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Creative education is as crucial for children’s learning as maths

While the government focuses on Stem subjects, we cannot forget that creativity provides young people with cognitive and communication skills.

By Caroline Norbury

This opinion piece is part of a debate on whether maths should be the biggest priority in secondary education, based on the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s proposals to make maths compulsory up to age 18. Read the other side of the debate here.

It is a commonly held belief that children studying science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects are more likely to go into higher-paying careers than those studying the arts, humanities and other creative disciplines. Yet data from the British Academy suggests that this is not the full picture. While average salaries for arts, humanities and social science graduates are slightly below Stem graduates, the difference is minimal.

What’s more, over the first decade of their careers, arts graduates can progress just as quickly, with greater wage growth than doctors, for example. Importantly, creative subjects also give young people employability across a range of sectors. They learn creativity, communication skills, independence and adaptability – all of which are highly sought-after attributes in a world of constant change.

So how can we reform our children’s education for the better? By putting the arts into Stem, we’ll give students at all stages of education the best possible chance of success. Increasingly, employers are seeking workers with finely tuned cognitive skills, the ability to think both critically and creatively, and the initiative and intuition to solve complex problems. These high-level abilities are inherent to creative education so its marginalisation risks disadvantaging the next generation, depriving them of the essential foundations our future workforce will require.

Creative roles already represent nearly a third of the government’s shortage occupation list, a proportion that will only grow if crucial interventions aren’t made to turbocharge our talent pipeline. Be it shortages in our fashion industry, or spiralling demands for programmers and coders, there are many gaps that must be plugged.

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The UK’s creative sector is a global success story. Prior to the pandemic, employment in the creative industries grew at four times the rate of the UK economy and while UK employment fell in 2021, creative jobs grew by more than 5 per cent. If we are to sustain a high-growth trajectory and guarantee that UK creatives maintain their cutting edge in the face of international competition, we must invest in our creativity.

That investment means placing creative skills at the heart of the government’s education agenda and finally delivering the arts premium promised in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, which was expected to total £270m. Fulfilling this since-abandoned pledge would embed creative education into the national curriculum and address the imbalance between creative learning in England, and the far greater provisions offered in Scotland and Wales.

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Creativity brings joy and inspiration, contributes to our sense of self, and helps us to understand and connect with the world around us. But creative learning also gives us the confidence to communicate and work with others, and challenges us to think differently and remain open to new ideas.

Every young person should have the opportunity to unlock their creativity, and gain the toolkit required to thrive in an ever-changing world. If the value of creative education is overlooked, or access to it restricted, then we not only limit our children’s learning today – we’ll fail to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Read the other side of the debate on whether maths should be the biggest priority in secondary education here.

This opinion piece originally appeared in our Spotlight print edition on Skills, published on Friday 3 February 2022. Read the supplement in full here.

Read more on Education:

The effects of tech-fuelled inequality can be seen in schools across the nation

Why the Daily Mail’s defence of private schools doesn’t add up

Why have educational attainment gaps not closed in 20 years?

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