Early Years Arts and Culture in Yorkshire and the Humber

Early Years Arts and Culture in Yorkshire and the Humber is a report by IVE into the state of arts & cultural education in the region for children younger than school age.

The report has been completed by Ben Sandbrook (World Pencil) with Ruth Churchill Dower (Earlyarts) for IVE (formerly CapeUK) the Arts Council Bridge Organisation for Yorkshire and the Humber.

This report looks broadly at the arts and cultural opportunities for young children, aged 0-5, their families and communities through early years settings and arts and cultural organisations. Both of these categories are broad, encompassing Primary schools, nurseries and grandparents in the former – libraries, arts venues, museums and freelance artists in the latter as just some examples.

Early years arts and culture in Yorkshire and the Humber


Looking at the region in terms of national statistics (e.g. Ofsted Early Years performance data, arts funding levels) Yorkshire and Humber sits, on average, in the middle in a national picture. However, taking a broad, regional perspective serves to average out extremes and, on a more local level, ‘hidden deprivation’ is common in places such as Sheffield, Hull, York and Harrogate.

Looking specifically at early years arts and culture, there is some truly innovative, excellent and effective practice and opportunity being developed across the region. Yet, as research projects such as this so often find, this strength of practice is, it seems, patchy and inconsistent. But it is difficult

to quantify this patchiness: in the absence of something akin to an Arts Award for early years settings, or dedicated Ofsted/DfE/Local authority data, it’s not possible to build a data-driven picture of strong or weak practice and provision of opportunities; it’s difficult not to end up hearing from the locations of strong practice that their practice is strong, and not really to hear as much from other areas.

The funding landscape (particularly from local authority funding) for early years arts and culture is not as strong as it was 10 years ago, and early years provision has suffered perhaps disproportionately within the education, or children’s services, sector.

In arts and cultural organisations, there is strong practice and continued development around creating arts and cultural experiences for EY children. But this isn’t the case everywhere. Better regional networking of know-how, people, and reasons why EY is significant could reap great dividends.

Key Points


Based on our analysis of the findings from this research, existing knowledge of this and other UK regions, and built on research participants’ recommendations, as outlined in the final section (Strategic focus, page 36), we would make the following recommendations:

1. Championing

Arts/cultural and early years organisations across the region who are already committed to early years arts and culture should take it upon themselves to work together to champion this most powerful of agendas, reaching organisations who don’t understand the potential of arts and culture on young children’s life and learning, or how they could practically realize it. The Bridge Organisation could have a central role in facilitating this. An emphasis on ‘seeing is believing’ would be recommended, often evidence-based argument is effective only after the initial, personal, seed of persuasion has been sown.

2. Self-profiling tool

The Bridge Organisation should work with early years settings, arts/cultural organisations, Arts Council England, universities, early years standard-setting bodies and others to develop a tool for early years settings to evaluate, celebrate and profile their practice relating to early years arts and culture, perhaps akin to an Artsmark for early years. This tool should also help to signpost and raise awareness of local strengths and opportunities.

3. Celebratory networking

The Bridge Organisation should work with early years settings, arts/cultural organisations and others to test and develop a regular programme of celebratory networking events around early years arts and culture, such as family arts festivals and professional sharing days, carefully considering the needs and aspirations of target audiences, and partnering with existing initiatives and festivals. 

4. Professional co-learning

Arts/cultural organisations and early years settings should work together in co-learning partnerships to share and develop their skills and understanding of children’s creativity and how most effectively to nurture it. The Bridge Organisation could convene a partnership bid to develop and roll this out as a CPD programme, based on action research and co-working, across the region. This CPD should incorporate the body of expertise that is being built up across the region in understanding and curating creative spaces and experiences for young children, and also in how arts and cultural work can work towards Early Years Pupil Premium agendas. Initial teacher education (ITE) providers should be included in the partnership.

5. Engaging with local need

Arts/cultural organisations working in early years should work with settings, and specialist agencies, to develop a strong understanding of the needs and opportunities in their localities and how their work could have greatest impact. The in-depth know-how about engaging with families and communities that has been developed by a few organisations in the region should be very widely promoted.

6. Purposeful local partnerships

Arts/cultural organisations, early years settings, local authorities and others, with the facilitative support of the Bridge Organisation, should continue to be open-minded and resourceful about realizing opportunities for win—win local partnerships as a way to make the most of scarce resources and specialist expertise, centered around a common shared purpose, both in addition to and as part of the Cultural Education Partnerships.

Read The Report

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