I’ve spent a fascinating day at the Manchester School of Art for the launch of the Crafts Council’s new research report Studying Craft: trends in craft education and training. The report highlights some key areas of concern for those involved in the teaching and provision of craft, including the participation rates across all levels of the government-funded education spectrum- from Key Stage 4 to Community Learning. What the report doesn’t cover- for reasons including the difficulty in getting the data and the vast size of the potential data set- is craft taught or learnt socially, online or by private providers. However as I have an interest in both types of provision- the former in my professional capacity and the latter as a maker- the report makes vital reading. The seminar was hosted by the Crafts Council and CHEAD and hosted by MMU.
The most worrying findings from the report relate to the provision of craft at secondary level and beyond. Around 85% of those participating in craft courses are at either Key Stage 4 level or those participating in Community Learning (typically women aged over 50). So from learning through play and creativity at pre-school and primary, the provision of and participation in craft courses then peaks at GCSE level before declining through Key Stage 5, FE, and HE. The effects of this have yet to be felt but as so many people take up hobby crafts later in life because they have experienced some form of craft as a child- if this is no longer happening it does raise some questions about craft take-up in the future.
There was a lot of discussion about the value and benefits of craft education and the narrative surrounding craft- especially to promote it as a viable and valuable study option to both young people and their parents. The benefits of craft for both the wider economy and individuals were also touched on, including the importance of haptic skills development, learning through making, understanding materials and design, and maintaining a link with heritage and history whilst also embracing new innovations and digital formats. Some interesting examples and case studies were used including two guest speakers from the new Crafts Council in the Netherlands who shared the history of craft there and the issues now facing their craft industry- there is for example no craft provision in their schools at all and the government only funds 10 Euros per student per year or cultural activities which usually takes the form of a trip to a museum! So whilst things may not always seem great in the UK, there are many positives to focus on, and there were many examples shared of effective initiatives and projects which provide a real ray of hope for the future of craft.
(Oh, and I also enjoyed seeing these concrete lace-inspired panels in the seminar room- not my picture as I didn’t have my camera with me.)