“Our biggest contribution to the quality of education may be in shaping pupils’ minds”

Sketch by Lewis Barton, UAL Staff, 2016

Sketch by Lewis Barton, UAL Staff, 2016

Pixar, famed for Toy Story, Ratatouille and Monsters Inc to name just a few, is one of the most successful creative animation studios in the last twenty years. It generates billions of pounds, providing jobs to millions, playing a vital role in the economy.  But it’s not simply the creative talent of animation artists and CGI specialists that has got it to that point. In his wonderful 2014 book, Creativity Inc, co-founder of Pixar Ed Catmull, tells us that Pixar insists that all employees do a drawing course when they join. They recognise the value of a creative education in all parts of the organisation – whether they are in film-making or finance, Pixar is the sum of its parts and creativity in process as well as art and design is what makes it the innovative, imaginative, pioneering organisation it is today.

With such huge public success, and a fantastic example of the benefit of creative education to the economy, it is, as Catmull says, “why it is so frustrating that funding for arts programmes in schools has been decimated. And those cuts stem from a fundamental misconception that art classes are about learning to draw. In fact, they are about learning to see.”

The value and importance of a creative education is plain to see with the creative industry making up nearly a quarter of the workforce and £71.4 billion to the economy (according to official figures released by DCMS) but education policy has not caught up. Somehow we are still battling cuts and for art and design to be included in the Ebacc system which is now at its last ditch in the Parliamentary debate on 4 July 2016. Recent findings from the NSEAD survey 2015-16, shows that there is a decrease in the amount of time allotted for art and design at primary and secondary level, falls in levels of attainment when going into Secondary level, and a reduction in skills required for exams.

It is true that the dice appear to be loaded against us. Art and design teaching is increasingly isolated in the timetable and under-resourced. While Progress 8 will undeniably generate some fascinating Big Data on progression routes, it will also push arts and design down the pecking order behind Maths, English and the EBacc subjects.


Given these barriers, can we survive and continue to meet the demand for trained creative people? I believe we can, if we display the self-belief so characteristic of our sector. And there are opportunities to take in the next years.

The argument that art and design matters on its own account hasn’t worked. The time has therefore come to talk about the contribution it makes to the quality of education – to insist that no school, no academy and no pupil can be called excellent unless they have undertaken some arts subjects.

That sounds ambitious, but consider this. In 2015, Michigan State University published research showing that – compared to scientists in general – elite scientists are more likely to have an avocation (or hobby) in arts and crafts. Nobel Prize Winners are almost three times more likely than average scientists to be this sort of polymath.

An analysis of scholarship applicants to the Institute of Civil Engineers showed the most gifted engineering students are overwhelmingly likely to have studied creative subjects alongside STEM at GCSE, as reported in The Creative Industries’ Creative Education Agenda.

With a government solely focussed on improving STEM results, is it time they learnt how to see things differently?

It is important to make politicians see creative education differently but we also need to see differently as educators. Our biggest contribution to the quality of education may not be our direct contribution to the creative industries, but in shaping pupils’ minds.


Education is a two-way street, particularly at higher levels: it is responsive. It changes with new evidence, new interests and new priorities. It has an active engagement with the whole of society, the whole of knowledge. This is fair play.

Fair play isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Ofsted school inspection handbook 2015. Instead, Ofsted follows the government’s list of fundamental British values, and I quote:

democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

It is a good list. But behind all this is the government’s agenda to fight terrorism. And I know there will be some in this room who are very uncomfortable with how that agenda is being achieved. In higher education, the Prevent agenda is causing great discomfort, including student protest.

While I recognize our duties as educators under the law, I share the concern that education should be open to all points of view, including those we find uncomfortable.

But as I said, education is a two-way street. If British values contain — as they should — the whole of society, if we show how people of different beliefs and different ethnicity have made a contribution to our British values, these stop being something we impose on others, and start being something we can all get behind.

And art and design have a crucial role to play in this. Not because of the knowledge we teach, or the skills we encourage, but because — as Ed Catmull says — we help people see differently.

This blog post is a shortened version of a speech delivered by Nigel Carrington at the NSEAD Annual Conference

Nothing to learn from the Culture White Paper

Following the launch of Ed Vaizey’s Culture White Paper last month, I have written a Huff Post Politics blog on the absence of arts education in the White Paper.

LCC Archive & Study Centre (C) Ana Escobar

Image showing the LCC Archive & Study Centre (C) Ana Escobar

Below is an excerpt from the piece, which you can read in full here.

Our much-liked minister for culture, Ed Vaizey, has produced a White Paper for culture, only the second of its kind. He is to be praised for putting down a marker for the government on culture.

So how do his ideas stack up against the great Jennie Lee, who set the bar 50 years ago in the first ever Culture White Paper, A Policy for the Arts?

Vaizey’s Culture White Paper is set against the background of a general retreat by national and local government from culture. And while Bevan’s NHS remains a sacred cow for each generation of politicians, Lee’s vision has been watered down ever since.

Against this background, Vaizey had been expected to show how creativity drives the wider government agenda. This was to be a great broadening out. That intent is still referred to in the introduction. But it gets lost in the delivery.

