Design being “squeezed out” of state schools, says V&A director Tristram Hunt

Hunt has set up a new initiative which will see 60 objects from the V&A’s collections travel to regional museums in the Midlands and North of England, in a bid to inspire more young people from diverse backgrounds to take up art and design.

DesignLab Nation project in Blackburn with the V&A and Sarah Hardacre, © V&A Museum London

The Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum has launched a new initiative that will see objects from its collections travel to the Midlands and North of the country, to spark school children’s interest in art and design.

The programme is part of the museum’s wider initiative DesignLab Nation, which looks to brings together schools, museums and local designers to inspire young people to learn about art, design and technology.

Drop in students taking design GCSE

Tristram Hunt, director at the V&A, has kickstarted the programme in a hope to increase the number of school students taking art, design and technology GCSEs. The subjects have seen drastic drops in uptake, with the number of pupils taking design and technology GCSE dropping by nearly half over the last eight years, and the number taking art, design and technology subjects collectively dropping by nearly 27,000 students in one year, between 2016 and 2017.

Hunt puts the decrease down to “curriculum changes and budget pressures”, and aims to help diversify the design industry, he says, as more opportunities to take on creative subjects are given to children attending private or independent schools than comprehensive schools.

“Creative subjects in state schools are being squeezed out at an alarming rate,” he says. “The last eight years has seen a 43% drop in the number of 16-year-olds taking design and technology GCSE. This is not the case in the independent sector, where more investment is going into art, design, music and drama. We think every child should be afforded the opportunity to an inspiring arts education.”

Five Northern museums will take loans

The new programme will start in September this year, and will see five regional museums in the Midlands and North of England, including the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent, the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, Blackburn Museum and Museums Sheffield borrow items from the V&A’s collection to go on temporary display.

Items that will go on loan range from textiles to ceramics to glassware, including ceramic tiles designed by Grayson Perry, a woven scarf designed by Mary Katrantzou and a teapot made by James Dixon & Sons.

Local schools will then organise visits to these museums, so students can see and learn about these objects, including their history and how they were made, as well as learn about any context to do with their local area. The programme will go on for a year.

Concerns around treatment of creative subjects

Many members of the creative industries have expressed concerns about the decline in students taking creative subjects, all the way through from primary school level to university.

The decline has been put down to budget cuts for creative subjects in schools, leading to cuts in resources, teaching staff and courses, as well as the Government’s push on science, technology, engineering and maths subjects (STEM).

The introduction of the compulsory English Baccalaureate (EBacc) qualification, which makes it compulsory for most students in state schools to take seven GCSEs in Double Science, Double English, maths, a humanity and a language, has also been seen to downgrade art and creative subjects.

Cuts to teaching

According to the V&A, recent figures from the Department for Education found that between 2010 and 2017, the number of design and technology secondary school teachers fell by 32% and hours of teaching fell by 36%. Art and design secondary teachers fell by 11%, and teaching hours fell by 16%.

“By bringing together museums, local industry and schools across England, complemented by V&A loans displayed in the context of their regional histories, DesignLab Nation will help alleviate this decline,” says Hunt.

The loans programme is currently focused on regions in England with a “strong industrial heritage”, says the V&A. The museum has not yet confirmed whether it will expand outside the Midlands and North of England, or to other countries in the UK in the future.

See below for objects that will go on loan.

Birds installation in the V&A, 2006, by Clare Twomey
Teapot, by James Dixon & Sons, Sheffield
Ceramic Glazed Tile, by Grayson Perry, 2015, given by Fat Architecture, © V&A Museum London
Woven wall hanging design, by Gunta Stolzl, Germany, 1928, © V&A Museum London
Stoneware jar and bowl, from Si Satchanalia kilns in Thailand, 15-16th century, © V&A Museum London
Blow Away vase, designed by Front Design, Stockholm, Sweden for Moooi, Breda, Netherlands, 2009, © V&A Museum London
Cashmere scarf, by Mary Katrantzou, 2011, © V&A Museum London
Drawing to illustration lectures on botany given at Marlborough House, by Christopher Dresser, London

All images courtesy of the V&A Museum London.

Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • Stephen Shaw July 19, 2018 at 8:44 am

    Should that be three regional museums in the North of England and two in the Midlands? I don’t think Coventry and Stoke would class themselves as being in the North.
    Great initiative though, speaking as a Yorkshire based, born and bred designer who went to the local comprehensive school.

    • Sarah Dawood July 19, 2018 at 3:22 pm

      Hi Stephen,

      Sorry about that, we’ve changed that now.


  • Thomas Grean August 16, 2018 at 12:24 am

    We live in a coercive society.
    The Arts are naturally anathema to the state and therefore not encouraged.

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