Background: creative skills and careers


Background research

This is a summary of our research conducted when devising Cultivate, by consulting with teachers, university staff and careers professionals in Wandsworth and Lambeth. We also drew on research by A New Direction, the Cultural Learning Alliance and Creative and Cultural Skills.

Changing policies on careers

  • Unemployment in London is 2.5 times higher for 16-24 year olds than it is for 25-64 year olds. A fifth of 16-24 year olds are on unemployment benefit.
  • Since 2013, the ‘leaving age’ has been raised, so that 16-18 year olds must be in either education, employment or training.
  • Careers education was removed from the National Curriculum in 2014.
  • In 2013, careers services such as Connexions were closed and the responsibility to deliver independent careers guidance was passed to schools (and this now includes Primary schools). An Ofsted review of careers guidance said that schools were not doing well enough, so revised statutory guidance was published.
  • As part of his Life Chances Strategy for 2016 and beyond, David Cameron announced £70 million for careers education, most of which will be directed to the Careers and Enterprise Company to deliver a national mentoring scheme for 25,000 GCSE students.


  • An area of political significance is in STEM. A key initiative is the STEM Network
  • Challenges include keeping up with a fast-changing area of work, meeting industry needs for trained staff, and attracting girls to STEM careers. Only 15% students aspire to be scientists and most were unaware of career routes.
  • To add to the STEM campaign, the arts/creative sector is pushing to add Arts to STEM, making STEAM. The Cultural Learning Alliance has been supporting this, and held a STEAMHack at the Science Museum in Autumn 2015

Creative economy and tourism

  • Another area of focus by Government is developing skills in Creative & Cultural Industries, including architecture, design and creative media. There is increasing recognition of its importance to the economy. 1.7 million people are employed in this sector, and it is worth £71.4 billion to the UK economy. 41% of young people want to pursue careers in Art & Design. However, this is seen by most in the creative sector to be undermined by exam reforms, and the fact that careers guidance focuses on academic routes.
  • The Tourism industry is seen to be a significant area for growth. It is estimated to be worth £127 billion to the UK economy and to grow to £257 billion by 2025. The growth will centre on London and be significantly driven by heritage. Growth markets will come from China, India and other developing economies. This will involve careers in hospitality, conservation, landscape/parks, interpretation, marketing, transport and visitor services.


  • A changing environmental context places greater stress on natural heritage and environmental infrastructure. There will be more scope for careers in managing plant diseases, water supply, air pollution, flood risk and carbon emissions. Nine Elms will be an increasingly busy urban environment with much new development, where its riverfront, air quality, parks, gardens and remaining built heritage will need stewardship.
  • Study and future careers in design and architecture will be increasingly driven by ecological awareness and theories such as biomimicry and the Circular Economy. RCA is a leader in this area, championed by SustainRCA

Educational reforms

These changes to education at 14-19 years are affecting choices young people make and teachers tell us that they are limiting routes on to Key Stage 5 and beyond:

  • EBacc has caused dramatic rise in numbers of students taking traditional subjects at GCSE, including languages. More maths & sciences being taken at A levels. Government now proposes to extend the EBacc to at least 7 academic GCSEs, making it compulsory for 90% students.
  • The subject review of GCSEs has dropped some more vocational subjects (such as Environmental Science) and reformed others (such as Film Studies) to reduce numbers of courses offered and create more rigour.
  • A subject-by-subject review of A levels has sought to introduce more rigour, advancing literacy, numeracy and critical thinking skills. It has involved removing many practical experiences such as practicals in Science.
  • From 2015, AS level was decoupled from A level. AS level marks will not count towards the 2nd year exam, and won’t be considered so much in University applications. This reduces non-academic options for less academic students and broader students.
  • Tougher marking of GCSEs & A levels will attempt to peg English results to international standards. Only half of those who would have gained A* grades will get the top new grade of 9.
  • Pearson is the new examining body for BTECs, and has been reviewing their value. Government halved their value in league tables. BTEC curriculums have been changed to involve less student-led and vocational experience.
  • A new range of vocational qualifications has been introduced: Tech Levels (142 subjects) and Applied General Qualifications (AGQs, more business than tech subjects). These will be the only vocational qualifications that will count in the vocational league tables from 2016. They can be taken alongside GCSEs – up to three subjects. See more

What is known about emerging needs and skills

Research by Dr Ross Quaglia, 2016, shows that students are 18 times more likely to be motivated to learn if their teachers know their hopes and dreams.

From the UK CESS 2015: Since 2011, the number of jobs left vacant because of inadequate skills has risen by 130%. Although basic numeracy, IT and comms are important, the most common lacking skills are in technical specialisms with latest technologies or practices (64% applicants lack), and in complex problem-solving (39%). But the highest lacking skills of all are interpersonal skills e.g. managing personal emotions and team-working.

The WEF Future of Jobs report, 2015 says that “By 2020, 35% of core skills needed will change globally”.

The International Data Corp 2015 says “More than 90% of employers say your attitude is more important than your CV”.

Teachers and university staff identify that students entering 16+ need to rapidly develop study skills, and that this can be accelerated through cultural and creative learning. These skills include:

  • having a strong motivation to learn;
  • taking initiative and planning your own learning;
  • being able to think critically and argue well;
  • being able to access and judge information from a range of sources;
  • good interviewing and social research skills;
  • using creative and digital media to record and communicate your research;
  • presenting your argument well and considering different audiences.

These are vital skills for the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) personal study, which more universities require from their applicants.