Everyday Creativity

First published by Voluntary Arts, January 2020

As Arts Council England prepares to launch its next ten-year strategy it’s welcome to see Sir Nicholas Serota saying that he wants to see more people participating in the arts and culture (Arts Council Boss vows more funding for those at early stages of career, Guardian, 1 January 2020). ‘If we could get into the same position in the arts [as sport] we would be well placed. It (arts and culture) is just something that is part of life rather than something which is over there and separate.’ 

Photo by Robin Auld

The truth is that many people do take part in all sorts of creative, cultural and arts. Voluntary Arts engages with over 60,000 voluntary-led creative groups operating across the UK and the Republic of Ireland reaching over 10 million people. Activities range from music and dance to craft and the visual arts, but also increasingly to new technologies and digital media. People also cite cooking and gardening as creative activity. There are numerous studies about the value of benefits of such everyday creativity but we don’t need to rely on extensive research when people tell us how willing they are to spend on average 6 hours per week on voluntary creative activities and that they recognise many benefits from doing so: friendships, community links, relaxation, fulfilment, confidence, mental well-being. One of the more interesting responses to Voluntary Arts’ latest (2018) annual survey suggests that participating in the arts addresses some key social issues such as loneliness, depression and isolation. 

So what’s the problem for funders and policy makers that they are lamenting the fact that ordinary people fail to see a relationship between the professional arts that they support and everyday creativity? In my experience funders find making this link very challenging indeed. They tie themselves up in knots drawing up definitions and criteria like ‘Is it Art?’, ’What about quality?’ ‘ Who gets to judge its value?’ as if every artistic enterprise has to be judged by them. And they also apply these questions to the space between amateur and professional too, and to groups that are not perceived to be part of the mainstream: disabled artists, BAME practitioners, commercially successful artists, even crafts people whose work might not seem to funders to be ‘innovative’ or ‘original’.  Such comments may provoke discussion but they seem to me to be less about the value and importance of the arts and culture and more about the need to ration funding and resources, and to be in charge of the definitions. It’s about the funders themselves and their role. Activities get measured by how much funding they receive, how valued by the funder the activity is, how much value the activity brings in numbers of performances or exhibitions or how many people attend. Engaging with the professional arts is always prioritised over activity that most people do.  And underlying it all is a fear that if activity is recognised it will need to be paid for.  

Photo by Alina Vilchenko on Pexels.com

The easiest part of a national funder’s work is to apply year-on-year funding to a portfolio of organisations: there’s a list and a budget and not much changes year on year.  The level of investment is, of course, significant and will always take up the lion’s share of the available resources but there’s a much more important job for national arts funders to do. 

Promoting everyday creativity is a different beast. Amateur artists don’t expect or want to be paid to make art. They value their independence. Voluntary groups thrive on self-organisation and not having to fill in forms or account to policy makers. But for this activity to thrive there does need to be some modest investment and proper recognition. There’s a need for information sharing, networking and advice. Groups need help to manage things well. More and more red tape means that any self-organising group needs to be able to navigate legal and financial challenges such as data protection, insurance and health and safety. Profile is important too.

I’m delighted to have recently joined Voluntary Arts as a trustee and VA’s Epic Awards and Get Creative Festival are good examples of shining a light on what’s happening and letting people know how they can get involved. People won’t value what’s happening on the ground unless they can see it. They won’t know where the opportunities are unless someone promotes them. A small amount of investment from the funders to help organisations like Voluntary Arts to provide such services to enable activity to thrive will bring disproportionate benefits back to the funders and help make the essential link between ‘my’ artistic enterprise and what goes on in the professional, media and online worlds. 

As a practising artist, however raw and untrained, I am better placed to understand, engage with and debate with professionals and their work, and in turn improve what I do too. More than anything though we need an urgent language shift away from an obsession with dividing up arts and cultural practice between those who are funded and the rest, and a shift towards recognising that we can create a healthier and happier society by providing opportunities for all of us to take part. 

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

Cultural Learning in England: 20 years of policy

First published by the Cultural Learning Alliance, 2nd October 2019

The CLA’s recent summary of cultural education policies over the last twenty years reminds me of a personal milestone. I joined the Arts Council of England (as it then was) as Director of Education and Training in January 1998, the year before All our Futures was published.

