Dreams do lead to day jobs;Briefing;Analysis

29th January 1999 at 00:00
With the boom in creative industries a child's wish to be a star may not be as far-fetched as once it was, reports Jon Slater

So just how do you deal with a pupil who spends lessons dreaming of playing football at Wembley or techno on Top of the Pops?

It can be a dilemma for teachers. Do you encourage them, providing special support, perhaps at the expense of other kids, or do you tell them to get their head out of the clouds and knuckle down to their school work?

Folklore suggests that past teachers favoured the latter. Paul Lacey, a jazz trumpeter who teaches music one day a week, said: "One music teacher encouraged me. The rest just shrugged and said, 'I don't know anything about that'."

But times change. David Price, director of learning at Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts (Paul McCartney's "fame school") said. "That would have been true five or 10 years ago. But now, since the development of the cultural industries it is seen as more of a proper job. People are more aware of it being a business."

As traditional industries such as manufacturing have declined, the "fame" industries have grown. According to Government figures, the "creative industries" generate pound;57 billion each year - including pound;6bn from music, film, the performing arts and fashion. Sport generates a further pound;12bn. Music alone adds more value to the British economy than water supply or ship building.

Ken Robinson, chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, believes more change is needed. "Lenny Henry said just the other day he was always told at school to stop telling jokes," he said.

"Children are often steered away from arts options and told to do something 'more relevant' to employment. (But) the best thing you can do is not meet them with a set of assumptions. It would pay parents and teachers to look more at the child in question." His report to ministers is expected in the next few weeks.

The increasing importance of the performance industries has been mirrored by rising rewards for the stars. Supermodel Kate Moss is said to earn pound;2m from just one contract with Calvin Klein. And for those who reach the top, wages are the tip of the iceberg. Teenage World Cup soccer star Michael Owen could earn up to pound;10m for just one day's work endorsing a computer game.

But as sport and entertainment become more business-like so the pressure to succeed increases. In such a competitive market, parents often feel that their children won't make it unless they find specialist education for them.

David Price disagrees. "There are some remarkably dedicated performing arts teachers in the state sector," he said.

But some schools still struggle to meet the needs of these children. Kate Mawdsley left her mainstream primary because, although they had drama classes once a week, the school could not accommodate her ambition to dance. "They wanted me to concentrate on academic studies,' she said.

Her gamble paid off. While studying for her GCSEs at Sylvia Young stage school, she has appeared with the National Youth Ballet at the London Colosseum, in a production choreographed by Wayne Sleep. "I'd love to be a producer or dancer," she said.

Malcolm Berry, chief executive of England Schools Football Association, is worried that club academies - the centres of excellence run by a number of leading Premiership sides to bring on talented young soccer players - may not allow enough time for schoolwork. Some clubs dictate to parents and schools rather than working in partnership. "There is a danger that football will dominate kids' lives and have an adverse effect on their general education. Some clubs are ignoring regulations," he said.

Early specialisation may not even be good for the industry itself. Former Newcastle United star, Peter Beardsley worked in a factory for two years before turning pro. He went on to win 59 caps for England. He is concerned that the academies may lead to the neglect of late developers.

But whenever talent develops even the best have only a slim chance of a career in football - much less of playing in the Premiership. Of those who reach academies, only one in 20 will make the grade.

Fifteen-year-old Andrew Lonergan has been on Preston North End's books since he was nine. In November he played in goal for England Schoolboys in the same match as Jermaine Pennant, Arsenal's pound;2m schoolboy.

He attends St Cecilia's Roman Catholic high school in Longridge near Preston. When he first became involved in the international set-up last year, his parents went to see the head. "If he was going to fall behind, I would have had second thoughts. But the school has been very supportive," said Mrs Lonergan.

Andrew's only complaint is that teachers have used his international recognition as a lever to force him to behave.

Not all pupils and parents remain so down to earth. Some are convinced they will succeed; others feel pressured to put schoolwork second. The trick for schools is to make children and their parents see that they need both algebra and acting, that biology may help them into the world of football if their ball skills don't.

Shelagh Woolliscroft, chief executive of the Careers Service National Association, stressed the importance of continuing studies. "I would hope all schools would encourage young people with ambition to reach their full potential. But they must have a contingency plan as well. They shouldn't neglect the academic side."

Charlotte Walters, 26, tried to achieve her ambition of becoming a pop star by "doing gigs," but has now gone to Sir Paul McCartney's "Fame College" in Liverpool to take a music degree.

Charlotte, who is hoping for a recording and publishing deal when she graduates, says her drama teacher at school was supportive, but the careers teacher told her she was being "silly".

The Government estimates that there are about one million people now employed in the "creative industries" - including 160,000 in music, 60,000 in the performing arts, 33,000 in film and 11,500 in designer fashion - plus an additional 500,000 in sport.

Teachers can use these to keep children engaged in education so that even if their pupils fail to become the next Peter Beardsley or Kate Moss they can at least treat the injuries or design the clothes of those who do. In an age when creativity and entertainment is making billions, the message is simple: reach for the stars, by all means, but make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground.

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