The folly of focusing only on ‘facilitating subjects’

Ditching and devaluing ‘soft’ subjects puts creative arts in jeopardy, warns Sarah Rowlands

August 14, 2015

Yesterday’s A-level results showed a steep rise in entries for traditional academic subjects.

The shift towards students taking so-called “facilitating” subjects is driven by government pressure on schools to promote these courses, and awareness among students that they can offer a clearer route to an elite university education and a well-paid job. 

But is this shift to traditional academic subjects preventing some students, particularly those with a particularly creative talent, from following their dream?

In a fiercely competitive job market, no one blames students for trying to improve their career prospects, but it’s worrying that no creative arts subjects are included among the facilitating A levels.

More concerning still is the exam regulator Ofqual’s decision to remove some supposedly “soft” GCSEs and A levels from the curriculum, with plans to scrap film studies and performing arts.

By pushing schools and students down this academic pathway, the government is failing to understand that no two students are the same, and all talents need to be valued and nurtured.

There are still many students who will happily take academic A levels, go on to study for a degree at a Russell Group university and pursue a conventional career path.

But my experience of working in and teaching broadcast journalism has shown me that many people don’t fit that mould.

Students tend to discover their passion for creative arts from a young age, and their talents need to be nurtured in a different way.

Key to educating these students is to ignite their sense of creativity early, and maintain it through repeated exposure to subjects that inspire them.

These students are motivated by practical, hands-on engagement rather than a purely theoretical approach to learning.

Depriving these students of the opportunity to study creative arts will leave them feeling unfulfilled, frustrated and stifled.

They will leave school and university academically able, but lacking the skills to make them employable within the creative industries.

Referring to creative arts subjects as “soft” also devalues their rigour and contribution to society.

Creative arts students are no less able than those taking traditional subjects, and far from being “soft”, the creative industries are worth £76.9 billion per year to the UK economy.

To achieve their impressive projected growth rate over the next five years, the creative industries need a steady stream of talent with the right skills.

A solid creative arts education develops a student’s commercial acumen, and other transferable skills including confidence, presentation skills, a can-do attitude and a true professionalism with hunger and passion to engage and learn more.

These skills equip students for career paths beyond the obvious creative roles.

Take film schools as an example – they aren’t just cultural havens for producing the best in filmmaking talent. Our alumni include YouTubers who use their skills to grow their subscribers, content producers for high-profile brands and young commercial entrepreneurs successfully building their own creative companies.

We should champion creative arts subjects at all levels, as without them the UK’s creative industries will miss out on the talent they need to maintain their global-leader status.

If our young creative talent cannot follow their dream, our world will be a far duller place to live in.


Sarah Rowlands is director of undergraduate programmes at Met Film School.

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