These were exciting times for people working in the arts, and in cultural education in particular. The Labour Government had arrived in May 1997 with Tony Blair’s ‘three’ priorities of ‘Education, Education, Education’. David Blunkett as Education Secretary had made ‘early years’ (Sure Start) and ‘lifelong learning’ priorities. Chris Smith was in place as Secretary of State in the newly named Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) where work had started on the Department’s first mapping creative industries publications which initiated some serious policy thinking about the role of arts, culture and the creative industries in the economy. And new money was flowing through the National Lottery. Introduced by the John Major Government in 1994 the Lottery provided the ‘Good causes’, of which the arts were one, with welcome new funding after a long period of standstill.

I inherited a newly published education and training policy for the English Arts Funding System, Leading through Learning. It had been widely consulted on with artists and educationalists at national, regional and local levels, and was the first such policy coming from both the Arts Council and the ten regional arts board partners. My job was to deliver it.

What strikes me now, having re-read the document, is that the issue then was not so much making the case for the arts in schools which were in a fairly good state. The arts sector was still fairly positive about the National Curriculum although there were already signs that the introduction of Local Management of Schools following the 1988 Act had ‘depleted resources for central services provided through local authorities, such as peripatetic music education and theatre in education’. The focus was more on making the case for education within the arts. Education departments in arts organisations were still a relatively new phenomenon dating back to the early eighties. The Arts Council had recently commissioned its own mapping document, Arts Organisations and their education programmes, which gave an overview of arts companies’ engagement with education and learning. By 1998 78% had education programmes and 63% had dedicated staff. ‘These figures have grown’, says the document, ‘but we should not be content with anything less than 100%’.

In his preface to Leading through Learning, Christopher Frayling, then Arts Council member and chair of the Education and Training Panel, says,

‘The arts enrich the lives of most people in England, generating employment, stimulating creativity and providing enjoyment. The skills people acquire through studying and practising the arts are among those most needed in the modern workplace; while involvement in the arts not only provides opportunities for personal fulfilment but also promotes a sense of community.’

Frayling had already summed up the case very well in 1997, using the keywords of the next two decades: creativity, employment, enjoyment, community, skills. Leading through Learning stated that

‘a defining characteristic of the modern world is the pace of change. People must respond to the endless new challenges, particularly in the workplace. In every business sector, competitiveness depends increasingly on imagination and innovation. The skills people acquire through studying and practising the arts are those most needed in the modern workplace: communication, co-operation, problem solving, risk-taking, flexibility and creativity…….Like other industrialised nations, Britain must reshape its educational priorities to serve the needs of the Knowledge Revolution rather than the Industrial Revolution.’.

Fish on a Bike by Steven Gregory, High House Production Park, Purfleet, 2012

As today’s CLA document says, ‘Taken together, these [later] reports and publications [over the last 20 years] are a sobering read: many of the calls to action 20 years ago are the same as those made by the CLA and our colleagues today.’ I can add that many of the arguments were already convincingly made way before then going back to the Gulbenkian Foundation’s 1982 report, The Arts in Schools.

Lottery funding in in the 1990s/2000s was a game-changer for cultural education. It opened the door to programmes like Arts for Everyone (A4E) which brought in many new agencies and more ‘on the ground’ delivery, and there was a requirement for all Lottery applicants to include education and access within their proposals. Youth Music was an early beneficiary, not as a policy response to All our Futures, but in answer to the call that ‘something must be done’ about music education: the Arts Council found £10 million p.a. to mitigate the damage of Local Authority cuts of some £200 million p.a. in county music services across England! The £20 million p.a. Interim Scheme for Dance and Drama Funding, funded jointly by DfEE and Arts Council Lottery provided a similar stop-gap for young people who had been accepted on vocational training courses at institutions like RADA but suddenly found that Local Authorities had cut their discretionary grant funding budgets. These two schemes were early examples of limited arts funding moving in to fill major Local Authority cuts.

The Arts Council of England’s 1990s mission

The sad thing about many of the initiatives that have been ‘trialled’ or ‘piloted’ over the last twenty years is that they are all delivered in the context of ever-decreasing resources. Over many years we have seen ‘targeted’ initiatives like Education Action Zones, Music Action Zones, Specialist schools, Cultural Education Partnerships often working with the most hard-to-reach young people in the most difficult of local circumstances. The real rationale for this approach is to focus resources on a manageable initiative. As the CLA notes, ‘they are difficult to sustain without long term financial investment and clear policy or delivery structures to support them’, and importantly they are not ‘hard-wired’ into the normal delivery mechanisms so that they stop when the external funding runs out. Cultural Education has lost its place in mainstream education provision and, as a result, headteachers and governors look for extra funding to deliver that which is not considered by the education agencies to be part of general provision. If music, art or drama are seen to be part of normal classroom provision in primary schools the need for extra funding goes away because delivering the curriculum is what teachers do. Training, resources and OfSted ratings follow.

