New GCSE art and design curriculum: what the creative industries think

The sacking of the much-loathed Michael Gove as education secretary hasn’t seen the systemic change in the government’s plans for creative education that many in our industries wanted.

The government has just released a document detailing the content it wants to put into the new Art and Design GCSEs that pupils will begin studying for starting from 2016 (with most getting their grades in 2018). The new GCSEs include Art, Craft and Design; Fine Art; Graphic Communication; Textile Design; Three-dimensional Design; and Critical and Contextual studies. The document was released alongside similar documents for the likes of computer science, dance, music and PE – plus A and AS Levels in ancient languages, dance, geography, maths, languages, music and PE.

Reaction to the proposed content from the creative industries has been mixed. Some have been agreed with its principles and others have found them wanting – and many have taken issue with the limited inclusion of digital design and modern creative principles that aren’t included, such as user-centred design.

I spoke to Paul Drake from the D&AD Foundation, which funds creative education programmes; Joe Macleod, global design director at ustwo and the founder of the Include Design campaign that helped knock back Michael Gove’s Ebacc proposals earlier this year; and Simon Manchipp, co-founder of branding agency SomeOne. You can read their thoughts on the proposed GCSE content below.

The proposed content is subject to a consultation, so if you want to pass on your views to the Department for Education, you can respond online.

NB: What are your overall impressions of the government’s proposals for the content of the new Art and Design GCSEs?

"Considering what has gone before and the struggle endured by the creative industries to protect the Art and Design subjects within the curriculum, the fact this document exists has to be a positive. At one stage, we were looking at the very real possibility that Art and Design would be expunged from the curriculum and at least for now, we're safe in the knowledge that it has a place within British education. Effectively, you could say it’s back to square one. 

"Looking through the proposals, the ambition is on the right track, but developing the subject content is only half the job. How will this translate in the classroom? More importantly, the mere mention of the Ebacc was enough for many schools to downgrade or drop art and design related subjects, so what assurances do we currently have that art and design will be suitably promoted alongside academic subjects? At least the conversation is happening, but there's lots more to be done.”
Paul Drake, director, D&AD Foundation

"I have always felt we should divide the subjects of Art and Design. For me they have entirely different purposes. One is intentionally emotional. The other commercially purposeful. When we put them together they become a mishmash of meaning.

"We encounter two issues with this draft proposal that reflect that. On one hand it tethers the artist to a functional output and not a pure pursuit of meaning and experiment with the medium, themselves and their emotions.

"On the other we soften the real world needs of design. This can be seen with the lack of rigor. This particularly saddens when the DfE has pushed the requirement for rigour in the curriculum and instead of pursing it in all subjects, have sidelined the subjects they feel don’t show rigor through the Ebacc. This is one of those subjects.

"To increase rigour in this subject we need to encourage students to use hypothesis and measurement through experimentation. This might seem rather analytical for a creative subject, but this is exactly what we need to do to produce sharp thinking design minds. This also reflects what is happening in the industry.”
Joe Macleod. Global design director, ustwo and founder of Include Design

NB: What do you think is good about what’s being proposed?

"It's encouraging to see that cross-cutting themes are picked up within the overall aims of the specification; notably, idea generation and risk-taking. But historically these are aims that can be quickly eroded when placed within the context of examination and the pressure of pass and fail and targets. We need to ensure this is not the case and young people have the space to experiment in their learning. PD

"I failed my art GCSE. like really failed it. Got a 'U'. For UNGRADED.

"My father was (and is) a teacher of art and a designer, illustrator and fine artist. My mother was an accomplished artist and commercial illustrator. My brother is a practicing designer. So there was no shortage of influence, expertise and advice. Yet I not only failed. I totally flunked. How is this possible?

"Don't cry, I went on to get a distinction in my OND in design, a First in my degree at Central Saint Martins and then set up SomeOne, which was voted the most respected design practice in the UK last year. So it's not all doom and gloom."

"I went to an ok school. With ok teachers. In an ok part of the world. But somehow the art eduction was a car crash. It was truly seen as what you did if you were not good at adding up.

"CDT (or Craft, Design and Technology as was its true title) involved endless Friday afternoons on lathes carefully paring down a tube of metal. Until it was all gone. Or elegantly breaking the jigsaw blade. Or melting Perspex onto the plastic bending machine to coughs and splutters of black smoke. Yet I got an A in that.

“Between an ungraded and an A is quite some difference – yet the core was the same: creativity. One was deeply abstract and poorly taught. One was applied and inspired in its teaching.

"So what I love about the new proposal is it appears to be well structured. It's intelligently considered and drives both teachers and students to consider the process behind creativity. Something my art class lacked but my CDT classes excelled in.

One thing that has always stood out for me is the power of external sources. The visiting lecturer has enormous clout if done well. The new proposal seems to hint a little at that and I'd love to see that elevated. The work Sir John Sorrell is doing with the Saturday Club is inspired in its integration of industry practitioners and school age students. More of that can only be a good thing."
Simon Manchipp, co-founder, SomeOne

NB: What do think should be changed?

"It's essential that content keeps pace with industry and technology changes, but not to the detriment of understanding the basic principles. For example user-centred design remains critical in a digital age and over-reliance on teaching to a specific technology programme can restrict as well as enable learning.

"The government also needs to consider how we can better connect learning to the world of work; for example by providing young people with genuine work experience and industry insight – something often lacking in advertising and design.” PD

"The list of Areas of Study feels hopelessly outdated. The delicate nod to 'interactive design, (including web, app and game)', in the graphic communication syllabus seems patronising to an exploding industry that is predicted to make a large addition to the economy.

"Digital design should really have its own area. It’s not adequately covered in the Art and Design syllabus, or the Design and Technology one. It seems to have fallen between the cracks of rhetoric while focus has been on keeping the current status quo of subjects.

"If we are going to take the growth of the digital industry seriously, the industry needs to be involved and reflected in the  subjects we teach the next generation." JM

NB: How does what’s proposed compare to your own studies of art/design at ages of 14-16?

"Art and Design wasn’t combined when I was studying those subjects. Art was a very stuffy subject, taught by a near-death hippy who wasn’t engaged in the subject or the people studying it.

"The closest my school offered to visual design was an Engineering drawing course where we would draw ships all lesson. Thank goodness it's all changed." JM

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