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  • Hereford College of Arts, Artist Blacksmithing Students at the forge.

Studying Craft 16 Findings: Further Education

Hereford College of Arts and Leeds College of Art illustrate the rich variety of craft education opportunities on offer in further education (FE), from Level 2 courses, right through to diplomas and first degrees. (We’ll return to FE undergraduate courses when we focus on higher education findings.) They demonstrate the huge potential of FE to diversify routes into craft. Clearly craft can be an attractive option in colleges - yet our study shows how rarely this is actually available.

The number of adult craft students in general FE rose over threefold between 2007/08 and 2014/15, from around 20,550 learners to more than 67,000. Good news? Well, much of this increase is at Entry Level and Level 1 (equivalent to D-G at GCSE). Such courses are mostly in general craft, often delivered by colleges as part of students’ personalised learning programmes. They’re designed to support progression to give learners access to qualifications or to support the learner towards a meaningful outcome, including preparing for and entering employment. So, whilst craft skills can be very helpful for those students, the increase is entirely in non-regulated provision - courses designed and delivered by colleges and sometimes certificated, but with no accreditation from an external awarding body. The number of students taking higher qualifications at Levels 3 and 4 is 3,990 – only 8% of all learners, compared to the 74% of students who are taking Entry Level and Level 1 courses – so few students are gaining the skills they are likely to need to pursue a career as a maker. Participation at Level 2 (GCSE A*-C equivalent) and Level 3 (A-level equivalent) is rising, but participation at Level 4 and above is extremely low,

FE courses are also getting shorter - the number of courses with less than 50 guided learning hours has risen faster (in percentage terms) than those with more than 50 hours since 2007/08. Overall the average number of guided learning hours has declined.

What about the make-up of the FE craft population? It’s interesting to see that student numbers have risen in all age groups since 2007/08 and particularly among older students, with a dramatic rise among those over 65. More than half of all adult FE students are 40 and above. It’s very welcome to see how interest in craft is growing. Yet, while some of these students may be looking to start a second career, or to supplement their income as the state pension age rises, it is unlikely that very many will become new craft professionals.

The proportion of men studying craft is rising slowly (from 22% in 2008/09 to 25% in 2014/15) but the majority of students at this level are now women (75%). General craft courses and textiles courses are highly female dominated and most other courses (especially furniture, wood crafts and animation) are male dominated, reflecting a division often found at other education stages.

The craft student population has also diversified - 20% of craft learners are now from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and textiles courses have a particularly high level of BAME participation with 44% of known learners.

The largest rise in participation was seen in London (the region with the highest proportionate BAME population), with Yorkshire & the Humber and the East of England also showing large increases in participation. This contrasts with apprenticeship participation where participation in London was extremely low.

So we can see from our findings how FE colleges are making a significant contribution to diversifying engagement and routes into craft. Some colleges are offering really exciting opportunities. Yet, in the main, the potential for FE colleges to contribute towards or fuel the local craft economy remains unfulfilled. How can we foster such change?

- Julia Bennett, Head of Research and Policy

Hereford College of Arts - Abigail Appleton, Principal and Chief Executive

In Freshers’ week in Hereford College of Arts, one group of students already stands out, and not just for the anvil icon on their sweatshirts.  They arrive with the visible confidence of students who know they’ve made it onto a course that has been defining and redefining its field for more than 20 years.  These are the Artist Blacksmiths, women and men, who come to Hereford to challenge norms and apply contemporary design and innovation to forged metal work.   Students split their time between our studios and the forge run by a partner college, home to the National School of Blacksmithing, and they produce an exceptionally rich variety of original work from large scale architectural design to interior products and sculptures.   

Stone and Forged Metal, 2015, Christian Vaughan-Jones

Artist Blacksmithing BA (Hons) is a flagship course for its international reputation and uniqueness in the UK, but it springs from a College ethos that puts making at the heart of our curriculum.  The FE Art and Design courses, level 2 to Foundation, include exceptional access to small metals and jewellery, ceramics, flat glass, printing-making, textiles, and 3D fabrication workshops.  Whilst this sets up progression to craft- focussed degrees across the UK and internally, we’re committed to the adventurous cross- disciplinary exploration of materials and ideas, to imagining with hands as well as head, as a way of developing skills with a value that goes far beyond a specific craft practice.

For our craft based degrees, our challenge is to maintain the fusion of modern design and making in individual practice, whilst also recognising that some of the most exciting applications of craft practice today are in collaborations within and beyond the arts world.  Perhaps our next course will be Contemporary Crafts Collaborations as we encourage our students to find new spaces and new meanings for their practice outside the studio.  

- Abigail Appleton, Principal and Chief Executive, Hereford College of Arts

Leeds College of Art - Andy Grayston, Course leader Extended Diploma in Art & Design

The Extended Diploma at Leeds College of Art is a two year programme which helps young people discover their talents, interests and strengths in a wide range of disciplines. It provides the art and design building blocks needed to help students specialise in fashion, graphic design, textiles/surface-pattern design, 3D design or fine art, whilst encouraging diverse specialisms including photography, film, animation and computer based design. 

For committed students the course is an attractive alternative to A-levels and our students’ breadth of experience and portfolios leads them to progress onto a range of prestigious, highly competitive degree courses across the country including those at Leeds College of Art. Some students elect to go directly into employment and apprenticeships. 

The course provides the vital bridge between school and university, helping students to become an independent thinker and practitioner.

Different pathways exist within each discipline:

  • In fashion/textiles students are able to specialise in fashion design, costume design, fashion styling promotion, textile design, design craft or surface-pattern design.
  • In fine art, the college offers painting, sculpture, photography, film and illustration.
  • Graphics offers typography, web design, video, illustration, animation, advertising, editorial design and photography.
  • 3D includes product design, spatial design, interior design, architecture, design craft and theatre design.

The Extended Diploma in Art & Design has been awarded the Creative Skillset Tick, the industry quality mark, following a rigorous assessment process by experts working in the Creative Industries. The Creative Skillset Tick is awarded to practice-based courses which best prepare students for a career in the industry. www.creativeskillset.org/pickthetick 

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