Ultimately, we find ourselves with an impossible challenge. We now have a national curriculum which prioritises what can be tested rather than nurturing individual students. State school resources are so small that the funding for extra-curricula activity has mostly disappeared. Worse than this the funding for community activities, council housing, social services and school trips has gone too. The gap between the ‘haves’ – those young people who attend independent schools, or those who attend state schools where the staff believe in keeping the arts alive, or those parents who supplement their children’s state school education with arts activities from ‘soft-play’ and ‘Baby Film clubs’, to music lessons, art classes and drama courses – and the ‘have nots’ is widening. I agree with the CLA when it says, ‘We believe that social justice must be at the heart of any policy-making’, partly because every child deserves a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum but also because we are losing so much talent both for the future creative industries workforce but also across society as a whole.


Robinson, Ken (1999), All our Futures, the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education. London: DfEE
Creative Industries Mapping Documents (1998), DCMS
Leading through Learning: The English Arts Funding System’s Policy for Education and Training (1997), London: Arts Council of England
Hogarth, Sylvia, Kinder, Kay and Harland, John (1997), Arts Organisations and their Education Programmes, Slough: National Foundation for Educational Research
The Arts in Schools (1982) London, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

First published by ArtsProfessional, 31/01/2019  www.artsprofessional.co.uk

It seems we have drifted into a world where ongoing funding for all schools and colleges has been replaced by initiatives, projects and schemes that make great announcements but do little to deal with real issues of entitlement and the unfairness of who gets good arts education.

It shouldn’t be news that there is government funding for actors and singers to study their craft – it should be normal.

Look behind the figures of last year’s £96m for talented students and you can see that £90m is for continuing the Dance and Drama Awards (DaDA) and Music and Dance Scheme that support talented students to study at institutions like the Royal Ballet School and Chetham’s School of Music.

This is not exactly ground-breaking news since we have been struggling to keep this funding alive since discretionary funding from local authorities was cut in the late 1990s.
The DaDA schemes have always been of personal interest to me because dealing with the crisis in funding for young actors and dancers taking up places on vocational courses at institutions like RADA was the first thing on my desk when I joined Arts Council England as Director of Education and Training in 1998.

The [Dance and Drama Interim Funding Scheme] was developed to abate the cost of tuition for eligible students who obtain Local Education Authority discretionary awards to undertake accredited two or three year dance, drama and stage management training courses at independent colleges. The pilot year evaluation report made a number of recommendations that were adopted by the Arts Council in 1998/1999. No further evaluation is required of the scheme as a government-funded scholarship award now replaces it for students who started in September 1999. Annual Review, 2000, The Arts Council of England

Local authorities had provided (almost) automatic discretionary grants to young people in their areas who had offers to these prestigious courses until then. Lottery money, matched by funds from the Department of Education, enabled us to keep students on courses for a number of years while we negotiated a ‘permanent’ solution with the department. The fund has staggered on, moving to different funding agencies over the years, often with one official managing it, but always with an implied threat that it will be cut.

Misleading announcements
It shouldn’t be news that there is government funding for actors and singers to study their craft – it should be normal. The press release announcing the new funding lists a number of other deserving beneficiaries of the cash, but together they take only crumbs. The announcement of £300m for music hubs relies on the old trick of conflating four years’ worth of funding to make the investment seem greater. It leaves me wondering how far we have fallen behind since the days when local authority music services provided ongoing in-school and weekend music education for all schools, with state schools often enjoying the same opportunities that today’s independent schools take for granted.

Words like ‘new’ and ‘pilot’ also grate. Music announcements come with promises to bring experts together to create a new music curriculum. We had that with the original national curriculum – possibly the finest music curriculum in the world at the time. The problem is now not curriculum content but that there is no longer the teacher workforce to deliver one, or any sign that schools, now struggling to balance their budgets, could afford to invest in new arts staff.

