'Creative skills are just as important as technical ones'

The world will always need plumbers, but it would be an error for colleges to always place technical skills before creativity, writes Catherine Sezen of the Association of Colleges

Catherine Sezen

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The UK economy undoubtedly needs higher level technical and professional skills in order to grow, develop and compete internationally. It is vital to the economy that more people are trained for careers in construction and engineering; areas where the UK currently has skills shortages.

However, it is important that in striving to boost technical skills, this is not at the expense of creative skills and creative industries, such as design, fashion, music and performing arts, for which the UK is internationally renowned. Failure to protect these subjects could leave another skills gap, but one that could be more difficult to fill.

The introduction of the English Baccalaureate into the secondary school system may well compound the issue, especially if it is extended to include 90 per cent of pupils in Years 10 and 11. EBacc requires that students working towards GCSEs at 16 study English, maths, science, a humanity (geography or history) and a language.

This, combined with the introduction of the more rigorous GCSEs graded 9 to 1, means it is more than likely that schools will offer a more limited number of optional subjects. This will have an impact on take-up of creative subjects such as music, drama and art, other more vocational options such as food preparation and nutrition, and also PE.

The EBacc focus on a highly academic diet until 16 follows on from another government initiative, the withdrawal from performance tables of technical qualifications offered by colleges to 14- to 16-year-olds on day release programmes. These courses offered young people the opportunity to undertake qualifications in a range of technical subjects. This opportunity motivated them to engage with core subjects at school and encouraged progression post-16 in subjects such as construction and engineering.  These opportunities are still available in some colleges, which offer direct entry to a full-time curriculum at 14, but the numbers of students are much more limited. This seems somewhat ironic considering the need for technical skills and the push for apprenticeships.

Creative subjects could be 'an endangered species’

So perhaps we should be concerned about opportunities in both creative and technical subjects.

All this means that young people whose skills, abilities and interests are more practical and creative are at risk of becoming demotivated and disillusioned by the academic focus of the educational diet. Equally, those students who enjoy the academic qualities of EBacc subjects could also have thrived, excelled and enjoyed creative subjects. It looks like everyone could lose out.

It may be argued that creative industries, such as music or theatre, are less stable and are perceived to have fewer opportunities to break into them than more traditional industries – after all, the world will always need plumbers and electricians – but equally there will always be the need for entertainment, photography and fashion design.

It shouldn't be forgotten either that many occupations such as architecture, catering and hairdressing combine technical and creative skills. They ensure buildings are attractive as well as functional, food looks as appetising as it tastes and hairstyles suit the individual.

Colleges offer a wide range of creative and practical skills from age 16 (and at 14 where they offer direct entry or continue to offer vocational options in partnerships with schools) in a range of subjects from games design to textiles, performing arts to plumbing. It is vital that students are made aware of these opportunities and the careers that they offer while still at school to encourage progression post-16 and continued engagement with the education system.

Technical and creative subjects are both vital to motivating young people and to the UK economy. We need to ensure that neither become endangered species within our education system.

Catherine Sezen is the senior policy manager for 14-19 and curriculum at the Association of Colleges

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Catherine Sezen

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