Creative Industry Alliance targets underinvestment in state school design education

Design industry names, including Neville Brody, Marina Willer and Minnie Moll pen open letter to the Chancellor blasting the “damaging impact” of funding cuts.

Spearheaded by designer and upcoming D&AD president Jack Renwick; Sean Thomas, executive creative director at JKR; and Claire Blyth, host of the My Life in Design podcast, the Creative Industry Alliance was formed ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement.

The Creative Industry Alliance’s goal is to urge the government to consider the impact of underinvesting in state school art and design subjects, underlining how it negatively affects the economy, diversity and our cultural identity.

It is doing this through an online petition and an open letter with more than 20 signatories from across the design industry, including Brody; Blyth; Renwick; Thomas; Pentagram partner Marina Willer; Kate Stanners, chairwoman and global chief creative officer at Saatchi & Saatchi; Design Council CEO Minnie Moll; and Deborah Dawton, CEO of the Design Business Association.

According to Renwick, the Creative Industry Alliance came about “from a few creatives feeling frustrated and powerless to make any real difference”. She continues, “There are a lot of initiatives that are trying to help that are incredible but they’re in silos. Individually we cannot change what is taught, supported or funded in schools.”

The letter opens with statistics showing that the creative industries are worth more than £115bn to the UK economy, making up around one in eight businesses and accounting for 7.1% of all UK jobs, with research suggesting that each creative job can in turn generate 1.9 new jobs in local services. It points out that from 2010 to 2019 the creative industries grew more than one-and-a-half times faster than the wider economy.

“Our creative companies lead the world, and our skills are sought by clients globally – in 2019 we accounted for nearly 12% of total UK service exports,” the letter reads. 

“Yet every year we find it harder and harder to recruit the diversity of talent we need. We see an ever-increasing proportion of applicants from fee-paying school backgrounds where it is possible to study and gain qualifications in subjects like art and design, and fewer from state school backgrounds where these subjects are increasingly rare. This restricts not only the potential talent pool, but also the diversity of our teams. An industry like ours depends on diversity of background, perspective and ideas.”

The letter goes on to detail the alliance’s suggestions as to why this trend has become so pervasive – namely, the reduction in funding of arts subjects in UK state schools since 2010. A 2022 survey of Association of School and College Leaders members revealed that 44% had cut design and technology subjects, and 16% had cut art and design courses.

These cuts are augmented by, and catalyse other issues, such as lack of recruitment and retention of teachers for arts subjects; teachers having to pay for their own materials; the fact that two thirds of current art and design teachers saying they’re considering leaving; and changes that de-prioritise arts subjects in qualifications (such as in the English Baccalaureate) and in league tables. The letter also points out that many state school careers advisors are unaware of the breadth of opportunities within the creative industries.

As such, it calls for the government to restore funding of arts subjects in UK state schools “to real-terms 2010 levels”; and to establish a taskforce to reverse the decline in arts teacher recruitment and retention. It also demands a review of creative education assessment and qualifications “to ensure that valuable qualifications are protected, and new models of creative education that respond to emerging practice and new markets are explored”. Finally, it urges Government to “deliver funding for a large-scale programme of cross-sector knowledge and opportunity sharing between state schools and the creative industries” as a “decisive and positive first step”.

The alliance’s open letter and petition are centred on the Creative Education Coalition’s #ArtIsEssential Creative Education Manifesto, which was created with the help of the organisation University Alliance, which shared its own experiences with contacting government ministers to demand change.

The letter was sent to Hunt ahead of its being made public to “ensure that the Government had time to digest it and research who had signed it,” says Thomas. “There are some very influential names on that list who share our concerns, who employ a lot of people and who bring a lot of money into our economy.”

He continues, “It’s important to stress that this isn’t politically motivated. It’s a genuine cry for help from people who are seeing kids from state schools unable to pursue a career in creativity. In my case, I’m witnessing how quickly art is being eradicated from the curriculum in real-time with my children.”

Thomas says he was inspired to help form the alliance thanks in part to hearing about the career trajectories of guests on Blyth’s podcast: “Almost every story behind well-known figures in the creative industry is incredibly similar; they pursued something at a young age, through a method that’s largely gone now and drifted into this industry… if we cut off the pathways for future creative leaders, this industry is in trouble,” he says.

Renwick adds, “Personally, I am pissed off that despite the epic contribution to the economy from the creative industries constantly, creative education remains underfunded, undervalued and undermined.”

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