The UK’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee today (31 January) heard that a lack of home-grown creative talent can be traced back to schools’ curriculums and career advice, with children being “actively deterred” by an education system that deprioritises the creative industries.
The view was put forward by John Kampfner, chief executive for the Creative Industries Federation, at the select committee’s first evidence session on Brexit’s impact on the creative industries, tourism and the digital single market.
Kampfner, along with Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn and Arts Council England’s chair, Sir Peter Bazalegette, was asked how his sector would reconcile a reliance on multinational talent with Teresa May’s plans to tighten up immigration rules.
He said that while international creative workers are undoubtedly drawn to the global renown of the UK sector, they are also there “to fill in a skills gap”.
“This is a major opportunity for the UK parliament and government to get it right in a way that’s never been done before,” said Kampfner. “If the prime minister and government […] want to promote the indigenous labour force more prominently, we have to change the way we look at creative education, from primary to secondary to careers advice.”
He explained that while David Cameron and George Osborne understood the commercial power of the sector, the education and skills provisions needed to underpin it “were not fit for purpose”, in particular the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) performance measure, which Kampfnerr believes “deprioritises creative industries” and as such dissuades head teachers from nurturing creative subjects.
“It’s absolutely great to want more Brits working in the creative industries, but they are being quite actively deterred by the education system, and in particular [through channels of] social mobility,” he said.
"A lot of independent schools promote arts learning and are selling themselves to parents through their arts provision. But there are very few mechanisms in the state sector that actively promote this.
“It does seem illogical – for us it’s a growing sector and yet children are being told it’s soft and a bit of a waste of time. And careers advice feels very analogue – very 20th century – in terms of failing to embrace both the tech sector and the creative sector.”
He added: “Brexit may be the trigger for some progress on this. You can reconcile a totally legitimate requirement to academic rigour with the notion of a much stronger arts and cultural education system.”
Models for change
The committee’s guests also put forward practical ways in which MPs and government could correct this imbalance, and in turn nurture UK creative talent in a time of uncertainty surrounding international work permits.
Mendelsohn, the chair of the Creative Industries Council, said the industry could do more to work with higher education institutions on a practical basis, and told the committee that government could help strengthen these ties.
Bazalegette said he believed “the model may be there”, highlighting how Arts Council England previously worked with the Department of Education to counterbalance a drop in schools-based music education. He also cited his institute’s work with the Sorrell Foundation, which provides around 60 ‘Saturday Morning Clubs’ for children who are interested in the arts but aren’t getting the stimulus to develop this passion in school.
“They’re the lifeblood of our creative industries and if we had 600 of those rather than 60 we’d be in a better place,” he said.