Street art sale, Cuba

All this does is outsource the music education that used to be part and parcel of schools’ thinking to the hubs and to the occasional wonderful projects funded by the UK arts councils and grant-making trusts. In the 1990s and 2000s we understood that funded arts projects could support, enhance and inspire by bringing artists into schools and communities – but not without a bedrock of curriculum work in schools. Parents today need to nose out those schools that still value the arts. They can’t assume it’s the norm.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

14-18 Now programme
It is refreshing, therefore, to be involved with the 14-18 NOW programme, where there is a memory of what works and a desire to work with educators over the long term to model how artists, arts organisations and schools can make the arts accessible and relevant to young people. Over the last five years, the programme has worked with partners across arts and heritage, commissioning new works inspired by the period 1914–18.
Its latest iteration, Make Art not War, is a legacy programme for further education colleges and sixth forms which goes with the grain of what’s happening in their examination courses. It invites responses to Bob and Roberta Smith’s live brief challenge ‘What does peace mean to you?’, and to date over 40,000 students have been given the brief as a study option within their UAL awarding body diploma work. It also involves students working on the extended project qualification and over a thousand students across the UK in 12 colleges benefiting from artist mentors managed by Creative & Cultural Skills.

Creative habits
Meticulous work has gone into developing publicly available learning resources for the long term, with an eye on the five creative habits (imagination, collaboration, inquisitiveness, discipline and persistence) developed by Bill Lucas.
Using conferences and sharing platforms, teachers and tutors will be able to build on this year’s programme to embed the creative habits into their curricula. Importantly, Bill Lucas is advising the Organisation of Economic Cooperative Development on the introduction of PISA testing of creative thinking for the world’s 15-year-olds from 2021. I am wondering, given its record of systematically cutting creative arts teaching over the years, how the UK is going to fare with this.

Serious challenges
It has been a sad feature of my career to see the arts side-lined in schools at the very time when our society needs creative minds to respond to today’s challenges. How could we have recognised in the 1970s that we need to nurture young people’s creativity, ingenuity and inventiveness, but in the 2010s have fallen back to a knowledge-based curriculum model?
We have benefited hugely as a country from the conservatoires and art and drama schools of the last century, which have together created the creative industries as we know them today. Arguably they are one of our greatest success stories, with its greatest stars coming from all walks of life. Tutors in colleges working with 14-18 NOW say they value the benefits of working on a live brief with their students, and the opportunity to be part of something bigger working with students across the country – but importantly, with artists who challenge their students’ thinking and embody problem-solving and creativity. Bill Lucas’s creative habits require young people to engage actively with learning through challenge. Only by working with every educational institution in the country and ensuring that every young person gets their chance to develop their creative skills will we harness all the country’s talent to deal with the serious challenges we face.

Have we lost the ‘school curriculum’?

First published by ArtsProfessional, 4/9/2018.  www.artsprofessional.co.uk

The battle for subjects to gain ‘curriculum share’ is a tough one. My time at Arts Council England in the early 1990s, as Director of Education and Training, taught me that special interest groups, subject associations and lobbies are desperate to maintain their place ‘on the curriculum’ because, beyond the subject itself, there are jobs for teachers, and income for publishers and awarding bodies.

A lot of us campaigned hard for the arts to be on the National Curriculum when it was introduced in 1988. There was a huge amount of debate at the time. Some people in the arts were anxious: if the arts are a compulsory part of the curriculum, they argued, wouldn’t we lose some of the sheer enjoyment of the subjects? Linking the arts to examinations would reduce music, art, drama and dance to what could be tested. On the other side it was obvious at the time that some schools were exemplars in the arts, both in curriculum delivery and extra-curricular activities: youth orchestras, theatre trips, extraordinary projects with visiting artists or arts organisations. If some young people were getting these opportunities then why shouldn’t every child have the same?

Behind the shocking news of the plummeting numbers of arts teachers in English secondary schools is the equally troubling reality of how few arts teachers there are in total. We are all, of course, concerned to see the number of music teachers, for example, move from 8,000 to 6,500, but may miss the fact that there are 34,000 Maths teachers, 37,000 English and 40,000 teaching Science.  Put this way we can see the numbers that would be needed for the arts to reach all students in years 7-13.

It’s true that across Drama (9,000), Art and Design (11,800) and Music there are 27,300 secondary school teachers but it’s clear that the distribution is uneven, and some schools retain thriving arts departments whilst others have little provision. If this is the picture in secondary schools, one can only imagine that specialist staff are even thinner on the ground in primary schools. If so, how will young people become inspired to take arts subjects at secondary level?

