UK is marginalising design education says John Sorrell
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Design education in the UK is being "marginalised" says John Sorrell

The UK's design industry is under threat due to the government's failure to invest in creative education, according to London Design Festival founder John Sorrell.

He criticised the government for using design as the UK's "calling card everywhere in the world" but failing to invest in the next generation of creative talents.

As a result, the UK could slip behind nations such as China, which is investing heavily in its creative industries.

"We have to get our act together," Sorrell said.

Sorrell said that a government-led push for students to take science and maths over creative subjects is resulting in many young people turning their back on design and the arts.

He called on designers to join the Creative Industries Federation, a body he founded to act as "the united voice for the sector".

"If we can get our act together and work together we can take advantage of the opportunities in international development that certainly China is going to be doing in the next 20 years," he said.

According to the government's own figures, the creative industries are now worth £76.9 billion per year to the UK, with the design sector enjoying the biggest growth.

Yet UK schools saw a 50 per cent decrease in students taking design and technology GCSE subjects in the 10 years leading up to 2013, and 25 per cent drop in other craft-related GCSEs between 2007 and 2013, according to Sorrell.

"Arts subjects are being marginalised as schools focus on EBacc and STEM subjects," said Sorrell, in a speech during a meeting of the Design Business Association last week.

"If we lose kids at 14 because they're choosing not to do a GCSE in design technology or art and design, what are we going to do about it? If we lose them at 14, we lose them forever."

"I want to do something about that," he continued. "But I think it's almost impossible to do that with so many voices in the creative community saying different things."

"We have to get our act together. It's not about competitors here and you guys competing with each other, but it's about competing with the world."

Sorrell also said that the government uses the country's creative industry to attract foreign investment, but fails to put the money back into the arts.

"It is the government's calling card everywhere in the world," said Sorrell. "Their calling card is not missile sales, it's not accountancy, it's not construction, it's this amazing work we're part of which makes Britain so loved by the rest of the world – our creativity. It makes us a very attractive place to do business and to invest in."

His comments echo those made by London design duo Barber and Osgerby, who said that the UK government "doesn't value the role of creativity" during an interview with Dezeen last month. The pair also decried the cuts to arts education funding – particularly the closure of many foundation courses across the country.

Sorrell, 70, cofounded design agency Newell & Sorrell with his wife Frances in 1976, later selling the business to Interbrand.

He founded the annual London Design Festival in 2003, and has chaired both the Design Council and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

"We're arguing for sustained investment from government in creative education and also in the stimulus and inspiration offered by the nation's museums and galleries," he said.

Leading figures have previously expressed concern that changes to immigration rules could threaten UK's status as a global design and architecture centre.

Earlier this year, British inventor James Dyson attacked fresh government plans to force foreign students to return home after completing their studies.