A view from Maisie McCabe

The looming threat of a creativity-free curriculum

I was always better with words and numbers than with pictures.

For my graphic design GCSE, I created my own awards ceremony, called Star. I forged a model of its star-shaped stage from cardboard and designed its star-shaped award. The theme was nothing if not consistent. It was my hardest-won grade but also my lowest. If I hadn’t been forced to take a technology subject, I probably wouldn’t have done. But that I did have to choose one meant the scope of my education was undeniably enhanced.

Writing in Campaign this week, Dick Powell highlights the decline in creative and technology education in schools over the past ten years. Initiatives such as the English Baccalaureate and Progress 8 (a new measure to evaluate the performance of schools) are meant to halt the fall – perceived or otherwise – of education standards. One of their unintended consequences is that fewer children are studying design and technology, both at GCSE and beyond. If children are told these subjects are worth less, even those with talent will stop doing them.

Powell is working with the Design and Technology Association on a campaign to highlight the economic threat we face if children stop studying these subjects. It might not come as a surprise to you that the creative industries grew at three times the rate of the wider economy in 2014. And, according to the campaign, the engineering, manufacturing and creative industries were worth a combined £500 billion to the UK economy last year. It’s all very well for the chancellor to launch schools of design engineering at red-brick universities but what if nobody is qualified to get into them? 

It feels as though there now are a number of threats to the flow of talent into the industry. Education is one. But so is money and the fact that people are required to work for less than they need at the start of their careers. It has been five months since Ben Harris and Stu Outhwaite wrote in these pages about why agencies should pay the living wage to placement teams. Their conversations with creative directors have been largely positive but they are still finalising the list of agencies that have signed up. I understand that some major shops have yet to do so.   

In Powell’s piece, he urges you, the reader, to do something to stop this decline in design and technology education. I think we could probably all ask ourselves what we are doing to ensure we have the industry we want in the future. Dave Henderson’s Executive Creative Directors Council is meeting again tomorrow evening at the IPA. If it were to get behind issues such as diversity, access and fair pay from the off, it might do more than provide counsel for lonely creative directors and really help shape what the industry becomes.