I have long held the view that music education in primary schools in the 1960s and 1970s depended on the 1944 Education Act’s requirement for ‘a compulsory daily act of worship’. When I was hired to a village primary school in 1978 the headteacher advertised for a ‘piano-playing teacher’. As a class teacher, not a specialist, I had responsibility for music and not only were my duties to organise hymn practice and music for assembly, but also to run recorder and guitar clubs, to ensure the school acquitted itself well in county singing festivals and other music events, and with a colleague who had been an actor, to put on the annual school musical. Another of the six teachers at the school was a semi-professional ceramicist who ensured that art and design were well delivered.

All the teachers taught all subjects, including music, art, drama and dance, buoyed up by in-service courses provided by county arts advisers, and resources such as BBC television and radio programmes like Time and Tune, and Music, Movement and Mime (and if you remember Singing Together which ran for over fifty years, have a listen to Jarvis Cocker on Archive on 4.)

From numerous conversations with subject associations over the years, I know that they want to ensure that the arts are well-taught by specialist staff. But I also know that in times gone by, when the arts were thriving in schools, much depended on a far bigger number of non-specialist teachers and arts enthusiasts. At the Royal Opera House, where I was responsible for schools’ matinees in the 1980s and 1990s, it was always surprising to see how many of the teachers bringing groups to performances were not arts specialists – very often maths and science teachers who knew that they would be getting a top notch performance and wanted their students to share the experience. These teachers came to study days, and organised opera and ballet clubs and all sorts of other arts activities in their schools. We ran a programme with Bretton Hall College for primary school teachers who attended an eight-day course in August, and committed 120 hours to writing a script, score and putting on a production with their students.

The ‘generalist versus specialist’ issue has always been the subject of a great deal of academic debate, but in the arts the stakes are much higher than with subjects like maths, with its workforce of 34,000. More importantly, it’s in the ‘school curriculum versus National Curriculum’ debate where the battle has been lost.

In those 1980s consultations, we were reassured by policy makers that we should focus less on the National Curriculum, and concentrate on the school curriculum. The thought was that the National Curriculum would sit within a grander programme of education: everything else that went on in schools.

How hollow this sounds now with the focus on performance tables, the EBacc and year-on-year reductions in education budgets, and with schools and colleges struggling to fund even the basics. We have in all but the most courageous of state schools already lost the time when teachers from across the school provided a bedrock of ongoing opportunities for all young people to make art, perform, be creative and contribute to the wider culture in the school.

The small band of specialist arts teachers struggling to keep their subjects alive within the National Curriculum can’t do this alone. Lots of us working in the arts today are grateful that we experienced a broader school curriculum that went beyond the subjects we were examined in and opened our eyes to a world we had no inkling of. The independent sector knows the worth of these experiences and promotes them enthusiastically.

Current debates about social class in the arts miss a vital point. How are working class young people going to access the arts if they don’t experience them in school?

What can we learn from the past about arts education in England?

In the summer of 1983 I was invited, with the ten or so other newly appointed Education Officers in major arts organisations, to a meeting with the Arts Council of Great Britain’s (ACGB) Education Unit.  The Arts Council’s Education Unit set up by Irene Macdonald in 1978, and run by Sue Robertson from 1982, had just started to encourage its funded organisations to engage with education. Roy Shaw had joined ACGB as Director General in 1975. As an ex-grammar school boy who had worked for the Workers Education Association (WEA), university extra-mural departments and in adult education Shaw saw the importance of linking arts policy to education.

It’s not fair to say that education work by arts organisations – also then called outreach – started in the 1980s because like all initiatives, there were many pioneers. The archives of most major UK arts organisations will show initiatives such as school visits to plays, concerts, operas and galleries often instigated by teachers and sometimes related to ‘set texts’ or general studies. There were specific programmes like Opera for All and artists-in-education initiatives like Writers in Schools (both run or funded by ACGB), and animateur schemes.  Theatre-in education had been established in the 1960s by local authorities linked to regional theatres. The Royal Opera House, where I had just been appointed, had launched its schools’ matinee programme in 1976 and had been running Ballet for All since 1964.

Jennie Lee’s 1965 White Paper, A Policy for the Arts – First Steps [1] grouped support for the arts, then in its infancy as a government policy, under three headings: education, preservation and patronage. She saw the first as wholly the responsibility of the Department for Education and Science (DES), the second for HM Treasury and the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, and the third, patronage, by which she meant supporting living artists, as the responsibility of the Arts Council. Inherent in the argument is an assumption that the country’s arts cannot thrive without major support from the education system and that the responsibility for embedding the arts within education was the job of the DES. The white paper also emphasises the importance of local authorities’ investment in the arts and culture. Local authorities were crucial both to establishing a new generation of arts buildings after the second world war (like Birmingham Rep and the Royal Festival Hall, for example), maintaining libraries and encouraging local engagement both directly and through support to regional arts associations where they existed.

