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As the Creative Economy Thrives, Art and Design Disappears From Schools

02/04/2014 17:24 BST | Updated 02/06/2014 10:59 BST

Are all arts and design subjects the same? Michael Gove seems to think so. Changes to the way creative subjects are coded means that those regarded as similar are now banded together. Thanks to this technicality, a student taking multiple arts and design-based GCSEs will be assessed for school performance league table purposes as if they had taken only one. In the metrics-driven culture schools must operate in, this is a massive disincentive for them to offer a broad range of provision. Specialist staff and equipment will certainly be lost as a result.

Arts and design are sometimes seen as nice to have but not essential, especially when compared to "hard" science and maths disciplines; it is difficult to imagine that chemistry, physics and biology would ever be banded together in this way on the basis that they are all science.

And yet the qualifications at risk from this move are the ones most relevant to the UK's booming creative industries - the second largest and fastest growing sector of the economy. From photography and textile design to graphic communication and 3D design, these qualifications open doors to a range of careers, particularly within the product, graphic and fashion design segments of the creative sector, which employ 166,000 people and grew by over 10% in 2011-12. Endangering these subjects is precisely the wrong direction of travel for a nation so economically reliant on its creative and cultural sector.

This move adds to the deep anxiety felt across the creative industries that the importance and potential of arts and design education is being fatally underestimated, leading to a series of decisions that are inadvertently pushing these subjects out of school curricula.

And it isn't just the creative sector that will suffer as creative subjects dwindle in schools; the loss will also have a huge impact on the wider economy. In 2010, a survey of over 1,500 chief executives representing around 60 countries and 33 industries repeatedly highlighted creativity as a deciding factor for business success. "CEOs identify creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future," said Frank Kern, senior vice-president of IBM Global Business Services, on announcing the findings.

If this is the case, then arts and design should be at the heart of the curriculum. Creativity is not something you either have or you don't, as is often assumed. It's an approach to thinking that can be taught and, as with anything, the earlier you start to learn, the more proficient you become.

The image of the lone creative genius coming up with a startling idea that shifts paradigms is largely a myth; the path to originality is far more often made up of initially small ideas developed by people who have learned how to park their assumptions and look at a challenge with fresh eyes and from every perspective. It's a way of working as valuable for maths and medicine as it is for fashion and product design. So it is alarming for all disciplines and industries that opportunities to develop creative processes are drying up in UK schools.

The school curriculum has long been a battle-ground. I accept that there isn't room in the day for students to pursue every subject that interests them and that might enhance their opportunities in different ways. Difficult decisions must be made. It is madness, however, for the UK - renowned world-wide as a creative nation - to curtail education in the one area in which it is indisputably internationally leading. I urge Mr Gove to halt this decline and work with the creative sector to formulate a long-term strategy for arts and design education. Without it, we will all be poorer.