Building bridges with Barrowford's cultural capital curriculum

Harriet Marshall
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Explaining Lyfta
Barrowford Primary School, Lancashire, is leveraging immersive technology and cultural education to enrich learning and expand students' global perspectives. By creating an exciting cultural capital curriculum involving weekly new learning and experiences in music, the arts, poetry, writing and geography, students also virtually cross borders and boundaries and gain intercultural capital to meet the demands of our diverse, interconnected world.
Students at Barrowford Primary School
How a cultural capital curriculum builds bridges, belonging and new learning opportunities

At Barrowford Primary School in northern England, students are gaining cultural capital and intercultural skills through an innovative curriculum bringing the world into their classrooms. The curriculum interweaves music, art, literature, and geography from diverse global cultures.

Digital immersive learning platform, Lyfta, provides learning experiences transporting students to new places and bringing new perspectives through human stories.

This culturally rich education aligns with Barrowford’s mission to develop socially mobile, empathetic, and adaptable learners equipped for an interconnected world. Extensive research shows that cultural capital education and intercultural learning help bridge gaps in opportunity and understanding.

Izandra from Lyfta's Music is My Social Tool storyworld
What is cultural capital education and why is it important?

Cultural capital often broadly refers to the cultural knowledge, experiences, and competencies that help students succeed in school and society. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds often lack opportunities to accumulate cultural capital valued by educational institutions (Jaeger, 2011) which can in turn contribute to achievement gaps.

Cultural capital education has generally been understood to have the aim of giving exposure to knowledge, experiences, and cultural codes valued by societies - but in an increasingly interconnected yet complex and changing world, the concept of intercultural capital is also relevant. This includes understanding and experience in arts, music and literature, and comfort navigating institutions and spaces at all levels (personal, societal and global). Acquiring this knowledge helps students feel they belong and have equal chances to thrive.

Additionally, intercultural learning can develop competencies for navigating diversity. For example, contact with other cultures increases empathy, positive attitudes toward different groups, and skills for intercultural communication.

Cultural capital and intercultural education provide students with knowledge and experiences that foster inclusion, belonging, and opportunity. This can also potentially disrupt intergenerational transmission of educational inequality. Having explored the complexities around defining and understanding a non-deficit model of cultural capital education, this article about cultural capital explores how Lyfta can support (inter)cultural education in schools in a variety of ways.

Rounded and grounded framework from Barrowford Primary School
A ‘good humaning’ context: curriculum, pedagogy and an EDI golden thread 

Barrowford Primary School has around 330 5-11 year olds on roll and is situated in a rural village in East Lancashire. Within the school there are 19 languages spoken with many new students arriving throughout the school year, a much higher than average number of children are entitled to free school meals (38+%) and the school has approximately four times the national average number of students with Education, Health and Care plans (special educational needs). Helping young people feel included and that they belong is something all teachers at the school are passionate about and this is reflected in every aspect of the school curriculum and pedagogy.

Key human rights and sustainability frameworks, in particular UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs), underpin all curriculum and pedagogical approaches, including how the school teaches and meets the objectives of the National Curriculum of England. The golden thread running throughout the school’s curriculum is the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda - where they ensure the curriculum is ‘representative, promotes active allyship and is accessible to all our children’ (Rachel Tomlinson). This supports a broader goal to help young people ‘thrive’ at a personal, interpersonal, societal and global level (levels which are interlinked, as further explained by Hannon 2021) in an increasingly complex and challenging world. The school’s unique take on this ‘thrive’ approach is through its ‘'Rounded and Grounded' framework (image above) for building portable learning skills and values that enable students to become responsible and adaptable adults.

Storytelling and project based learning pedagogical methodologies are also very important to the delivery of the curriculum at Barrowford. Children enjoy and remember the inclusion of ‘Human Library’ sessions each term, where local members of the community are borrowed for 30 minutes (image right). By including human stories in all sorts of ways, the idea of this type of real life opportunities and  ‘good humaning’ curriculum was further explained in a recent presentation by the head teacher:

Essentially, the way we think education can make a better world is to create a community and design a curriculum that promotes ‘good humaning’, where our children have the opportunity to BE good human BEINGS and DO good human DOINGS. A school community and curriculum they are able to access without barriers, one in which they have agency and their voice is heard and one in which they see everyone represented: ultimately where every individual is fully engaged, where innovation and exploration thrives and where views, beliefs and values are integrated. From equity to belonging to mattering.

