UK design education is failing students, says V&A chief

Martin Roth, the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, has attacked the UK education system, saying it leaves too many design students lacking ‘basic skills’.

Martin Roth
Martin Roth

Writing in the Evening Standard, Roth says, ‘We see too many students lacking basic skills in drawing and making, and with only the sketchiest knowledge of the history of art and design.

‘The reason is simple. These subjects are not considered “core” to the national curriculum and so they lack funding and facilities.’

Roth says, ‘We should be educating every British child in the basics of design and making. A new generation of great designers will keep our creative industries world class.

‘But the clear economic benefit this will bring the UK is not the only outcome. It will also strengthen our democratic culture.’

Roth’s statements follow a series of attacks on the design education system from senior figures.

Most recently, critics including Sir James Dyson, the Design Council and the D&T Association attacked proposals for design in the National Curriculum as being too broad and ‘a huge backwards step’.

This followed Government proposals to completely cut design from the National Curriculum, which were eventually scrapped by then Education Secretary Michael Gove as ‘a bridge too far’.

And earlier this year, the University Alliance called for a ‘revolution’ in design education to ‘embed creativity and problem-solving into the National Curriculum’.

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  • Sophie Exintaris November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Perhaps the V&A could offer a few evening courses or lectures to fill the gaps? Some adults from other education systems or backgrounds are likely to have gaps. Art and Design should be for everyone!

    I went to French college and studied computer engineering (basically maths & physics), yet my work and passions involve art and design. If there were ways to fill in the gaps other than reading masses of books, I would definitely use them!

  • Elizabeth Shaw November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    In an article yesterday published in Design Week, Martin Roth, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum attacked the UK education system saying it leaves too many design students lacking ‘basic skills.’
    And it isn’t just Roth who feels this way; Sir James Dyson, the Design Council and the D&T Association attacked proposals for design in the National Curriculum as being too broad and a “huge step backwards.”
    Whilst in agreement with everything stated above I am keen to point out that it is not just in education where art and design should be focused. Design and innovation is simply critical for businesses to ensure a sustainable future.
    The organisation I work for, the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC)in the North East of England understands the importance of delving into design deeper and realise that it’s more than an idea that a glossy exterior attracts customers; this is why the BIC are working in partnership with the Design Council inviting businesses that are interested in learning more about how design can support their business through the Design Leadership programme

  • Jude Hanly November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I have worked at university teaching art and design and recently went into assessing level 3 art and design apprentices. I was quite sceptical of what could be achieved, but have been blown away by the achievements of the young apprentices, working in a variety of design fields, graphics, exhibition, web, interiors and community arts. Of 38 apprentices in the last 18 months 36 have gone on to secure jobs as junior designers with portfolios better than the average university leaver and equiped to deal with the fast pace in a busy design studio.
    Projects in college/ university are over too long a period and do not ressemble the way we work in the industry.

  • Dave Powell November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I agree with Roth’s comments to a degree. I run a brand communication agency and its that time of year where we start to see a lot grads approaching us on the lookout for work. To be honest I don’t see many portfolios that impress me. There’s no shortage of technical skill when it comes to handling a Mac and the necessary software, but I don’t see a lot of ‘thinking’, I see a lot of ‘doing’. That’s all great but give me creative thinkers who can challenge, change and do things differently. That said the nature of creativity is somewhat innate, whilst I agree it can be nurtured and there are useful techniques to learn, can it truly be taught?

  • Richard Green November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I read with interest Martin Roth, director of the V&A’s piece in the Evening Standard on Monday on how great designers can change society. Something Mr Roth quite rightly touched on was the need to properly educate children in the basics of design and making, equipping the designers of tomorrow with the skills they need to maintain the UK’s world class creative industry.

    The new national curriculum comes into effect in September and makes explicit the requirement for children to be taught designing and making skills, and to learn about the work of past and present designers and makers. The Design & Technology Association, in collaboration with the design and engineering industries, worked with Government to write this challenging new curriculum for five to 14 year olds.

    But not every pupil will be so fortunate. Academies now make up over half of English secondary schools and they are not required to follow the national curriculum, while the English Baccalaureate has seen schools focus more and more on ‘traditional’ academic studies with less emphasis on creative and practical subjects. D&T is also facing the worst shortfall in recruitment into initial teacher training of any subject across the curriculum.

    The Government says it wants to build an economy founded on making and doing, yet D&T remains a subject on the ‘endangered’ list and at times is both chronically undervalued and widely misunderstood. If the Government is serious about building an army of multi-skilled, creative talent, now is the time for joined up thinking and the support and promotion of D&T at both root and branch.

  • Patrick Gottelier November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It is good to see this debate gaining momentum in the UK but it needs to broaden to all the constituent elements of the current debacle
    Firstly and correctly, the debate to date has tended to focus on the poorly considered proposals to FE curriculum. Even though the Coalition has back tracked on the most absurd elements of the original proposals, the damage has largely been done with Head Teachers and indeed Art and Design teachers recognising that the political ideology remains.
    Secondly, we must consider the creeping demise of the highly valuable Art and Design Foundation year. for those of us privileged to have benefited from the preparatory, inspirational and diagnostic value of a good Foundation course this needs no elaboration for those who have to those who haven’t, the Foundation year, ‘de-schools’ those who have experienced an overly formulaic secondary Art and Design education and opens doors to an array of creative futures.
    Thirdly, the pressure on Universities to cut the cost of Higher education has lead to the ‘rationalisation’ of expensive workshops. in many cases course are being re-written to negate the need for students to handle materials and processes at all.
    Finally, the establishment of institutions like the Central Schools of Arts and Craft, later, Art and Design was predicated on the principle of students being taught by Industry practitioners for the benefit of the industries to which they were closely linked. Needless to say that we no longer have many of these industries in the UK but even where we do, the cost cutting activities of some of our academic institutions tend to reduce the number of practisers who teach in favour of the academics who teach.
    Finding creative, innovative and sustainable design solutions is a global imperative. It is hard to imagine that the UK Design education so respected worldwide can continue to deliver the quality of graduates for which it has become famous without a fundamental re prioritisation.
    Patrick Gottelier
    Master of Apparel and Product Design
    DeTao Masters Academy

  • Raymond Cilia November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Dear all.

    Least not forget that Design Education in schools is seen for those who “cannot do academics” and the folk mythology of ” I’m good with my hands” is over accepted as the criteria to undertake a tough cognitive process.

    Education has three tiers and do not be fooled, English , maths and Science form these. Creative subjects are resigned to a status of “wishy washy” or dare I say “soft” subjects.

    There is nothing easy, soft or procedural about designing your own ideas to make it a reality. It is a tough, demanding and intense experience.

    Our children ‘a future depends on their ability to have the courage, creativity and resilience to make things work.

    I agree that Design Technology is not the heavy weight subject it was. Just review the work students needed to learn in 1980’s.

    I hope that one day the hierarchical state forced agenda will look in horror at its attempt to remove creative learning.

    Ray Cilia
    Lead Teacher of Design Technology

  • Peter Lunn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The biggest problem is that the majority of educators are a product of the system and have little real knowledge and less experience – most have never made a career of their subject – only of teaching it!
    As a practicing goldsmith who has taught as a sessional tutor on a design led university course – I speak from bitter experience – my heart bleeds for the poor mislead students

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