Removal of design from school curriculum is "insanity" - Neville Brody
Neville Brody

Removal of design from school curriculum is "insanity" - Neville Brody

News: plans to remove creative subjects from the UK curriculum are “short-sighted insanity”, according to incoming D&AD president Neville Brody (+ interview).

Speaking to Dezeen, Brody described government plans to overhaul the curriculum as “one of the biggest mistakes in British government” and added: “The UK government is trying to demolish and smash all ideas about creative education.”

In September, education secretary Michael Gove announced plans to replace GCSE examinations for students up to the age of 16 with a new English baccalaureate (EBacc) system. Creative subjects such as art and design will not count towards the EBacc qualifications, which instead are graded on performance in academic “stem” subjects. These stem subjects are English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language.

“They haven’t included any creative subjects as part of the Ebacc, which is an absolutely short-sighted insanity,” Brody said.

Brody fears the changes will discourage students from studying arts subjects, leading to the closure of some UK art schools and a decline of the creative industries.

“The creative industries need high-quality creative graduates. If we’re not getting the graduates, we’re not going to sustain the industry,” said Brody. “Creative services as a percentage of GDP is higher here than any other country, so why would you not want to support, promote and build that?”

Brody, who runs London graphic design agency Research Studios as well as being dean of the Royal College of Art’s school of communication, becomes president of visual and advertising design body D&AD on 1 December.

Brody said he disagreed with comments made by broadcaster Andrew Marr last week, who claimed the Royal College of Art would become a “Chinese finishing school” if changes to the curriculum went ahead.

“It’s not about people being tailored for industry,” he said. “What the Royal College does is develop skilled dangerous minds, otherwise there’s no point in doing it “

However Brody described the government’s attitude to overseas arts students who come to the UK to study as “blindness”.

“A lot of [foreign] students, especially at the Royal College, want to stay on here and want to contribute,” he said. “If you’re categorising non-UK students as immigrants, which this government has done, you’re ignoring the fact that they’re bringing several billion pounds into the country, not only fees but money spent on living accommodation, expenses, etcetera, and now we’re saying at the end of all of that, ‘thank you for your money, now leave.’ An alien visiting would find that hysterically funny. It’s just absurd.”

As part of his one-year D&AD presidency, Brody will launch a new initiative called the D&AD Foundation, which will lobby on behalf of design education, and raise funds for design students and courses.

Brody said: “The proportion of our influence creatively compared to the size of the country is massive, so the D&AD foundation that we’re launching in January, will hopefully start to attract and redirect funds from the creative industry, and from the corporate world that needs the creative industry, and funnel that back into the grassroots of developing opportunity including education.”

The D&AD, which this year celebrated its 50th anniversary, needs to become more vociferous in support of design, Brody added: “D&AD needs to have a more active voice. Historically it’s not really lobbied, it’s not taken on issues, and really kind of left those areas to other people but this is a turning point now.”

Neville Brody made his name as art director for The Face and Arena magazines in the 1980s. He is the current dean of the Royal College of Art’s school of communication and has just designed a new typeface for the college. His own design firm, Research Studios, has offices in London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Tokyo. Dezeen previously filmed an interview with Brody for the Design Museum’s Super Contemporary exhibition, in which he talks about the people, places and cultures that have defined his life in London. See all our stories about Neville Brody.

See below for an edited transcript of the interview between Dezeen editor Rose Etherington and Brody:


Rose Etherington: What do you hope to achieve in your D&AD presidency?

Neville Brody: Well my interest isn’t really to do with the ceremonial aspect of being the president of D&AD. It’s an interesting junction because this is the beginning of the next 50 years in a way. I think D&AD is recognised as one of the most important awards to win, so how can we leverage that focus on excellence and use it as a way of developing excellence for the future?

We’re now in a space where the UK government is trying to demolish and smash all ideas about creative education. So we have to ask serious questions: what responsibility does D&AD have within that? And also, the creative industries here need high quality creative graduates. If we're not getting the graduates we’re not going to sustain the industry.

They’re trying to smash creative education, and it makes no sense. As you know, they haven’t included any creative subjects as part of the Ebacc, which is an absolutely short-sighted insanity. The government’s complete lack of vision and its complete focus on stem subjects beggars belief and I think they’re making one of the biggest mistakes in British government.

We’re not going to regenerate and reinvent our manufacturing industry that’s for sure. So if you look at the skills we need not only in computing engineering but in programming software development, in games design, advertising as part of the creative service industry, design, and we’re recognised as one of the best quality in the world in the UK. Creative services as a percentage of GDP is higher here than any other country, so why would you not want to support, promote and build that? It’s not just about the music industry, and obviously our struggling film industry, it’s about developing these great minds.

