What is Cultural Capital, and Why Does It Matter?

Written by Dan

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What is cultural capital, and why does it matter? This is a question that many people are asking these days. You may have heard this phrase used at your school and are unsure what it means.

This article will break it down to its roots and see why cultural capital is crucial for today’s youth.

What is Cultural Capital?

To grasp Ofsted’s goal of utilising “cultural capital”, we must go back to the term’s original definition and use.

Sociologists have found that cultural capital, or an individual’s social assets (such as education, intellect, and dress style), can help them move up the social ladder within a stratified society.

1970s French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu first coined the phrase to explain how power is shifted and kept within different social classes.

Bourdieu believed that those with more cultural capital have a higher social standing and better odds of success. Similarly, Marx believed that the more money one has, the greater their societal power will be.

But Bourdieu went beyond Marx’s idea of capital to the more symbolic area of culture. He separated it into three categories: embodied, objectified, and institutional cultural capital.

Also, he accentuated that cultural capital is connected to economic and social capital– those with more money or prestige can have greater access to other forms of capital.

The cultural capital definition posits that an individual’s success in school and wider society is, at least partially, a result of their upbringing.

Ofsted & Cultural Capital

The Ofsted inspection framework set in September 2019 requires schools to help their students develop “cultural capital.”

This includes teaching children essential skills, revealing their talents, and instructing them on British values , diversity, mental health, and well-being. These are all excellent goals that the education system should aim to achieve.

Cultural Capital in Education

When discussing education, the term ‘cultural capital’ promotes the incorporation of a modern definition of what cultural capital is within schools. This would be an individual who is knowledgeable about various cultures, can have discussions about their value and merits confidently, and has had a broad array of experiences and opportunities for skill development.

According to Bourdieu, there are three sources of cultural capital: objective, embodied and institutionalised.

The objective culture consists of items such as books and artwork, the embodied culture is evident in language and preferences, while the institutionalised culture encompasses education credentials and qualifications.

Therefore, cultural capital in education can be seen through several different curriculum-based lenses – from promoting student exposure to various art forms and subject areas that help create well-rounded global citizens to building character qualities that lead them onto successful paths in life.

Although there are occasionally criticisms about Ofsted’s ability to inspect each school’s ‘cultural capital’ teaching, many experts still consider this a move in the right direction.

If nothing else, it appears that Ofsted is examining more than just one element of a curriculum (measured by exam grades), but instead took on a more extensive view of education that looks at various angles.

According to Ofsted, “Inspectors aren’t inspecting ‘cultural capital’; they’re looking at whether the school provides a rich and broad curriculum. A great curriculum builds cultural capital.”

Therefore, if leaders want their students to have the “cultural capital” that Ofsted is talking about, they need to focus on bettering the quality and variety of their school’s curriculum.

Cultural capital in your school

Schools can give learners access to beneficial experiences that will last them a lifetime. Also, teachers do not have to spend extra time outside of class planning for learners’ cultural capital to grow.

Here are some ideas of what can be done with only a little extra work.

Activities that engage people from different communities.

There are many ways for schools to get involved with business and social communities. Ready to help, there are plenty of state and private record-funded organizations available. Many departments at universities offer educational material that is insightful and engaging.

The British Chambers of Commerce are often overlooked, but they have access to and knowledge about local businesses.

In turn, those businesses have a wealth of insights into local industries and opportunities for engagement that can open your eyes to what the professional future can hold.

Local arts groups, charities and other community organizations have a lot to offer in terms of excitement and knowledge.

Volunteers who are responsible for these organizations often have unique insights into the most exciting topics. In addition, these volunteers have the time to engage with people and share their knowledge.

Extra-curriculum activities 

Before and after-school clubs on the school premises and lunchtime extracurricular activities are another way of opening horizons for the youngsters.

Schools can come to financially beneficial agreements with local sports, arts and drama and other kinds of providers, e.g. use of school premises in exchange to free sessions for the learners. This is a win-win situation without budget-busting costs or time-consuming payment collection.

Activities meant to enhance your child’s schooling and learning.

A variety of subjects like history, science, maths and space are available at the bookshoolsoursesworkshop website. There are many activities offered to people of all ages and abilities.

External workshops provide valuable opportunities for primary schools that can help with cultural capital building.

For example, a mobile planetarium visit can help Y2 year groups learn about space topics simultaneously.

By coming to the planetarium, students can get a glimpse of potential future jobs in the expansive space industry. With no travel expenses and easy contact with the provider ahead of time, there’s no reason not to book a visit for your school today!

School trips

Building cultural capital is important, and there are many ways to do it. One way is by taking school trips to various destinations.

The UK has a wide range of accessible travel destinations that provide opportunities to learn about history and culture while also enjoying the outdoors.

Some companies can help with all the necessary paperwork, costings, and activities for your trip.

Another option for travelling in the UK on a budget is to work with Youth Hostel Associations (YHA). YHA has high-quality, affordable accommodations all over the country. They also collaborate with local activity providers and have access to insider knowledge that can make your trip even better.



Q1: What is Cultural Capital?

A1: Cultural capital is the set of knowledge, skills, and experiences that a person has access to from their cultural background and environment.

It includes things like language, social norms, customs, values and beliefs which can be passed down through generations or acquired through interactions with different cultures. It can also refer to the resources and opportunities available within a particular cultural context.

Q2: Why does Cultural Capital matter?

A2: Cultural capital is important because it enriches one’s understanding of the world, current affairs, and relationships with people from different backgrounds. It can provide access to networks, resources, and information that can help to open doors and lead to success.

It can also increase one’s confidence and self-worth, allowing one to feel more comfortable in unfamiliar situations. Ultimately, having cultural capital is an invaluable asset that can help individuals reach their goals and fulfil their potential

Q3: How do I build my Cultural Capital in my school?

A3: Building cultural capital in the school can be done through a variety of methods. Schools can partner with local organizations to bring in volunteers or guest speakers to share their knowledge and experience.

They can also organize extra-curricular activities, such as afterschool clubs or lunchtime activities, as well as field trips that expose students to different cultures. Finally, schools can introduce courses or programs in the curriculum that focus on cultural capital building, such as intercultural studies

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.

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