Tristram Hunt leads V&A campaign to champion art and design GCSEs

V&A "to step in and do something" about fall in UK students studying design and technology

V&A director Tristram Hunt has announced that the museum will spearhead a campaign to get more children taking design and technology subjects at GCSE level in the UK.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Show this morning, the former shadow education secretary said that the museum had to "step in and do something" about the falling number of students taking arts subjects.

He warned that the number of secondary school children doing GCSE's in creative subjects has fallen by 40 per cent in the last seven years.

Hunt, who was a Labour MP until he took up the role of director of the V&A at the start of the year, said the Conservative government was responsible for the decline in students studying creative subjects.

Tristram Hunt leads V&A campaign to champion art and design GCSEs
Tristram Hunt, an expert in 18th- and 19th-century history and former shadow education secretary, took over the director role at the V&A in January 2017

"It's definitely as a result of of the accountability measures that the government have introduced over the last seven years, which makes it less rewarding in terms of points for schools to emphasise the arts and humanities," he said. 

Hunt also blamed cuts to school budgets for forcing state-funded schools to drop subjects that require expensive educational equipment.

V&A to fund object loans and schools programme

He pledged that money from the £100,000 prize the Victoria & Albert Museum received when it was named Art Fund Museum of the Year in 2016 would be used to help combat the issue.

The London museum will use the cash to lend objects to museums around the country, send curators out to secondary schools and provide professional development for teachers visiting the V&A.

For the first year a pilot scheme will focus on partnering with local secondary schools and businesses in Blackburn and Coventry. If it is successful they plan to fundraise to roll it out across the country.

The director of the V&A said it was a "social justice issue", pointing out that less children study the subject in the north of the country than they do in the south.

"We also know that in the independent sector they [schools] are not stripping out these subjects, because they know that a rewarding and enriching education means drama and art and music and design and technology," he added. 

Creative course should be studied alongside STEM subjects

Hunt argued that art, design and technology should be studied alongside STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

While these subjects are traditionally viewed as a more secure path to employment and better paid jobs, Hunt said that the arts and humanities would be vital for future-proofing careers.

"Studying design and technology is a kind of immunisation process against robots taking your jobs," he said.

"Human creativity ultimately cannot be taken, we think, at the moment, by some robot," added Hunt. "So this is not just some fluffy subject that you can enjoy on the side, it's a hard subject."

A new report from the Education Policy Institute revealed that the number of students taking arts subjects has fallen to the lowest level in over a decade.

This year, 165,815 students took design and technology subjects – down 10.5 per cent from last year.

The fall is being attributed by many to the roll out of the controversial English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which sees students studying five compulsory subjects – English, maths, science, a modern foreign language, and either geography or history. This is driving schools to focus on the core academic subjects at the expense of creative courses.

Last year the Creative Industries Federation warned this fall in students taking arts subjects coupled with Brexit could lead to a "talent crisis" in the industry.

At the launch of the Independent Review of the Creative Industries last week concerns were raised that the industry was too London-focused and lacked diversity.

One reason for this was that the creative industries aren't as accessible to young people from more deprived areas of the country.

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said she was "absolutely aware" of the falling number of students taking arts courses.

"We do need to make sure people are getting the right skills," she told Dezeen at the launch of the review.

"I’m absolutely aware of it and we're working with the Department for Education to see how we can address it."

However Peter Bazalgette, the television executive commissioned by the government to write the review, said that he didn't feel young people needed to study the arts in order to pursue a career in them.

"You don't need to have a creative industries degree to work in the creative industries," he told Dezeen. "What you need is a desire to create things."

Instead he argued that young people are "exposed to creative processes all the time" thanks to mobile phones.