A Commentary on the Evaluation of the Creative Partnerships Cultural Education Programme

This modest piece deals with a vital question: how can arts practitioners contribute to school education? And what educational value to they add? I worked with David Ewens and Stephen King in response to a request from Munira Mirza, the Mayor’s cultural advisor, to comment on the robustness and validity of a report by Price Waterhouse on the work of Creative Partnerships (CP) which helps connect schools with professionals from the cultural industries, such as actors or directors, who then work with children up to the age of 16. It was launched in 2002 and was originally run by Arts Council England (ACE), who transferred responsibility for delivering the scheme to Creativity, Cultural and Education (CCE), a national body, in early 2009. It costs $38m per year.

CCE commissioned Price-Waterhouse-Cooper (PWC) to estimate the value which CP has contributed to the UK economy. Their report[i] concludes that CP yielded a £15 return for every £1 invested, applying a cost-benefit approach which they argue is compatible with the ‘Green Book’,[ii] the Treasury’s guidelines for appraising and evaluating publicly funded projects.

The Arts Council confirmed in November 2010 that CP will be wound up at the end of 2010/11. There is widespread acceptance that there are some benefits to ‘cultural education programmes’ which provide schoolchildren with extra-curricular cultural inputs, and similar programmes like London Schools Arts Service (LONSAS) remain operational. Since the GLA has oversight of London’s educational and cultural needs, it has an interest in identifying good practice in such projects. However there is no generally accepted approach for evaluating their success. To this end the Mayor’s Cultural Advisor, Munira Mirza, asked GLA’s Intelligence Unit to comment on the robustness and validity of the PWC report.

The PWC report’s method raised profound issues of methodology, including the way in which educational gains should be evaluated, the use of secondary data in place of primary data to measure educational gains, and the use of ‘Green Book’ cost-benefit methodology to monetise what are essentially non-monetizable benefits which are visible in the educational gains for pupils with numerous benefit to society (including savings in subsequent social care and crime costs) but do not necessarily translate into the narrow framework of gains to income. Our response drew on the best available educational expertise, and commented on these questions.

[i] Price Waterhouse Cooper (2010) The costs and Benefits of Creative Partnerships. Available at www.creativitycultureeducation.org/research-impact/exploreresearch/pwc-report,57,RAR.html, [accessed 1/11/2010]

[ii] HM Treasury (2003) THE GREEN BOOK: Appraisal and Evaluation in Central Government. Available at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/green_book_complete.pdf [accessed 1/11/2010]