Last week, culture secretary Maria Miller took a stand for our sector in a speech at the British Library, arguing that the arts need to play a central role in a child’s education.
Miller acknowledged correctly that culture and creativity remain a core component of every child’s schooling – and are a “must-have” rather than an “add-on”. Unfortunately she seems a lone voice in the cabinet championing the importance of the arts in education.
There is a chorus of blinkered ministers, including Gove, calling for education to prioritise STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects and overlooking the industries that generate £70,000 a minute and account for 10 per cent of our country’s exports.
In the long term, this short-sightedness could significantly damage our economy.
According to the most recent ONS figures, jobs in arts, entertainment and creation have risen by 1.8 per cent in the last year alone. This is both encouraging and welcome news, but the industry still has a long way to go to truly maximise its potential. A significant focus on arts and culture, from a young age, is integral to this development.
The government is focusing on STEM subjects and the creation of specialist STEM centres to help address the youth unemployment crisis, where over 1 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are out of work.
As important as these subjects are, their promotion has led to the serious marginalisation of arts subjects in school. We should not focus on STEM subjects exclusively as it does an injustice to creative study, and leads to the myth that the creative industries don’t contribute to the British economy.
In fact, a thriving creative industry is exactly what’s needed for a well-rounded economy. As a recent report from the CBI Creative Nation highlighted, we have the largest creative sector in Europe. Creative industries in the UK employ more than 2 million people and export over £16bn annually. And the latest figures from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport reinforce this, revealing that the UK’s creative industries are worth £71.4 billion per year to the UK economy, generating just over a staggering £8 million an hour.
This is an industry that we should be incredibly proud of, and one we must do all we can to support, promote and develop. One of the ways to give the sector the best chance of continuing to thrive and grow is by ensuring that we have a sustained and impressive pipeline of young talent.
By changing the focus from STEM to STEAM, and endorsing a balanced curriculum as Maria Miller proposes, we would be ensuring that every young person gets the opportunities they deserve – whether they are naturally aligned to the arts or science. This is something I have been championing for many years, but it will need universal support if the arts are going to find their rightful place alongside all other subjects. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s £300 million investment into cultural education, which will help forge partnerships between schools and cultural organisations, should go some way to make this vision a reality.
While it’s clear not every student who studies drama, music or fashion is destined to become the next Benedict Cumberbatch, Adele or Stella McCartney, the confidence and mentality gained from creative study plays a key role in developing the skills every employer craves. After all, it is no coincidence that 34 per cent of chief executives from FTSE 100 companies have an arts background.
Employers have been lamenting the fact that graduates often enter the job market without the skills needed to function in a modern workplace – but they cannot be held to blame for this. One of the main reasons employers are often left wanting is that for much of students' education, the emphasis has been solely focused on learning how to pass exams. The tragedy of this mentality is that too often our young people are unsure of their talents, not to mention the sort of jobs they are naturally suited to.
At Creative & Cultural Skills, we spend much of our time engaging with businesses from the creative industries. Our job is to help them take on the apprentices and trainees with a talent and passion for what they do – young people capable of making a genuine and long-lasting contribution to their organisation.
Tapping into this talent at a young age and cultivating balanced individuals is incredibly important, valuable and something we must nurture as a nation by ensuring the right training programmes and opportunities are in place to allow those with the skills to flourish in a creative environment.
I welcome Maria Miller’s recognition of the importance of arts in education, but I urge her to make the case to those in government who are still intent on prioritising STEM, to ensure that the balance between arts and STEM subjects is properly redressed. It is our duty to nurture the next generation of talent individuals, support our creative industries and give recognition to what makes Britain great.