Adam Boddinson’s schools perspective at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Adam Boddinson's school perspective at the Cultural Inclusion Conference 2021

Adam, the Chief Executive of NASEN, presents perspectives from schools, highlighting research which showed that schools who already understood diversity and inclusion faired better during lockdowns than those who did not. Adam also discusses the importance and economic imperative of the arts, culture and heritage sectors in a world recovering from isolation experienced throughout the pandemic.

The conference on the 26th February 2021, brought together disabled people, parents, disability organisations, schools and arts and culture organisations to explore access to culture and heritage. Given the events of the previous 12 months the conference also explored: How has COVID affected opportunities for the inclusion of disabled young people in arts & culture?

Adam is the Chief Executive for nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs), the professional membership body for the SEND workforce. He is also the Chair of the Whole School SEND consortium, which is leading on the delivery of the government’s SEND Schools’ Workforce contract.

Adam is a National Leader of Governance, a Trustee at a large Multi-Academy Trust, a Trustee of the Potential Trust, a member of the National SEND Forum and a Fellow of the RSA.  Adam has previously held a number of senior education roles including Director of the Centre for Professional Education at the University of Warwick and Academic Principal for IGGY (a global educational social network for gifted teenagers).  He is a Visiting Professor at the University of Wolverhampton, a published author and a qualified clinical hypnotherapist.

See the conference programme and all speaker biogs here

An audio description of Adam Boddinson's presentation

Full transcript

Audio description: A man with dark hair faces the camera. He is wearing a navy blue suit and tie and light blue shirt. Behind him is a poster of a map of the world. Box files and letter trays are stacked behind him.


I am Chief Executive at NASEN, the National Association for Special Educational Needs. I also Chair the Whole School SEND Consortium which is one of those areas which Anita and I worked very closely on at the outset. And if you're not currently a member of NASEN, why not? It's free, so sign up today and you can do that on the website which is

In terms of today, what I wanted to do was to share a little bit about why cultural inclusion is important to me and why it's important to NASEN and why I think it should be important to everybody. And I suspect the fact that all of you are here at this event means that you're all converted already, so I don't need to convince you, but I think it is useful just to talk through some of those arguments because I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there around both inclusion and arts and culture and heritage and so on and how they interact, but equally the last 12 months has thrown up new forms of evidence in this area that we can point to which are really positive.

Just as a starting point, I was listening before to Anna talking about what's been happening with children during the pandemic and so on, and what's really interesting during this time, when we've had lots of people learning from home, some children with SEND obviously still in school, but not all of them and I talk to a number of teacher friends of mine to see what kind of access have children had to the arts in this past 12 months, has it all gone and it's been really focused on just Maths and English? Actually has this been an opportunity to broaden things out a bit? And I think it's really patchy, is the reality.

But if I could just share a couple of stories, I asked particularly about literature because reading seems to be something that's come up again and again over the last 12 months in terms of are we going to have a whole group of children who have struggled to learn to read or who have forgotten how to read and all these kinds of things.

A primary school teacher friend of mine, who also happens to be a drama specialist, talked about her year six class and she said there were children there who have particular types of needs where they really struggled with reading even before this. So much so that they didn't even engage with the topic but the fact that they've been at home, and she has thought 'what can I actually do remotely that's interactive?'

So she's started reading to them again like they might have done in Key Stage 1 and she talked to me about. She was reading The Five Children and It. I grew up with the Sammy Adams all of these types of things, if you don't remember those stories, but she was talking about the fact that these children were just absolutely engrossed in this to the point where one actually took his iPad to the loo which nearly resulted in a safeguarding disaster, but luckily that was averted in the nick of time.

There's a re-engagement there and it didn't cost anything it wasn't complex that was at a real simple level, but actually those little things can be the spark, they can be the thing that lead to the thing that says 'actually I want to go to visit the local library now', 'I'm more interested in that', 'I want to go and see what other cultural institutions and heritage institutions there are out there because I'm interested in things now in the way that I might not have been before.'

I heard before this talk about remote and blended learning and what we might do going back in terms of employers, but also in terms of schools. And one of the things I am starting to hear from families is this idea that access to education by remote learning is not just a second best, in some cases, it's been a better way for some people to learn. And so there is an argument that it could be considered a reasonable adjustment going forward if it's enabled a better access.

I'll come back to this digital strand of what's been happening in the cultural sector as well, because I think this is a really important thing to look at going forward.

Some special schools, I know have started thinking about how the assistive technology that they've got, which was normally used to break down barriers in the physical environment, how that technology itself can be used in a more innovative way to provide access to areas outside the school in some of these institutions. Again, I'll come back to that later.

The Government talks a lot about catch up, and it was mentioned before, I don't hear about this in schools. When I go into schools all they're talking about his recovery, and it's really interesting, just the different discourse that's going on in different places.

What has the impact been of the pandemic on access to the arts? I did a little bit of research before coming today and there are quite a lot of publications in this space. The World Bank has published a number of things and in August last year they basically said there has been a huge impact on the Arts and culture sector around the world and they were talking about the fact that 90% of countries had actually closed their World Heritage properties.

Then you had UNESCO who published a report in May who were talking about museums and a particular impact on them and 90% have closed their doors during the pandemic and they went on to say that one in eight of them may never actually reopen again which is a really sad state of affairs.

Then in September the OECD published their own assessment of what the impact is and they said we hear a lot about the impact on tourism, that's always the first thing that comes up on the news, but probably at the same level as the impact on tourism is the impact on the kind of cultural and creative sectors and they made the point that social distancing and the disproportionate impact of Covid on minority groups has further skewed access to the arts for those who actually contributed to it so much, not just those who were receivers.