Rose Etherington: If the government goes ahead with this, what would the creative industries look like in Britain in 20 years time?

Neville Brody: Well in 20 years time, will we still have this level of global commissioning of UK creative services? I would say probably not, especially with China opening hundreds of art schools at the moment, focussing not only on the manufacturing but also on the innovative and creative side, and at the other end marketing and distribution.

So where does that leave the UK? The proportion of our influence creatively compared to the size of the country is massive, so the D&AD Foundation that we’re launching in January, will hopefully start to attract and redirect funds from the creative industry, and from the corporate world that needs the creative industry, and funnel that back into the grassroots of developing opportunity including education.

Rose Etherington: Tell me a bit about how the D&AD foundation would work.

Neville Brody: It’s going to be the place where all of the education activities at D&AD will sit. So it has two kinds of remits, or three in a way. One is that it will be a focusing and an emphasising of all of the educational activities. D&AD does a massive amount [but] it has not surfaced, so people aren’t usually aware of the scope of it.

Secondly, it would help separate educational activities from industry activities, which would be the awards, the book, the membership, talks, stuff like that. Of course there’s the money making side in order to raise endowments and donations directly into the foundation, so it can be used directly to support students in universities.

The third area for me is that D&AD needs to have a more active voice. Historically it’s not really lobbied, it’s not taken on issues, and really kind of left those areas to other people but this is a turning point now. This year will be much more vocal, and I think Laura Jordan-Bambach who is coming [as president] next year would also be vocal in different areas. And I think D&AD has to have a voice, and it does ultimately represent visual designers and advertising in this country. So hopefully expect to hear more from us.

Rose Etherington: You mentioned all of the design schools that are being set up in China. Earlier this week Andrew Marr wrote a piece saying that the RCA could become a Chinese finishing school. How do you feel about that?

Neville Brody: Well, number one, I always call the Royal College an “unfinishing" school. There’s a particular quality and there’s a particular what I call an RCA-ness, which you can’t identify. It’s not about people being tailored for industry. What the Royal College does is develop skilled dangerous minds, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. It develops the minds and individuals that will go out and change the industry. So it’s kind of leadership through innovative thinking really that they’re looking for. This country is not going to be looking at developing finishing schools for Chinese students.

The blindness is the UK government making sure that when people graduate with their BA or MA that they don’t leave the country, so it has the opportunity to capitalise on the skills sets it’s training. A lot of students, especially at the Royal College, want to stay on here and want to contribute, but the government is saying ‘well we’re going to invest in educating for non-UK students, but we have no interest in using that education to help our industries. It’s almost to the point of deportation. It’s just insanity.

And economically, it makes no sense. If you’re categorising non-UK students as immigrants, which this government has done, you’re ignoring the fact that they’re bringing several billion pounds into the country, not only fees but money spent on living accommodation, expenses, etcetera, and now we’re saying at the end of all of that, ‘thank you for your money, now leave.’ An alien visiting would find that hysterically funny. It’s just absurd.

Rose Etherington: So does D&AD plan to tackle this problem of students being classed as immigrants as well?

Neville Brody: It’s certainly on the table for discussion. It’s certainly a part of a much bigger picture. It’s not part of our directly remit, of course, because what’s going to happen in the next few months is that we're looking at all aspects of how to maintain quality and opportunity in the creative industries in the UK, and I wouldn’t have thought immigration was an area for D&AD to touch. But survival of creative education in the UK is an area we have to touch, so we have to help think about how best to ensure that going forward. Of course, the best thing to ensure this is if the government supports it properly.

Rose Etherington: So what specific things would you like to see the government do in order to support it?

Neville Brody: Money. Some art schools will definitely go out of business in the next five years in this country. It’s unsustainable, with the extra pressures that government’s putting onto art schools; putting pressure on schools to get rid of art in its curriculum. Because it’s saying that it’s going to give money to schools and academies based on the success in the stem subjects. It doesn’t consider creative subjects, so what happens then is that schools will not invest in art or performance or any of those areas because it won’t go to their bottom line. And so schools might end up focusing many of their hours on teaching maths and sciences and English, and may not even offer art in future.

A lot of schools had to close playing fields and sell off land in order to try and raise money, and so sport collapses, and it’s just insanity. It will lead to further collapse and will lead in the end to such a massive need for reinvestment.

Otherwise other countries will be buying up these facilities, and extracting all the profits, and then not paying tax back into this country. I’m all for internationalism but I’m also all for healthy creative industry of this country.