The education system has failed creatives – here’s how we fix it

In the UK, creative is the country’s biggest export, but it’s not taught in schools. Here, Ben Ducker of Journey Further imagines a more creative school curriculum.

Like many ‘creatives’, I struggled in the traditional aspects of school. I was going to be held back a year due to being behind in maths. I’d like to say English was better, but apparently those descriptive stories I would happily scribble down, getting lost in the detail with too many adjectives, were in fact pretty poor (I was later unofficially classed as dyslexic).

What I’m trying to say is that creative thinkers are often misunderstood, and it starts with school.

As arts education expert Sir Ken Robinson said in the most watched Ted talk of all time, “schools kill creativity”, arguing that “we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it”. He goes on to remind us that “creativity is as important as literacy and we should afford it the same status”.

I guess prime minister Rishi Sunak doesn’t tune in to Ted talks. In his first speech of 2023, he declared war on creative minds, pledging that all students in the UK will study maths until age 18. I was horrified, as during Covid homeschooling, I found my daughter, only in year four, was already doing maths that I don’t use or need in my life as an adult working in the creative industry. This whole agenda seemed to miss the point that our biggest export as a country is ‘creative’.


A brief history

To talk numbers, the creative industries contributed £109bn ($138bn) to the UK economy in 2021, and the industries employ millions of people annually. Advertising specifically landed an annual export of services reaching £15bn ($19bn) in 2021, up 32.5% year-on-year. Our industry is one of the UK’s strongest exports and a critical driver of economic growth.

Creativity is a vital component of economic growth, especially in a knowledge-based economy like the UK’s. The academic school system has long been criticized for failing to recognize and develop creative thinkers, and for prioritizing rote learning and standardized testing over creativity and innovation.

It was only at a recent parents evening that I sat and listened to how my daughter was struggling to keep up in the traditional subjects of maths and English. History repeating itself. I had to proactively ask about her abilities in other areas such as art, music, drama, and her ability to communicate her ideas. Then they had nothing but praise to give, but this clearly wasn’t a priority for the school and how they viewed my daughter’s ability to succeed.


An answer to the education gap

If we created an education system that encouraged creative strengths to be seen and valued on the same level as traditional subjects, it would give students better confidence and a sense of achievement.

The current approach to education leaves little room for exploration and experimentation. The emphasis is on getting the right answer, rather than exploring different possibilities and developing new ideas. Students who are focused on achieving top grades may be reluctant to take risks or explore new ideas for fear of making mistakes.

To address this, the academic school system needs to place a greater emphasis on developing creativity. This should be spoken about with the same importance in parents evenings, reports and school introductions as traditional subjects.

The curriculum should take greater inspiration from actual career skills needed in the creative industries such as the stages of idea development, how to spot inspiration, what is it and how to then translate it into something final. Even confidence to present, talk to camera, get familiar with video and storytelling formats (beyond written story) to allow children who see writing as a barrier to explore their ideas in physical and visual styles.


Creativity is everywhere

While many schools are realizing the importance of a more fluid and modern approach to learning, there’s still some way to go before it truly reflects the real world.

From the clothing you choose because of its style or branding, to the car you love, the entertainment and escapism of TV, social, music, even the food and drink you select because of the powerful branding and elegant packaging. Without creativity we have nothing, and it’s time we gave it the spotlight it deserves when educating and encouraging the next generation through schooling.