Close-Up: Reborn school gives lessons in ideas

Alexander Moore, one of the students at the revitalised School of Communication Arts, explains the merits of the curriculum and the goals of the course.

Term has only just begun and the 21 students from the newly reopened School of Communication Arts are already well and truly up against it.

They've barely had time to catch their breath as the programme gets under way - three days in, and they already have three briefs set and a documentary to shoot; they have energetically flexed their burgeoning improv skills, delved deep into their souls in search of mindfulness and inner peace, mastered the dynamics and precision required to construct the most aerodynamic paper airplanes and have visited both Albion and M&C Saatchi to meet, among other luminaries, the latter's executive creative director, Graham Fink.

All action, no respite - and it's only going to get tougher, more frantic and more unpredictable. No "what time is lunch?", no "what, all of this needs to be done by Friday!?". Which is precisely what we've all signed up for.

We don't know what tomorrow will bring. And guess what - we simply cannot wait.

We, the chosen few (or the lucky 21), have really hit the jackpot to find ourselves enrolled on Marc Lewis' 18-month programme. Luck was most certainly on my side. I sent off my application on the last day of the group interviews, and received a last-ditch invitation - only to arrive drenched to the bone and in a considerable sweat, thanks to a tremendous flash rainstorm. Not the best look for such a meeting, I can assure you.

No doubt my fellow students have similar stories.

School of Communication Arts 2.0 opened in Vauxhall last month after a 15-year absence. Its original incarnation was founded by John Gillard, but it sadly closed its doors in 1995. Lewis' mission for the 2010 version is to revive the sort of creative learning environment that was pioneered by Gillard and bring it up to date. I cannot pretend to understand exactly what Gillard's legacy is yet, but I hope to find out what it means to those who benefited from being taught by him.

We have, so far, been given a hugely varied and holistic learning experience. It has been surprising, confusing, exciting and, sometimes, like a slap in the face. We are being encouraged to develop our understanding of how we learn, think and process ideas. More than anything, we are encouraged to be ourselves. I think I can see where it's all going, but I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise, or jinx it, for any of us.

The school provides its students with a learning experience that is not available from other institutions. The curriculum is unique in that it has been written by professionals from within the advertising industry, and not by out-of-the-loop academics. Not only this, but the curriculum has been built using a Wiki platform, so that anyone connected to the industry (and the internet) can contribute to it.

As the course progresses, the Wiki element is updated, so material is constantly evolving and always relevant. This means we are learning the skills required by prospective employers - ones that will enable us to synchronise seamlessly into a professional working environment.

The school is an industry-owned, not-for-profit social enterprise. It receives support from several agencies and other sponsors, and that money goes into funding student start-ups and scholarships to encourage diversity. This relationship means that, week to week, the briefs set by the participating agencies are real and current.

The students also benefit from a remarkable system of mentors, who to date number just short of 300. They are industry professionals, renowned musicians, fashion designers and entrepreneurs.

All these people believe in this project, and they are generously giving up their time to teach and advise the students as we work towards our objectives, be they related to copywriting, art direction or the lesser-known "ideapreneurship" - a fusion of innovation and entrepreneurship. The already formidable list of mentors is ever-growing, and anyone interested in becoming a mentor is invited to sign up on the school website -

The result is a qualification supported by the industry and accredited by University of the Arts London Awarding Body. This will lead to the copywriters and art directors among us working towards landing that six-month agency placement of their dreams, while the "ideapreneurs" compete for funding for their start-up business.

The main focus of the curriculum involves us all being given the challenge of effectively building our own agency. We need a name and a logo for starters, and will also be designing the look and functionality of our studio. Then we will host our own launch party, before responding to briefs in a replica agency environment. The huge amount of support that we are given from our mentors, and that the school receives from its governors, will be hugely beneficial in helping us to succeed in this task. And the grounding we are being given and the doors that are being unlocked for us give us the best possible platform to become the Finks, Hegartys and Trotts of the future.

I cannot shake the feeling that Lewis is the crazed, eccentric Mad Professor, and that we are the guinea pigs (or lab rats) in his renegade education experiment. I really hope we are - you never know what we might invent. We're currently starting to write the proofs and work out the equations. Next step is to the lab for testing.

We will be uploading footage of this grand experiment regularly to The results are pending, so be sure to watch this space if you want to keep up with what we are doing.

It should be a fun ride.


- School of Communication Arts is a not-for-profit social enterprise

- Every penny of profit is reinvested in scholarships, promoting diversity and fairness

- It is sponsored by advertising agencies and media owners, and receives no public funding

- Governors include Lord Bell, Sir John Hegarty, Robin Wight, Seb Bishop and Saul Klein

- Nearly 300 industry professionals have signed up as mentors

- The school's bespoke qualification is accredited by University of the Arts London Awarding Body

- It is the first accredited qualification ever written by industry professionals using Wiki tools

- More than 200 mentors have contributed more than 6,000 edits to the Curriculum Wiki

- Curriculum Wiki is shared with every arts university