9th July 2024

Cultural Capital and Music Education

Article by our Inclusion Network Leads, Emma Brookes and Julia Falaki

What is Cultural Capital?

  • The term was coined by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, and builds on the ideas of Karl Marx.
  • Bourdieu defined cultural capital as ‘familiarity with the legitimate culture within a society’; what we might call ‘high culture’.
  • For both Karl Marx and Bourdieu the more capital you have the more powerful you are.
  • Research indicates that children will find life more challenging without adequate cultural capital.

Ofsted’s definition of Cultural Capital 
In the school inspection handbook, Ofsted refers to cultural capital in the following way:

As part of making the judgement about the quality of education, inspectors will consider the extent to which schools are equipping pupils with the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life. Our understanding of ‘knowledge and cultural capital’ is derived from the following wording in the national curriculum:

‘It is the essential knowledge that pupils need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.’ 

However, through our research we have found conflicting arguments on the term, what it means and what teachers need to do. Some articles, blogs and reports highlight social inequalities regarding access to music lessons, others express their fear of losing classical music to more contemporary styles and others state its negative connection to social class and power in society. 

Pointers from the Cultural Capital discussion within our Inclusion network, including input from external speaker, Jimmy Rotherham.  

  • Make sure you know your school community.
  • Cultural capital doesn’t just mean enabling young people to experience music from other cultures. It can also mean ensuring they access music from their own cultures and widen their knowledge of music within their own culture.
  • Build your own knowledge about music from the pupil’s different backgrounds within the school. Talk to parents and survey pupil voice, in order to understand if there are barriers to pupils being fully involved in music within the school.
  • Do you enable children to play instruments from their own culture within ensembles and groups within the school?  Do you encourage them to play these instruments within concerts?
  • What else can you do to encourage wider engagement from pupils’ families in music in the school.  For example, having a concert with food.
  • Check the language you use, if not sure, ask the pupils / parents.