently delivering Choices, a creative approach to violence reduction in schools across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. This is just one of the ways that Artswork delivers on its mission through creative programmes by, with and for young people alongside our core programmes around activating young cultural changemakers, creative learning and creative careers.   

Choices is designed to support young people to make informed decisions. It helps them to recognise the power that things like peer pressure can play on their actions, so that they feel empowered to make choices which keep them safe. Taking a trauma-informed approach, the programme draws on the lived experienced of young men in Winchester Prison. Following their feedback, we don’t specifically talk about issues such as knife crime or county lines. Instead we use metaphors and fables which enable the young people to engage at their own knowledge level. It’s a fundamentally creative approach which sets up the conversations that develop in a different and productive way.

We start with training for school staff, looking at tools such as philosophy for children and Mantle of the Expert. This equips teachers and staff with a diverse range of approaches to discuss matters that truly resonate with young minds. Feedback from these training sessions has been really positive with staff saying that it provided “creative ways to get children to think about themselves and the world”.

“It really changed the way I think about approaching these topics with students.”

Training participant

We then have two workshops with the young people which use Forum Theatre techniques, run by our project partner Bear Face Theatre. Forum Theatre, originally developed by Augusto Boal in South America, empowers the audience to interact and try out different solutions to challenges presented. Pupils are shown a short animation in which they are introduced to our characters, Buddy and Joe, and hear their dilemmas. These characters grapple with common challenges, such as the desire to belong and the search for excitement, all while navigating the potential consequences of their choices.

The young people explore possible decisions to find ways to have a positive outcome for the characters. Using Forum Theatre allows the young people to ‘rehearse’ situations. In a similar way to an exercise class which seems hard at first but becomes easier as your muscles remember the movements, this rehearsal allows young people to be better equipped to make informed choices when faced with similar situations in real life. It’s a creative approach that can have real impact on young people’s actions and lives.

“We thoroughly enjoyed the training and the subsequent work with the children has been really impactful.”

Primary Teacher

A unique aspect of Choices is the involvement of students in creating their own fables. Following the workshops, young participants write their own fables that address challenges which are authentic to them. These peer-led resources are then collated to create a lasting legacy. This allows other schools and their pupils to engage with and learn from the project.

Illustration of a young person with a phone. Trouble is crossed out on the wall and excitement is written underneath.

The programme is funded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner through Hampshire and Isle of Wight Violence Reduction Unit. It runs until July 2025, leaving behind resources and embedded creative practice that schools tell us will last far longer.

“I am really pleased to support this fantastic programme which will have such a positive impact on school children across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Interventions, especially in these formative years, are crucial as they allow young people to understand the risks of violence, knife crime and exploitation and help them make informed decisions on how to respond more positively to challenging situations throughout their life.”

Donna Jones, Police Crime Commissioner

Choices is testament to the increasing recognition of the transformative power that creativity can have in addressing complex societal issues. The programme recognises pupils as experts in their own lives whilst providing safe ways to explore difficult subjects. As one pupil said “It’s a serious subject, but they made it as fun as they could”. 

Choices will be externally evaluated by Liverpool John Moores University. The evaluation will provide further learning about the use of creativity in such interventions.  To find out more, please contact

Annabel Cook, Deputy CEO of Artswork

Co-creating a curriculum: what would children do?

Having agency and control over things that affect us is key to our sense of wellbeing. For children and young people feeling they are listened to and seeing things change as a result of them taking part is powerful. When students help shape their learning and feel agency in their learning, behaviour and outcomes improve.

It helps that bond between the teacher and children and how to work together.

Pupil, Banister Primary

Using arts and culture is a route to empowering students to voice their opinions and proactively contribute to shaping school curriculums.

What students want from education

Students know what they want to get out of education. The most recent Pearson School Report found that:

  • 94% of students say being happy and mentally and physically healthy is important to them.
  • 86% of students say being prepared for their future in a global world i.e. understanding and learning about different cultures is important to them.

Building pupil voice into curriculums

In the Better Lives Through Culture project we worked with four schools in Southampton to give students and teachers the tools to work together on shaping curriculums in Geography, History, English and Art. One outcome was students feeling more ownership of their curriculum and school.

In each school the process was shaped by the school needs and involved teachers working with an artist who then helped students to create schemes of work that fitted into existing curriculums.

Creative ideas

When we gave students the chance to shape their schemes of work and how the curriculum would be taught they embraced it.

At Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill a whole class worked with the artist to share their ideas on how to teach parts of the art scheme of work using poetry and writing. Susmita, the artist then created activities to use in class. The students were given an idea of what they needed to learn and then they came back with suggestions and solutions to turn it into activities. This included tasting foods like olives, which some children had never tried, and describing how colours made them feel.

My practice has changed as a result of doing this. Having the confidence in students to take ownership, create something and come up with something amazing.

Susmita Bhattacharya, ArtfulScribe, Better Lives Through Culture project artist

Confidence, ownership and belonging

At Woodlands Community College the students had lots of ideas about how they wanted to be taught in their lessons and were excited by the idea that they could use drama and music when learning about history. Students talked about how they valued the opportunity to come up with ideas for how they would learn about the history curriculum. They felt taking part in the work also increased the feeling of belonging in the school where before they had felt unnoticed.

One of the most wonderful things was when the students thought about all the ways they wanted to be taught in their lessons.

Abi Thommes, Arts2Educate, Better Lives Through Culture project artist

Pupils reported it was important to them to have a voice in designing the curriculum and the young people valued the opportunity to make a mark on the school by contributing to the curriculum. Teachers reported that the students also become more confident at speaking up and taking part in class.

At Primary level students were told they would be helping plan lessons and at the end of each session they provided suggestions about how the lesson could be improved for the next time. Natalie, the artist who worked with Banister Primary School noticed how pleased the children were when they saw she had taken on board their comments and changed elements of sessions.

What would children do?

When asked at the end of the project the students had clear ideas about how they wanted to learn about Geography, different cultures and literature and how Dance could help them to do this.

I think we could do Geography because different countries have different cultures and different ways of living so we could show that through dancing.

Pupil, Banister Primary School

I think we could also do literacy because we learn a lot of books and things… to help remember it, it might help to make a dance out of the books that we’ve been reading.

Pupil, Banister Primary School

I think science goes really well with dance because you can see how the different creatures can move through their lives.

Pupil, Banister Primary School

Ownership and understanding

By the end of the project students at Banister Primary were planning a whole lesson. Their teachers noticed they had much greater ownership and understanding of the work they were doing as a result. Like the secondary students, teachers also found that students’ confidence increased across the curriculum to speak up and answer questions in class and take part.

Most importantly, the children are enjoying the sessions. They are excited to be having an input in the planning process and those who are usually reluctant to answer and share are more willing since these sessions, which is fantastic!

Sarah Golden, Teacher, Banister Primary School