Both Lee’s White Paper and the influential 1976 Gulbenkian Report by John Redcliffe-Maud, Support for the Arts in England and Wales [2], looked for more investment from the education sector but we can now see now that by 1983 when the funded organisations’ first education officers met we were already at the high-water mark in terms of education sector investment in the arts. Our group of Education officers took for granted that the arts were included in schools at both primary and secondary level –  not then the National Curriculum which wasn’t introduced until 1988 –embedded within set-texts in English and modern foreign languages, ‘O’ level and ‘A’ level courses in art and music, with some schools offering drama and dance. Surrounding class-based work was a tradition of school plays, orchestras, exhibitions and school trips. Beyond the school most local authorities had instrumental services and county orchestras as well as subject specialist advisors in most arts subjects providing a balance to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate and supporting teachers to improve their practice. Local Authorities awarded discretionary grants to young people accepted for vocational courses at dance and drama schools and Further Education provision included foundation courses in art and design. Redcliffe-Maud’s report points out that there was ‘a wide variation in the way different local authorities approach the arts’ – and it is certainly true that secondary modern schools did not, on the whole, fare as well as grammars and comprehensives and we, as education staff didn’t think enough was being done but, nevertheless, local authorities and schools were largely playing an important role.

There were shining lights including (to cite some with whom I worked) Birmingham, Wigan, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. The Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) had teams of staff supporting music (including provision of out-of-school courses, summer schools and the London Schools’ Symphony Orchestra), the visual arts (with teaching staff seconded to the Hayward Gallery and the Dulwich Picture Gallery for a year at a time), drama including opera and theatre-in-education companies based at the Cockpit Theatre in Gateforth Street, NW8, and an educational broadcasting service providing teaching and classroom resources which was rumoured to be the biggest Closed Circuit Television system in the world! Students were offered free tickets to the concerts. For example the ILEA funded the Royal Opera to work in schools with George Benjamin, Jonathan Dove, Harrison Birtwistle and Karlheinz Stockhausen all collaborating with teachers, in-school projects and attendance at evening performances. ILEA music staff were passionate about bringing the ‘best to the most’ young people and disapproved of segregating young audiences within schools’ matinees.

For numbers of reasons the education sector’s funding and support started to dwindle from then on: local management of schools reduced local authorities’ central services that had been vital to providing extra-curricular opportunities to young people, to almost nothing over time. By 1998 when I joined Arts Council England (ACE) as Director of Education and Training local authority music services were in meltdown, discretionary grants for students of dance and drama had all but stopped and the arts were losing their place in the curriculum. When ACE starts to consider its 25-year talent strategy it first has to consider this: how can the arts sector whose role is still to focus on patronage of living artists and companies possibly compensate for the hundreds of millions of pounds of investment it has lost from the education sector?

[1] A Policy for the Arts – First Steps Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (1965)

[2] Redcliffe-Maud (1976) Support for the Arts in England and Wales. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

The arts and cultural sector needs to think more about employment

My contribution to NESTA’s publication for Arts Council England, The view to 2030.

Arts and cultural organisations need to think about workforce issues if they are to stay relevant. This is an obvious point. We focus on what’s on stage or on the gallery walls but we think less about the people we employ, the skills and qualifications they need, and how to be good employers.

It’s a paradox in the sector that labour market data says that more people are being employed year-on-year but young graduates can’t find jobs. It’s harder still for young people who haven’t been to university. One reason for the labour market paradox is that growth is in freelancing, project work or startup companies. It’s also that the available jobs are hidden: administration, backstage, customer services and technical roles.

Ours is an attractive sector. Sadly this has meant that employers don’t have to try very hard to attract talent. Worse, some employers exploit young people’s eagerness to join the industry by taking on unpaid interns rather than paying staff in entry-level jobs. Unless it’s a genuine internship (as part of a formal programme of study) this is not legal: all workers are entitled to the National Minimum Wage. Many creative industries adopt lazy recruitment practices: they use qualifications to screen out candidates, rather than putting in place sensible job descriptions and seeking the talent they need.