So, on the face of it it seems like a pretty dire situation, but those of you who know me well know that I tend to be a glass half full type of person and I think there are some reasons to be optimistic.

So, it was mentioned before this rapid innovation in terms of digitalization and so on and I think that's really important because the question raised by the Council of Europe was has this digital access to cultural institutions actually helped to break down some barriers and to get into some of those groups that we were perhaps struggling to get into before?

Because, Anita made the point before, about that experience when she was standing in the in the Rothko room, and it's quite exposing moment that isn't it, when you're there with everybody in the moment? One of the benefits of that kind of digital access is actually you have almost the privacy sometimes available to explore some of these things without necessarily opening yourself up to some of that exposure until you are ready for that. And that shouldn't be underestimated and having both could be really really important.

The phrase I kept hearing come up in the news over the last 12-months is 'The Perfect Storm.' The perfect storm of everything going wrong in the pandemic and everything else that's happening in the world and what we've got now, that storm isn't going away, but all these rays of optimism, you combine some of the storminess with the optimism maybe we'll get the perfect rainbow coming out of this
which is that if this digital access could actually remain, not in place of, but in addition to traditional programs that cultural institutions have got, I think that could help to sustain that reach. And there's something about a ladder of access, so maybe the staring point for some people is that digital access but actually we use that to hook them in to the whole immersive experience, and equally the other way.

There's a geographical challenge, if you're somebody who, for whatever reason, can't get out of your local community, certainly maybe can't get to certain parts of the world, does digital give us an opportunity to really open doors to things that just aren't otherwise available. So, I'm really excited about that.

The other thing I've noticed is this direct link between social, emotional mental health, in terms of schools, but also how the role of the arts and culture and heritage can actually be part of the solution to improving positive well-being and I think there's been a penny drop moment in many areas because we've kind of stopped, haven't we? As a society we've started recognising the importance of things like the environment, the importance of diversity, neurodiversity and cultural diversity but also the role that the arts have in terms of our own well-being. And I hope that doesn't get forgotten about when the world starts to switch back on again and into full speed again.

We did a bit of research last year with Bath Spa University, with Special Educational Needs Coordinators, and the big finding that came out of that was that there has been an amplification effect so where there was really good effective practice going on before around inclusion, that's really been amplified and sustained through this past 12 months, those relationships have really carried things through. But where it was sketchy, patchy, there wasn't the commitment there, it's been a disaster.

And I do wonder the extent to which those organisations, both schools who are already having a really broad curriculum and had thought about inclusion, but also those cultural organisations who are really well established outreach programmes and so on. Has that kind of amplification effect echoed into those organisations as well. I don't know the answer but I'm interested in hearing more about that.

A question for me is why should Government and policy makers, they got a huge pressure on the Treasury to put money into all kinds of things, and one of the questions is why should they fund culture, arts, heritage? Why should they? And there's a view amongst some, and not the right view my opinion, that this is a one way cost. We've just got to put money in to keep it going there's no return.

I think that's completely floored, and this is one of the areas where the World Bank have put some really interesting evidence forward and they actually talk about, in South Africa, the arts sector accounting for 1.6% of the country's GDP and they also talk about, in the US, I think it was 2015, they talked about 5 billion dollars of investment from public funds which actually generated $166 billion in terms of economic activity, so there is clearly a return on this investment.

It's not just a bottomless pit or a black hole where the money goes in an never has a financial or economic impact. So, I think that's important. They go on to talk about the fact that culture has a role in building social cohesion, which we know is going to be important, we've had this major period of isolation, so actually there is an argument for not just sustaining funding, but for actually increasing public funding into this area going forward, as part of social justice and a moral responsibility. Not just for those who are marginalised in society, who don't have access to the arts, but for all of us, I think it's going to be important.

Just to finish up I wanted to talk about cultural inclusion in the context of education, because for me it's about ensuring that all children and young people have access to the arts but particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities.

Some of those young people who I have met with SEND are some of the most creative people I have ever met. I was in a special school recently and there was one young person there, some of the schools have full PPE on, and they were doing charades. And this one child they had was fully masked up and he said to me 'who do you think I am?' I was thinking, 'I don't know, a doctor?' And he said 'no, I'm a ninja!' And isn't that great, the fact that children they see beyond what's immediately in front of them, they see past that. We need to capture that creativity and bottle it if we can, it's brilliant.

I just wanted to talk a little bit about NASEN and why NASEN supports cultural inclusion because for me diversity and difference is not something we should shy away from or be afraid of, it's something we should celebrate and really be proud of and I think schools have a really important role in this.

And the fact that we have this divide is really challenging in terms of access to the Arts and so we need to improve that because cultural inclusion as a catalyst for inclusion in its broadest sense and that is a big challenge facing the education sector at the moment.

In terms of what NASEN is doing to try and support this, well we are trying to support schools by helping them to look at their curriculum and make sure it's as broad and inclusive as it can be, but also we try and help cultural organisations with their outreach programmes to make sure that they are accessible to learners with complex needs and so on. So if that's something we could help you with then get in touch with me after today.

I just want to finish with a quote from Audrey Azoulay, who runs UNESCO and she says 'Culture has helped us out of this crisis, now we have to have culture and support the diversity to witch culture owes its strength.'

And that's a really good point to end on.


Matt Overd
Matt Overd
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