When it comes to practicalities, we find a tight focus on the subsidised cultural sector. This is culture as delivered by museums and theatres, not the broad-based culture of film, of gaming, of interactive design and graphic design, nor of the behemoth of culture that is the BBC. It speaks to a government preoccupied by its residual subsidy to bricks and mortar… very literally, in a £20m gesture to cathedral roofs.

The most obvious absence, in contrast to Lee’s ideas, is the hole where education used to be.


Response to the Prime Minister’s comments on diversity in Higher Education


Following David Cameron’s comments on diversity in HE, I wrote for the Guardian’s Higher Education Network on the policy decisions – predominantly the EBacc – which are posing a threat to getting more disadvantaged pupils into higher education. Below is an excerpt from the piece, which you can read in full here.

Let’s state the obvious. Universities are more open and diverse than they used to be, thanks to government policy and light-touch regulation. When the tuition fee cap rose to £9,000, we were instructed to spend some of the money on widening participation. This gave us the autonomy and funding – as well as a clear target – to do better.

As of 2015-16, black and minority ethnic students make up nearly a third of my university’s undergraduate cohort. Many other institutions have made similar progress. We plan to go further. In that sense, I don’t see huge challenges in increased targets.

But you can’t get to university before you’ve been to school. So while the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is making the right noises about tertiary education, the Department for Education’s (DfE) English Baccalaureate is cutting access at secondary level to one of the UK’s big education success stories.


Sadiq Khan visits Central Saint Martins


We hosted Labour’s London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan at Central Saint Martins this week. He took a tour of the building, met students and staff and was interviewed by Sky News on the Terrace.

It was a great opportunity for us to reiterate our three key asks for the incoming London Mayor:

  • Assert the primary importance of the creative industries to London’s economy
  • Support the creation of a fashion cluster for East London
  • Sustain City Hall’s investment in creative education in regeneration priority areas

He seemed to enjoy his visit, tweeting (to his 77k followers:

“Wonderful morning at @UniArtsLondon – they’re a key reason London is a world leader in arts, design and much more.”

Chairing Creative Industries Federation expert group

I am pleased to be chairing an expert group tasked with examining the urgent challenges facing creative education (HE and FE) for the Creative Industries Federation.

The group will examine policy area crucial not just to education, but the future success of the UK’s creative industries and arts – in the light of the Green Paper, the spending review and changes to immigration policy. It will examine issues including the teaching excellence framework (TEF), proposed cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowance, age limits on postgraduate loans, and the place of universities in culture-led regeneration and in Europe.

Find out more about the group in my interview with the Times Higher Education.

My 2016 predictions for the Times Higher Education

The Times Higher Education approached me to comment on my predictions for 2016. The full article is here and you can read my thoughts below.

“In 2016, the detail of the higher education Green Paper will preoccupy people who could usefully focus on first principles. Lecturers and technicians need active students, and vice versa. Subjects like maths and law are taught differently to science and creative subjects. A successful education is measured longitudinally across a career or lifetime, rather than by output metrics or a snapshot within a year of graduation. One size does not fit all. It is vital we work closely with policymakers to recognise the real nature and diversity of the sector.”

Universities Minister launches HE reforms at Central Saint Martins

We welcomed Universities Minister Jo Johnson to Central Saint Martins this week during which he announced his plans for changes to HE in England. He is proposing the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), an Office for Students as a student ‘champion’, targets to recruit more disadvantaged and ethnic minority students and degrees with point scores as well as grades.


Ahead of his Education Green Paper, UAL submitted written evidence to the BIS Select Committee enquiry into Assessing the Quality of Higher Education. Our key message is that, whatever the nature of the institution, the teaching in each faculty is inherently specialist, subject-specific and methodologically different.

Celebrating 70 years of the Design Council

As part of their 70th anniversary celebrations this year, the Design Council asked me a few questions about the changes that have taken place in the British design industry over the past 70 years, and why design continues to be so important to our economy and society. I also talked about UAL’s relationship with the Design Council over the years, including the funding they have provided for a series of projects by UAL’s Design Against Crime Research Centre since 2001, which designs out opportunity for crime and influencing behaviours.

I have posted my responses to these questions on my Huffington Post UK blog.

New UAL Chancellor Grayson Perry on Channel 4 News

Last week Channel 4 News visited Chelsea College of Arts to interview our new Chancellor Grayson Perry at the Chelsea postgraduate summer show (pictured below with Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman).

Cathy Newman and Grayson Perry

As I said when Grayson’s appointment as Chancellor was announced back in March, he has an astounding ability to speak for the maker, the student and the audience of art, which makes him perfect for this role.  Grayson said in his Channel 4 interview that his mission as Chancellor is to act as “an ambassador for creative education”, and I look forward to working closely with him to continue to champion the importance of art and design.

My response to recent higher education policy proposals in Design Week

This week I was asked by Design Week to comment on recent higher education policy proposals put forward by Universities Minister, Jo Johnson. I am concerned what effect these proposals will have on students as we cannot expect them to make up the short-fall in government subsidy.

“The creative industries are the fastest growing sector in the UK, worth £72billion a year to the economy. Graduate education is a requirement of 60% of jobs in the sector. Creative education universities have to provide specialised machinery, workshops and technicians. But we have no specialist subsidy.”

You can read my quote and the article in full on the Design Week website.