We could increase our sector’s relevance, improve its productivity and gain wider credibility with the public if we could start to improve our sector’s approach to employment

Not all arts jobs are graduate jobs, yet the sector hardly recruits under 23s, let alone younger people who are not graduates. This makes for a lack of diversity in the sector which is becoming even more – if that’s possible –  white and middle-class. As a result the sector doesn’t reflect society as a whole. Who wants to attend an event when no one there is like them?

Other sectors work more closely with the education and training sector. They engage with apprenticeships, for example, and they use qualifications as a passport into specific employment areas. This makes for better productivity. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that if employers are more precise about the job roles they have, then new recruits have a better chance of making a positive contribution. Often in the cultural sector it’s a ‘sink or swim’ scenario with incoming staff expected to make up the job as best they can or turn their hand to things they’ve never had training in.

If we thought more precisely about our employment needs we’d be more open to young people coming in to employment through apprenticeships and technical courses. We know from work at Creative & Cultural Skills that we can attract candidates from a wider demographic this way. We also know that a lot of energy goes into cultural organisations’ education programmes but without the crucial link between the participants and employment opportunities. It’s as if we want more young people from different backgrounds to experience the arts but not to work in them.

We could increase our sector’s relevance, improve its productivity and gain wider credibility with the public if we could start to improve our sector’s approach to employment.

What’s happening with national careers policy?

A major reason why arts organisations, museums and libraries fail to impact on education policy and practice is because we don’t always engage with the mainstream of what’s going on in schools and colleges. We sometimes put on activities that teachers and tutors want to engage with but can’t justify to their management teams. It is increasingly hard for teachers to make the case for taking students out of schools to events, or to engage with some of the excellent projects on offer.

There’s a lot of debate currently about the need for young people to know about the careers available in the creative industries but less debate about how we ensure that the creative industries feature within mainstream careers advice in schools, colleges and universities. We’ll make most impact if we ensure that educators are promoting the arts and culture in what they have to do. If we can help all young people to find out about our sector then the arts education activities we do run can build on some basic understanding.

In December 2017 the Department for Education launched its new strategy, Making the most of everyone’s talents. The Government wants all young people from all backgrounds to understand the range of opportunities open to them and to learn from employers about work and skills. Those of us who work in the arts and cultural sector want that too.

Schools and colleges are responsible for providing independent careers advice to their students with an indicative budget of £11,000 p.a. per institution. They are being encouraged to work with qualified careers professionals, employers and training providers to do this. Ofsted will continue to hold schools and colleges to account for the quality of careers provision. This includes a new requirement for Ofsted to comment in college inspection reports on the careers guidance provided to students from 2018.

The Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) was established in 2014 to be the body that provides coordination for employers, schools, colleges, funders and training providers. It works with Local Enterprise Partnerships and will co-fund a national network of Enterprise coordinators who are trained to work with clusters of 20 schools and colleges through their leadership teams to build Careers and Employer engagement plans. Each school or college will also have access to an Enterprise Adviser who is a senior volunteer from the business community who ensures local businesses engage. We need some volunteers from the creative industries in each locality to ensure that our sector features in the advice young people get.

Enterprise Advisers will use their knowledge of local businesses to support a nominated Careers Leader (or the headteacher) in every school or college to develop and implement a sound careers strategy for its students, ensuring the institution can meet the Eight Gatsby Benchmarks which are principles developed by The Gatsby Foundation.

Careers Leaders in schools and colleges will need to have the appropriate skills and experience, be sufficiently senior to lead the implementation of all eight of the Gatsby Benchmarks and have buy-in from the Governors and the Senior Leadership team, work with subject teachers across the school so that careers provision is embedded within the curriculum.

The Gatsby Benchmarks
The Gatsby Foundation has produced Good Career Guidance and a careers website with helpful information for anyone providing careers advice.  The Department for Education encourages all schools and colleges to meet the Gatsby Foundation’s Eight Benchmarks of good careers guidance that set the standard for excellence in careers provision.

Quality in Careers Standard
The Creative and Enterprise Company and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation have also developed the Compass self-assessment tool, so schools can assess how their careers support compares against the Benchmarks. The CEC is considering how to extend Compass to provide equal support to colleges.

Schools and colleges can gain formal accreditation of their careers programme through the Quality in Careers Standard – the national quality award for careers education, information, advice and guidance. The Standard offers an opportunity for providers to undergo an external evaluation of their careers programme and so is distinct from the Compass self-assessment.

