Developing Cultural Capital at Upper Wharfedale School

The 20th century French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu defined cultural capital as, “familiarity with the legitimate culture within a society.”

In the 2022 School Inspection Handbook, Ofsted defines it as, “the essential knowledge that students need to be educated citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said and helping them to engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.”

At Upper Wharfedale School we view cultural capital as a vital element of the holistic education and development we offer to every young person in our school. We strongly believe that in order to equip and prepare our students for their role as influential global citizens we must offer them the very broadest range of opportunities, experiences and knowledge during their time in our school.

Upper Wharfedale School is a diverse educational community. Our students, staff, parents/carers and Governors come from a range of different backgrounds, languages, cultures, faiths and traditions. As a result, in our development of cultural capital we want to celebrate this diversity and for our students to develop as “cultural omnivores” (Peterson, 1992). They should be able to choose to mix interests in a wide range of forms of culture, both those seen as “historically legitimate” by society and those forms which are emerging and contemporary. In summary, to “stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before and create new and exciting forms of culture.”

We understand that families will pass on cultural capital to their children by introducing them to dance, music, theatre, galleries, historic sites, art and literature. An awareness and understanding of these enables young people to confidently “hold their own” in a range of settings; from a job interview to a conversation with a neighbour or building a professional network. It enables young people to be able to learn and name things which are, for many, outside their daily experience.

Research from the Sutton Trust has shown that enabling young people to have knowledge and understanding of these areas of culture facilitates greater academic success and opens doors to a wide range of careers and professions for the future. Projects such as The Class Ceiling have shown how recruitment into key professions, including banking and law, is made easier by the level of cultural capital of the applicants. We want our students to be equipped with the very best possible opportunities to excel in their chosen path and to have the confidence to converse, debate and discuss.

The following page gives just a taste of the experiences offered to our students to assist them in developing their cultural capital, knowledge and understanding. This is the “golden thread” which runs through our curricular and extra-curricular programme for all students.

In summary, we aim for our students to be confident in their cultural knowledge and understanding but also to be creators of innovative new forms of culture which will help them shape the future in a diverse, global Britain.

How do we develop our students’ Cultural Capital at Upper Wharfedale School?

  • Drama club: productions and theatre visits
  • Music tuition and the school production
  • Art: gallery visits
  • Broad & balanced curriculum offer with clear intent grounded in strong philosophy
  • Careers Education, Information & Guidance programme/subject displays
  • Exchange programmes and other UK/overseas visits and trips
  • Auschwitz visit and Holocaust Memorial projects
  • Diverse and challenging Assembly programme
  • Mathematics Challenge
  • Duke of Edinburgh’s Award
  • Student Leadership programmes
  • Alternative timetable/Enrichment/Activity Week
  • Community projects (e.g. Young Rangers and John Muir award)
  • The Big Dig archaeological project
  • Sporting opportunities
  • F1 in schools project
  • British Council school linking projects
  • House system and opportunities
  • Charity events and fundraising
  • Deep Learning Days
  • UWS Reading Strategy
  • Speaking & Listening Projects and Debating Club
  • Personal, Social and Health education programme
  • Curricular day visits and fieldwork opportunities