Rachel Tomlinson
headteacher barrowford primary school - February 2024
The cultural capital curriculum at Barrowford Primary

Within the context outlined above, Barrowford Primary has implemented an innovative cultural capital curriculum to support their mission of developing well-rounded and socially mobile students. The cultural capital curriculum exposes students to diverse cultures, languages, arts, and global perspectives. An important component of the curriculum is Lyfta, an immersive digital learning platform that brings human stories from around the world into the classroom. 

The school's cultural capital curriculum aligns with its Rounded and Grounded framework and its ambition to help young people feel included but also that they can thrive at a local and global level too. The school’s educational translation of cultural capital appears to recognise and build upon the cultural capital each child brings to the classroom, provide access to diverse cultural experiences and perspectives, and avoid value judgements about what constitutes 'best' cultural capital.  

The cultural capital curriculum has been designed using resources and themes known to have had a learning impact in the school in the past. This curriculum means that all children (and staff) in the school experience the following each week: a country of the week; a music genre; a poem of the week; an artist of the week; a picture book; and one human storyworld in a Lyfta session. As this is a holistic, whole-school activity, pupils can share learning and discussions across different classes, year groups and staff - who can also share their new knowledge and intercultural experiences with parents, families and the wider community.

360° space from the Secrets of the Opera sotyworld series

Lyfta's immersive 360-degree storyworlds allow Barrowford students to virtually travel the globe and connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds. For example, in the Autumn term, pupils visited Finland's Secrets of the Opera storyworld to hear from ballet dancers and musicians. They explored UNESCO world heritage sites in Tanzania, Peru, and other countries. Most impactfully, students engaged with storyworlds featuring diverse young people sharing their lives, faiths, and passions.

For the Spring term, Barrowford students are virtually visiting France, Brazil, Japan, and other nations through Lyfta's human stories and 360-degree environments. They are learning regional music styles, study classic and contemporary poets, artists, and authors, and appreciate heritage sites. Compared to traditional classroom materials, this multisensory cultural immersion enhances learning and perspective-taking - and crucially pupils enjoy and look forward to these sessions.

This culturally rich education and curriculum aligns with Barrowford's mission to develop socially mobile, empathetic, and adaptable learners equipped for an interconnected world. Research shows cultural capital education and intercultural learning promote inclusiveness while reducing prejudice and discrimination - for example, intercultural contact builds skills for navigating diversity while decreasing social anxiety about cultural differences (Leung & Chiu, 2010) and the multi-sensory nature of Lyfta's storyworlds has been shown in particular to reduce intergroup anxiety (Kuuluvainen et al, 2021). Through a purposely inclusive and culturally diverse curriculum, students become more confident interacting cross-culturally and more aware of diverse worldviews. Teachers also report that Lyfta sessions have expanded students' global perspectives and boosted confidence in engaging with people from different cultures. By experiencing how others live, students gain insight into shared humanity across cultures.

By complementing Barrowford's cultural capital curriculum with immersive human stories from around the world, this unique combination of innovative curriculum design and cutting-edge immersive technology is helping Barrowford students develop into adaptable, responsible adults ready to thrive in an interconnected world. By experiencing how others live, students gain insight into what unites our shared humanity across cultures.

To optimise learning experiences, Barrowford Primary School integrates metacognitive strategies into their cultural capital curriculum. Lyfta complements this approach by offering lesson plans with metacognitive activities and reflective tasks. The platform's storyworlds, such as the 'Becoming Me' series in Denmark and the 'Kids’ Cup' series, encourage reflection on both other cultures and the value of each child's unique cultural capital.

