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From music to esports: We must protect, preserve and champion creative education now more than ever

We must emphasise how important creative education is, not just to the economy, but for the future of our young people

A drama class on stage at Falmouth University - Photo by Hamish Kale on Unsplash

As a child I loved telling stories. Creating characters, situations and whole worlds from my imagination. There was no purpose to this. I was certainly not attempting to develop skills that would lead to gainful employment and increase my earning potential.

Yet as we grow, the children we once were – the ones who loved to paint, play music, act and tell stories – are asked time and time again why they’re bothering to create unless it has earning potential.

So, as campus director of Access Creative College in London, I appreciate that the role of creative education is complex and nuanced.

It is our job to develop the industry relevant skills needed for young people to go into the professional industry or higher education, yet we must also create space for the kind of creativity that allows them to find their own voice; to nurture experimentation, innovation, individual expression and to push boundaries.

This duality is perhaps at the heart of why, for many years, the creative education sector has had an uneasy relationship with policymakers and government ministers.

Over the last 20 years there has been a boom in vocational creative education. Areas of study such as music technology and film production have grown in popularity and influence, yet at the same time creative subjects often seem undervalued by the government. The omission of arts subjects in reforms during the Michael Gove years and the recent use of the term “rip off degrees” by Rishi Sunak to describe courses not leading to direct employment are two memorable examples.

The government’s recently-published Creative Industries Sector Vision plan may be a step towards a greater appreciation of the industry, yet they do not have the best track record. The Guardian reported in 2021 that the number of GCSE music and drama students had fallen by a fifth and that funding for music and arts programmes had fallen to around £9.40 a year per student. Labour have argued that as a result we have seen children move away from creative subjects to more traditional subjects leading to the marginalisation of the creative arts in schools, yet there remains a thriving vocational creative sector that reflects an enormous industry.

The creative industries in the UK are thriving. The latest government figures show they contributed £109 billion to the economy and provided more than three million jobs.

It is crucial, therefore, to make the case stronger than ever for the value of creative education.

At Access Creative College we have opened a brand new centre in East London dedicated to nurturing the creative professionals of the future, with excellent facilities and a focus on vocationally relevant skills, covering courses such as music performance and production, film, photography, graphic design, games and esports.

We have also just launched Access Industry, our new apprenticeship training initiative that aims to revolutionise the creative and digital apprenticeship landscape. This programme focuses on training young people and placing them in careers across the creative industries, with companies such as Royal Albert Hall, Troxy and Disney involved, highlighting there is certainly a pathway to employment through creative education.

We are part of a prospering creative education sector that is quietly growing in credibility within the creative industries, with many education providers increasingly working in partnership within industry professionals.

For students who do not go and work in this sector, creative education still provides a range of benefits. The benefits of a creative education on mental health and academic achievement are well documented, as explored recently in an article in Psychology Today.

Students develop practical skills, group-work and the ability to communicate and evaluate, all of which leads to improved confidence and wellbeing. These skills help increase their employability in whatever sector they choose to pursue.

So what of the young boy I once was, telling stories? We are all storytellers. In creative education, all of our students are engaged in developing the skills to tell their own stories, whether they’re writing songs, designing computer games or making documentaries. Teachers succeed in motivating students when they tell the most engaging stories.

Stories help us make sense of the world around us and it is our job as educators to tell our stories to policymakers and government. To take control of the narrative. To tell the story of how valuable creative education is, not just to the economy and the future of the sector, but also to the mental wellbeing and emotional growth of our young people.

Nathan Loughran is the director of campus at Access Creative College London. For more information on Access Creative College, head to accesscreative.ac.uk/.

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