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Cuts to arts education threaten UK's culture industries, says West Dean College chief

— June 2014

Associated media

A visual arts student, Lotti V Closs, working in the studio at West Dean College

A lack of investment and focus in arts and crafts subjects in schools has worrying consequences for the future of higher education in the arts and ultimately for the creative industries sector, says Francine Norris, Director of Education at West Dean College. She writes:

One recent study found that the number of arts GCSEs studied by children had fallen by 14 per cent since the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) was introduced in 2010.  The EBacc does not include arts subjects and as this is the main performance measure for schools currently, it is not surprising that participation has decreased as both schools and parents focus on the qualifications that ‘count’.

Norris also explains that a further reason for the crisis in funding is the way that money is allocated in the higher and further education sector.

University places in the arts and crafts are also declining in the face of high tuition fees and lack of funding.  With virtually the entire sector being excluded from the STEM [science, technology, engineering and medicine] designation that attracts teaching and research grants from government, a recent Crafts Council report [Studying craft: trends in craft education and training  Crafts Council Feb 2014]identified a 39 per cent decline in the number of arts and crafts degree courses being offered in the five years to 2012 .  These courses are expensive to run – they require costly materials, skilled technical support, and are based on studio and workshop practice rather than more economical lecture room delivery. Ironically though, according to the Crafts Council, the overall number of university applications for the arts and crafts is not dropping.  This is due in the main to the increasing numbers of overseas students, particularly at postgraduate level, that still see the UK as a centre of excellence.

Norris summarizes: 

The arts and crafts underpin the UK’s world-leading creative industries sector, which is worth £71.4 billion a year.  According to recent figures the craft sector alone currently employs over 100,000 people while with growth of 10 per cent, the creative sector is outstripping all other industry sectors in terms of recovery… craft skills and values are vital to our cultural identity.  Socially the arts and crafts have always been a common thread within social groups and between generations, and there is a real danger that with lack of investment the traditional centrality of the arts and crafts within British culture will be eroded by the short-termism of current education policy.

The full version of this article can be read in Ink Pellet Magazine, June 2014 or visit

West Dean College offers full-time and short courses in the visual arts and conservation.

West Dean College
West Dean
Near Chichester
West Sussex
PO18 0QZ

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