Conflicting interpretations of the figures published by exam boards in recent weeks have prompted much debate over the current state of Britain’s education system.
While many have been cheered by the news that more students than ever secured their first choice of university, others have expressed alarm as GCSE grades dropped for a second successive year, plummeting by a record margin.
A worrying trend that has emerged reveals an unhealthy bias in the education system, and threatens to suffocate economic growth if not adequately addressed. Data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) shows university students are shunning arts and humanities courses in favour of more practical subjects they see as more likely to burnish their employment credentials.
More young people are taking science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects at A-level while applications for Stem degrees are up by 4.4 per cent this year, and by more than a quarter in the past five years.
Ever since annual tuition fees were tripled to a minimum of £9,000 last year, one parent in 10 now advises their child to choose a vocational course, such as law or accountancy, to give them a better chance of a job.
This tilt towards the Stem subjects does an injustice to creative study, and unfairly implies the arts make a lesser contribution to the economy. At the root of the problem lies a distorted interpretation of the economic value of creative industries, as well as what is needed for a well-rounded economy. The irony of this perception is that it is entirely contradicted by the performance of the creative industries, which generate £70,000 a minute and account for 10 per cent of exports.
This misguided view undervalues one of the main strengths of the UK’s education system, recognised the world over for the richness of its creative and artistic traditions.
Nor does it ring true to say that the arts are incompatible with business. Research by Oxford University last month showed that, far from limiting their career options by opting to study the likes of history or English, arts graduates work across the economy’s key sectors. One need only look at the chief executives charged with running FTSE 100 companies – 34 per cent of whom have an arts background.
More often than not, a creative background is invaluable in business, prompting innovative and original thinking of the kind not encouraged by scientific study. Sir Jonathan ‘Jony’ Ive, an Essex-born design graduate, is now described as the most valuable Briton after helping turn Apple into the world’s most successful tech company.
My social enterprise, School for Creative Startups, was established to encourage those with an artistic bent to use their talents to set up businesses that will fuel the UK’s creative economy. We run programmes in London and Kent but intend to expand elsewhere.
There’s a broad international demand for British products and services across sectors that depend on the creative industries. The strength of Britain’s creative industries means that the UK is in a unique position to cater for the world’s needs, whether by supplying writing staff for Hollywood blockbusters or designers for fashion houses.
By diminishing the importance of the creative industries, we do a disservice to people with a natural inclination towards the arts and humanities. Whether due to pushy parents or a result of the Government’s obsession with pursuing Stem subjects, not enough time is afforded to encouraging young people to adopt a career that would allow them to flourish.
Instead, there’s an expectation that people should pursue vocations in which they are unlikely ever to excel. By pushing too many young people towards careers that only serve the economy rather than help it to expand, Britain is heading towards a skills imbalance that will prove damaging in the long run.
Of course we need the service industries, but we also need the designers, architects, ad men and composers who provide the products that encourage people to invest in British industry.
New well has Nostra Terra on right trail
Aim-listed Nostra Terra Oil & Gas has had a good summer. The explorer kicked off drilling at its seventh well in the Chisholm Trail prospect in Oklahoma earlier this month, and is expected to announce a new well in another American state soon.
At the Chisholm Trail, Nostra Terra works with operators across 21 potential locations in the Hunton formation in the area, and this seventh well effectively doubles the potential size and opportunities of its prospect there.
Every well the group has drilled in the area has exceeded expectations. It is in a new oil formation for the group – the Mississippi Lime formation, which is known to be oil rich . Investors hope it will improve cash flow, which will help the group fund new wells.
Small Businessman of the Week: Duane Jackson, founder, KashFlow
I grew up in children’s homes in the East End of London and left school at 15 with no qualifications.
I ended up serving a five-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. On my release, I couldn’t get a job. So, since I’d taught myself computer programming as a teenager, I decided to use those skills to become a self-employed web developer.
All the software I looked at to help me do my invoicing and keep accounts was utterly awful – clunky, confusing and used lots of jargon. So I decided to write a web-based app for my own use. Eventually I realised every other owner-manager of a small business had the same problem, so I started making my own product available for others to use – and KashFlow was born in 2006.
I was fortunate in my timing: web-based software has now become the norm, and revenues have doubled year-on-year. I can see lots of other small-business areas that would benefit from the same approach: remove the jargon, and make it easy to use with no training.
David Prosser is away.