By Julia Bennett, Head of Research and Policy at the Crafts Council.
A quick online search swiftly reveals that the ability to interpret ideas and data, to problem solve and to trial solutions are exactly the kind of soft skills sought by most employers across the labour market. Schools have traditionally offered young people the opportunity to pursue the three dimensional design and technology projects that equip young people with such skills.
So why does Crafts Council evidence show a decline of over 40% in GCSE Design & Technology students since 2007/08? And how is it that the number of students taking entry level craft courses in further education has boomed to over 67,000, yet only 8% are taking the more advanced courses that are likely to convert their making skills into careers?
Driving debate about the importance of craft education and training through our education Manifesto for craft and making, Our future is in the Making, we were keen to get underneath what was happening. So we commissioned research into formal craft education and training from Key Stage 4 (GCSEs and equivalent) upwards, including further and higher education, apprenticeships and community learning. The findings provide a comprehensive review of contemporary craft education in England, enabling employers, educators and makers to understand the risks facing the long term future of craft education and training. Summarised in a new animation Studying Craft 16 shows that craft education remains in crisis.
Shouldn’t we think more seriously about the kind of people we wish to cultivate in the economy and wider society? Our evidence on the transfer of craft skills into other sectors shows that high-value manufacturing, healthcare and biotech, robotics and engineering, and digital technology rely on the haptic skills of making. A number of organisations, including the Crafts Council, are fostering making skills through formal and informal educational opportunities for future and existing makers, but these alone cannot tackle the trends highlighted in our research.
We know education and training in crafts is important, both to grow the craft economy (worth £3.4bn) and to strengthen those wider skills for employability. There’s now a growing clamour of protest about the state of learning for the next generation of makers. Alongside the Crafts Council, advocacy groups, including the All Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design Education, are also making their voices heard about course closures and the declining opportunities for creativity in schools.
What else do we need to do? A stronger emphasis on entrepreneurship education would encourage more young adults to feel confident in pursuing and setting up their own business ideas. Too many students are still anticipating that they will find a job with an employer, rather than by setting up their own businesses.
Above all, we welcome the views and voices of employers joining those calling for greater emphasis on creativity in schools, the diversification of routes into craft and recognition of the value of haptic skills to many industries.