The National Careers Service will be the single service that provides careers information, advice and guidance. Young people and adults will be able to access this online via a new, improved National Careers Service website which is currently in development but expected to launch shortly, alongside a range of tools that individuals, parents and schools can use. It is important that creative careers feature on the site.

Destination data and lifelong learning
As part of the careers strategy the Department for Education plans to make destinations and outcomes data more accessible to people, to help them compare opportunities and make informed decisions on education, training and employment options. They will also look into ways to improve the long-term tracking of student outcomes, including the extent to which young people go on to apprenticeships and other technical routes such as the ‘T’ levels (the qualification which will sit alongside ‘A’ levels from 2020).

Delivering a new National Careers Strategy will be challenging for teachers, employers and training providers. It will be recognised as a key government priority so delivery will be prioritised by governing bodies and school managements over other activities. Arts and cultural organisations that work with the strategy and in so doing help schools and colleges to achieve partnerships with employers in our sector will be greatly welcomed by the education sector. If as a sector we are able to offer some of the opportunities together we will be able to provide a very rich source of local information and opportunities.



What do we think about ‘T’ levels?

First published by the Cultural Learning Alliance on 17 January 2018

With so much Brexit news a key piece of post-16 education reform, to be live by 2020, may have been missed. The Westminster Government will be introducing new technical qualifications in England for those over 16 called ‘T’ levels. (Different policies operate in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.)

‘T’ (technical) levels will sit alongside and complement the new apprenticeship standards offering an alternative to ‘A’ (academic). This is a good development because it could mean that, for the first time, there’ll be parity of esteem between academic and technical routes into employment.

Technical education will be underpinned by 15 new occupational ‘routes’ that are currently being developed. There is one for Creative and Design which is good news.

The route includes pathways to cover occupations from blacksmith, designer to production manager, and everything in between. Some occupations will only be accessed through apprenticeships, but there will also be two-year taught courses in colleges leading to the achievement of a ‘T’ level.

There will be Industry Route Panels to oversee each of the 15 technical routes. It is important for employers in the creative industries to put themselves forward for this to ensure that technical education suits our sector’s needs.

At Creative & Cultural Skills we are positive about the prospect of highly-valued technical education routes into employment in the creative industries. Sixty per cent of workers in our sector are graduates and all not the available jobs are genuinely graduate jobs requiring degrees. This cuts out a lot of talent and makes the sector much less socially diverse than it needs to be.

There are some proposals that concern us:

  1. We want to ensure that applied general courses such as foundation courses in art and design don’t get downgraded or lost altogether in the changes. Our sector relies on such courses to provide a strong foundation for Higher Education applied arts courses and we wouldn’t want them to be a casualty of an otherwise good reform.
  2. Examinations are not the best way to test technical knowledge. In their enthusiasm to ensure that the ‘T’ levels are rigorous and hold their own with ‘A’ levels the temptation is to test elements of them in the same way. We would like to see appropriate assessments for technical courses like an ‘end-point assessment’.
  3. There’s a proposal that ‘T’ level courses include a minimum of 40 days industry-based work experience in the occupational area related to the T-Level. We think this will be impossible to deliver. The creative industries are not evenly distributed across the country so how would students in rural areas access this much work experience and how much travel time and cost will it involve? How many small creative businesses could provide meaningful work experience at scale? There’s a view that only actual work placements are valuable but there are many other ways of providing work experience: professional challenges involving industry experts, project working, bringing creative people into colleges to set challenging tasks. Anyone who remembers the 14-19 Creative & Media Diploma will recall that the Diploma was sound but an arbitrary requirement for schools to teach as consortia made it undeliverable. Nor can we see how colleges could cope with the administration, or how employers will deal with the paperwork (students will need to be given feedback on their work experience), health and safety issues or the need to make access adjustments.
  4. The idea is that students taking ‘T’ levels can go straight into employment, including through apprenticeships, or indeed on to Higher Education (including degree apprenticeships). For this reason we don’t want ‘T’ levels to be too narrow. Our industry thrives on people moving from job to job in a general way rather than getting more and more specialised. It would be a pity if ‘T’ levels are so specific that flexibility, creativity and problem-solving are missed out.
  5. We want training providers to be able to deliver ‘T’ levels for our sector. This will be a challenge as there’s a strong need for up-to-date industry experience to ensure relevance. We’ll need more engagement between the post-16 education sector and our industry to make this work. Some colleges will conclude that there’s no mileage in offering courses within the Creative and Design route if they don’t have live links with industry; if so, students in their areas will miss out.