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  • Fashion Students visit Plymouth School of Creative Arts.

Studying Craft 16 Findings: Key Stages 1 – 3

The findings in our research show trends in craft education and training from aged 16 upwards. But what’s happening in schools before Key Stage 4? The huge drop in students in GSCEs in Art & Design and in Design & Technology are unlikely to be driven by policy and events that impact solely when options are chosen. There is anecdotal evidence of less time and support being invested in craft lower down the curriculum at Key Stages 1-3 and even in early years, where messy creative play is no longer taking place as much as it was.

So our focus at the start of this short series of blogs is on the importance of craft education across the whole curriculum. Nicky Dewar, our Head of Learning and Talent Development reflects on why this is so important, followed by Dave Strudwick, Headteacher on how Plymouth School of Creative Arts has introduced learning for 3 to 14 year olds with creativity at its core.

Julia Bennett, Head of Research and Policy

A view from Nicky Dewar, Head of Learning and Talent at Crafts Council

Once you’ve scrutinised the figures in Studying Craft and made sense of the messages - there can be no doubt that our craft education landscape is looking grim. Moments of brightness are quickly overshadowed by the stark reality that our education offer is not good enough. While the spotlight remains on unsuitable metrics, rigid frameworks and a STEM curriculum we are losing learners – young and old – who are unable to access high quality learning opportunities. 

As more time is spent campaigning for recognition of the value of a creative education - for its’ intrinsic benefit to our personal well-being; as a force that unites our communities; as a fundamental approach to problem solving and innovative thinking across all sectors;  and as an exciting career pathway  that contributes enormously to our economy -  we have less time for the other battles that need fighting.

We must challenge the erosion of support available for our craft teachers to update their practice, become confident with new technologies and reconnect with the passion that brought them to teaching. We must not lose our expertise, our teachers and inspirers.

We cannot continue to wait until we are in our late twenties or retired – when we have time and cash - before beginning to make. If anything we should be starting younger. Making should be an inherent part of every childhood and every education pathway, connected to a range of inspiring professional and informal development opportunities that enable us to continually learn and refresh our skills and knowledge.

So by working with the wonderfully diverse and vibrant craft sector the Crafts Council is determined to find ways to embrace the natural curiosity of the very young, to build on those burgeoning community groups, to ensure we support every person to experience a rich and diverse journey of lifelong learning. It is only as a collaborating partnership will craft and making become embedded into our lives and make our communities richer and stronger. 

Handling Eleanor Bolton jewellery at mima, Saturday Art Trolley. Photo: Gilmar Ribeiro.

Fabricating Education - Dave Strudwick, Head teacher, Plymouth School of Creative Arts

We are a Free School set up and sponsored by an Art college. The privilege of developing a new kind of school from scratch into something tangible has been the chance of a lifetime. Plymouth School of Creative Arts has making and creativity at its core. We are not making a school for our students but with them. Our students currently range from 3 to 14 (rising to 16 in the next few years) and with our sponsor, Plymouth College of Art, we form a unique continuum of creative learning from Preschool to Masters Level.

Our school’s purpose is all about the transformation of students’ lives. Our students achieve both academically and the ‘21st century skills’ they will need to be successful in today’s world. We want our students to be the best they can be; young people who are creative, confident, critical and resilient thinkers, able to contribute positively to the world in which they live. This is why our school’s purpose can be summarised in just four words; Creating Individuals, Making Futures.

The creative process is full of rigour and challenge and certainly not a soft option. As Professor Andrew Brewerton one of the founders of the school says, ‘We’re developing ‘a new kind of Art student.’ The process of making allows for the room to disappear in moments of total absorption and is driven by intrinsic motivation rather than a reward system. Making allows us to see the familiar with new eyes, to change the position of the horizon and has a relevance for every single area of our life whether you see yourself as an artist or not.

The centrality of making, whether renovation of a 1950’s dinghy, the crafting of a poem or use of a 3D printer using thermo chromatic materials, means our school in many senses is not innovative but age old. This allows the teacher to come alongside and assess need, with the student, in the moment. Assessment that helps make sense of their project, the materials, themselves and the possibility of a situation. Artists, including students from the Plymouth College of Art, are also invited to make alongside our students providing an almost touchable sense of the possibility of being a ceramicist, a painter, a photographer, or film maker.

Our studios focus on stage not age and allow student choice across the curriculum. At a time of the English Baccalaureate reducing participation in the arts our school’s approach is an antidote to the restrictive practices that are becoming common in many schools.

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