Cultural capital in the EIF: what you need to know


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By Michael Freeston, Quality and Standards Director at the Early Years Alliance. 

The term cultural capital has been added to Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (EIF), due to come into effect on 1 September 2019.

Ofsted has explained that the EIF is an evolution from the previous Common Inspection Framework, putting an increased focus on professional discussion between the inspector and setting staff about their educational programmes, how well it is delivered and what impact it has on children’s learning and development.

The new EIF also introduces the concept of cultural capital.

The framework states:

“Cultural capital is the essential knowledge that children need to prepare them for their future success. It is about giving children the best possible start to their early education. As part of making a judgment about the quality of education, inspectors will consider how well leaders use the curriculum to enhance the experience and opportunities available to children, particularly the most disadvantaged […]

“Some children arrive at an early years setting with different experiences from others, in their learning and play. What a setting does, through the EYFS curriculum and interactions with practitioners potentially makes all the difference to children. It is the role of the setting to help the children experience the awe and wonder of the world in which they live, through the seven areas of learning.”

Be confident in demonstrating cultural capital in your setting

Some practitioners have expressed concern that Ofsted has not made it clear what inspectors will expect to see and hear as evidence that children’s cultural capital is being enhanced at their early years settings.

Others say that the new framework presents a superficial definition of a term that covers a whole area of sociological study.

Early years providers should be confident that they are able to demonstrate how their provision shows children the “awe and wonder” of the world. Make sure that you and your colleagues feel confident talking about building activities around the children’s interests.

You can use the knowledge from regular observations, work as key persons and what you know of the children’s home lives to develop children’s experiences and learning.

There is no need to over-think cultural capital – it is the exciting and stimulating activities that you do with children every day.

It may include:

  • finding books on a child’s favourite topic
  • creating role-play activities that further their interest in a particular idea
  • taking trips to the park
  • or organising visits from community figures such as the police.

What is important is that you feel confident explaining why you have chosen a particular activity and how it will benefit the child’s learning and development.

Supporting children's personal and social development

In an early years setting, cultural capital means that each child arrives with a number of experiences and ideas based on their own personal circumstances.

Ofsted has previously demonstrated its approach with a picture of two boys dressed up as pirates. Here, they argue that the cultural capital used is the pre-existing knowledge that they have about pirates, allowing them to enjoy the game. They know that pirates wear hats and carry weapons – and that pirates go “arrghh!”

In this way, explaining how you improve cultural capital can be considered similar to the challenges the sector faced when asked to demonstrate how your setting “promotes British values”.

We may not have been sure of what the term meant when it was first introduced, but we soon came to realise that if we were supporting children’s personal, social and emotional development then we were in effect promoting British values.

Giving experiences to children to 'make them effective citizens'

However, there are still some concerns about the definition of cultural capital provided and the reasons why it has been added to the EIF.

The concept of cultural capital is associated with sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who used the term to explain why some children achieve better educational outcomes than others.

Bourdieu defined cultural capital as the various assets that people have including the way they speak, their level of education and their hobbies and interests. He noted that children from less advantaged backgrounds were less likely to achieve academically than their better off peers and concluded that the education system and wider society values certain aspects of cultural capital more than others.

This, he believed, influenced social mobility, wellbeing and life outcomes.

Ofsted’s definition of cultural capital as “the knowledge that children need to be effective citizens” is only one part of the story.

Some providers are concerned that Ofsted has introduced a term that, as a sociological concept, is about power and how groups of people maintain and enhance their positions in society at the expense of others.

However, it is unlikely that Ofsted will make judgments based on the life experiences and lifestyles of the children that attend each setting.

The early years sector can be reassured that the essence of cultural capital already lies within the EYFS.

Rather than looking for hidden meaning in the phrase, practitioners should continue to focus on giving each child the best start in life and the support that enables them to fulfil their full potential.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Under 5 magazine.

Watch the cultural capital webinar

In this lively webinar, Michael Freeston and Melanie Pilcher, Quality and Standards Manager dig a little deeper, looking at the origins of the term and how it does (or does not) relate to the current early years agenda. Participants were encouraged to contribute their reflections on the concept and share with others how they are preparing to evidence to Ofsted that they are meeting the new requirements within their provision.


More EIF resources for you and your team

Workshops: The Alliance is running a series of workshops on cultural capital and the EIF, for members and non-members.

Find my nearest EIF workshop

Webinar: Preparing your provision for the Education Inspection Framework (EIF)


Coming soon...

Exploring the Education Inspection Framework: This publication is out in early September and will be available for pre-order in late August.

A SMARTpd pack on delivering the EIF: The pack will include a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, with facilitator notes, and accompanying resources to support the host to deliver an in-house session to their team at staff meetings or training days. It provides a cost effective way to prompt discussion, increase understanding and raise awareness in the team. The pack will be sold via our Shop.


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