Last reviewed on 13 April 2022
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 40777

Get a handle on what ‘cultural capital’ means and how Ofsted will consider it as part of your school’s quality of education. Find out what questions you can ask your school leaders so you feel confident pupils are prepared for life in modern Britain.

What is cultural capital?

How Ofsted defines it

Ofsted added the term 'cultural capital' to the inspection handbook in 2019. In paragraph 207, it defines it as:

... 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.

In her speech in 2019, Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman explained what the term means in practice:

By [cultural capital], we simply mean the essential knowledge, those standard reference points, that we want all children to have.

... So for example, it’s about being able to learn about and name things that are, for many, outside their daily experience.

Cultural capital can include experiences, art and knowledge from a variety of cultures

Cultural capital doesn’t just come from British 'high' culture (e.g. trips to the ballet or opera, or an understanding of Dickens and Shakespeare). 

It can include experiences, art and knowledge from a variety of cultures, and popular culture (e.g. Indian dance or Nigerian cooking, or an understanding of The Beatles or Stormzy). 

These different forms of cultural capital should be included throughout your school’s curriculum and enrichment activities, to avoid elitism, and it might be something your school leaders are doing already.

Get inspiration for what questions you can ask school leaders at the end of this article.

Your school will decide on what's 'essential knowledge' for your pupils

Ofsted told us that it's up to your school leaders to decide what is 'essential knowledge' for your pupils.

Your school leaders should consider how your school is preparing pupils to live and thrive in culturally and ethnically diverse modern Britain. 

How will Ofsted inspect it? 

It’s a ‘golden thread’, rather than its own expectation 

Inspectors won’t be judging your school on it as a separate ‘thing’. 

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said cultural capital should be “a golden thread, woven through everything you do to teach children well”. 

It'll be considered as part of your school’s wider curriculum intent

To evaluate your school’s intent, inspectors will collect evidence from:

  • Discussions with senior and subject leaders
  • Any documents used in curriculum planning (there's no specific format expected for these)

This is set out on paragraphs 208 to 210 of the inspection handbook. 

It's necessary for 'good' or 'outstanding' judgements

In order to meet one of the criteria for a 'good' quality of education, your school’s curriculum needs to give all pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils and those with SEND, the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.  

This is also one of the criteria for 'good' early years provision (see paragraphs 232 and 342 of the inspection handbook, respectively).

In order to secure an 'outstanding' judgement in these areas, your school must securely and consistently meet all the 'good' criteria, including the criteria above.

For more information, see our article on how Ofsted will inspect your school’s curriculum.

How do I monitor it?

You don’t need to monitor cultural capital as a separate area. 

Instead, embed questions about cultural capital as part of how you already monitor the curriculum.

For example, if you’re a link governor for a distinct subject/topic, simply include a question about cultural capital on your next visit.

Questions to ask school leaders

Choose a couple of questions focused on cultural capital and slot them into any other questions you'll be asking your school leaders about the curriculum.

The questions below are to give you a flavour of what to ask, and you don't need to ask all of them.

How do we deliver cultural capital to pupils? How do you embed it throughout the curriculum?

Your school leaders should be able to explain what cultural capital means in your school’s context, and how it’s embedded throughout your school’s curriculum intent.

They may have carried out a curriculum audit or other curriculum evaluation to identify how your school’s curriculum intent is already delivering this.

Tell me about the different forms of cultural capital that are included in the curriculum.

Your school leaders should be able to give you some examples of cultural capital in your school’s curriculum.

For example, this could be activities like tasting different foods from around the world in food technology, studying authors from various ethnic backgrounds in English, or if your school’s in an ex-mining community, including the local history of mining in your school’s history curriculum.

How do you make sure that cultural capital in our school isn't 'elitist'? 

Your school leaders should be able to explain how cultural capital isn’t focused purely on British ‘high’ culture.

For example, they may have completed an anti-racism curriculum audit to spot gaps and improve diversity in the curriculum, or they may have built on your school’s local heritage to focus on topics and individuals from different social classes.

What impact do you expect our curriculum and cultural capital to have on all pupils? 

Your school leaders should be able to explain the impact they want the curriculum to have on all pupils, and how the knowledge they learn at school will prepare them for their next stage of education.

They should be able to tell you how the curriculum is ambitious for all pupils, and how they know that disadvantaged pupils and pupils with SEND in particular acquire cultural capital. For example, they might show you examples of pupils' work looking at different artists/authors around the world, including how all pupils are able to access these lessons. 



Gulshan Kayembe is an independent consultant with extensive experience of school improvement. She is passionate about the curriculum and its potential to inspire the best from our learners. Gulshan provides training and facilitation in a wide range of areas including teaching and learning and diversity.