After pair, group or whole class discussions about the storyworld content, each class in the school records reflections in their whole class ‘Lyfta Time book’ to further reflect upon and record their learning. Key questions are used for each class (differentiated for younger years) that then form the basis of discussions and reflective writing. New vocabulary is highlighted and teachers in Key Stage 2 encourage their pupils to watch the film with a small whiteboard and pen and record reflections, new ideas and any new words. The class book is passed around at the end of class Lyfta sessions and each week a class in the school takes on the responsibility of completing the ‘Whole School’ Lyfta floor book and shares their learning reflections in the end of week whole school assembly. The assembly slot also sees student reflections on their learning from complementary resources like Picture News and the week’s chosen picture book.

Examples of the sorts of reflections and notes written by a range of students (from 5 to 11 years old) can be seen in the images below.

Reflections from students at Barrowford Primary School

When invited to share their opinions to a recent school visitor about Lyfta sessions, a year 5 class shared the following responses which showed how wide-ranging storyworld learning impact is, but also how very differently each pupil responded to the various storyworlds at an individual level. During the lesson students were keen to explore new spaces offered by the 360 storyworlds, asking to ‘go through the blue circle’ when they wanted the teacher to navigate to new spaces that were later to feature in the film and important to the central character.

‘I think Lyfta is really good because it helps you learn about other people’s lives… it’s like a human library’ (Yahya, Year 5).

‘Though it was just short, the film was like a movie about her’ (Year 5 student responding to what she felt she had learned having watched the Izandra short 7 minute documentary)

‘I sometimes watch the film again at home because I want to’ (Ellia, Year 5, who still remembered using Lyfta during Covid lockdowns).

When asked ‘which of the Lyfta lessons have been your favourite so far’ (Lyfta has been used in the school for nearly three years), responses ranged enormously from ‘the boxing story’, to the ‘footballers - the ones from Norway and the guy from Brazil’, and ‘Izandra, this one today’! There appeared to be a slight preference shown in this Year 5 group for stories featuring children, teenagers and younger adults.

The Year 5 class teacher also shared that the children ‘always really enjoy Lyfta sessions on a Friday, there’s always lots of engagement’. One assistant headteacher passionate about the EDI ‘golden thread’ in the school, also shared how thanks to a storyworld set in Iran, she saw how one Iranian pupil new to the school was suddenly more engaged in learning and keen to share with his whole class more about his country and culture. The film features two very different parts of Iran, and the pupil said ‘well my home is quite like the second place, but not the first’. The Year 4 teacher shared how it was lovely to see how his ‘eyes lit up’ when he saw that week’s Lyfta time was to feature his home country and was in his first language. She also shared, ‘the class was able to also learn more about their new classmate’.

Lyfta in use at Barrowford Primary School

As the research shows, cultural education does more than expand knowledge - it expands hearts and minds. By incorporating cultures and human stories worldwide into the curriculum in a variety of ways (from art and music to documentary and book), Barrowford Primary has created an innovative, real world approach to cultural capital education. This approach to cultural capital education supports personal development and thriving at an interpersonal, societal and global level in an increasingly unknown and changing world.

What is Lyfta?

Lyfta offers a groundbreaking solution for educators seeking to broaden their students' horizons, offering access to a range of people, places and perspectives that would otherwise be impossible. Imagine being able to teleport your entire class to a new destination every week, immersing them in the vibrant cultures and compelling stories of people from around the globe—all for less than the cost of a coach trip.

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Hannon, V. (2021). THRIVE: The Purpose of Schools in a Changing World (Cambridge University Press).

Jaeger, M. M. (2011). Does cultural capital really affect academic achievement? New evidence from combined sibling and panel data. Sociology of Education, 84(4), 281-298.

Kuuluvainen, V., Virtanen, I., Rikkonen, L., & Isotalus, P. (2021). Testing an Immersive Virtual Environment for Decreasing Intergroup Anxiety among University Students: An Interpersonal Perspective. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), 16(16), pp. 202–220.

Leung, A. K. Y., & Chiu, C. Y. (2010). Multicultural experience, idea receptiveness, and creativity. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 41(5-6), 723-741.

Tawil, S. (2018). Education and diversity: Towards a new paradigm to address inequalities. UNESCO Digital Library.

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