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Encouraging diversity in the creative industries starts at school

Encouraging diversity in the creative industries starts at school
4 min read

We must put arts education at the heart of the modern curriculum to give children from all backgrounds the confidence and qualifications to progress into a creative career

My career, apart from a short spell in banking, has been in the creative sector – first in the theatre, then as an actress, presenter, writer and producer. From day one, I became acutely aware of the need for diversity and social inclusion in the creative sector.

While presenting Play School, I insisted that the illustrations for the on-screen stories included diverse images. Cynthia Felgate, the legendary producer of BBC Children’s programmes, responded immediately and BBC Children’s became the most diverse department at the BBC.

That was 44 years ago and I was one of only a handful of black faces on television. There were only three channels then, now there are hundreds. I believe the film and television industry is finally starting to embrace diversity and equality, but there is still a long way to go.

Yes, other genres of the creative arts are becoming more diverse and inclusive, and are no longer the bastion of the privileged. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of music. Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his siblings have become global superstars in a genre of classical music once almost entirely dominated by white, middle-class musicians. As a result, more children from diverse backgrounds are taking an interest in classical music and related subjects like opera, ballet and contemporary dance.

I am the chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee and we will be commissioning a sculpture to be located on the main concourse of Waterloo station. It will depict the epic journey of the 150,000 Caribbeans who passed through the station and dispersed across Britain. I very much hope we can find a young BAME sculptor to create this significant monument.

“Creativity among young people is alive and well. What they need is support and a solid educational foundation”

Make no mistake, creativity among young people is alive and well. What they need is support and a solid educational foundation which gives them the confidence and qualifications to progress into a creative career. This means it is vital for creativity to be combined with core skills such as maths, English, science and computing.

We must ensure that creative learning and arts education are at the heart of a modern curriculum. So schools should be encouraged to make creativity a priority and develop exciting ways to incorporate creative subjects and thinking in their curriculum.

As the 21st century unfolds, employers will be increasingly desperate for graduates with creative skills that meet the needs of the digital age.

Yet in some schools, creativity is undervalued. I find it worrying and depressing that the Government is aiming for 90% of GCSE pupils to choose the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) subject combination by 2025, as it does not prioritise arts or creative subjects.

I believe many young people are being deprived of opportunities for creative development. Studying arts subjects can help to improve confidence and self-esteem. Research shows that children who participate in art education programmes develop higher learning skills and improve their academic performance.

Nowadays, some school-leavers are looking for alternative pathways other than university if they are going into the creative world. The Global Academy in London is a good example of a school established to teach specific skills in radio and sound recording, and many students go on to successful careers in those fields.

I am very optimistic about the future of creativity – it is becoming more egalitarian. We must celebrate, support and encourage young people from all backgrounds to be creative and know their creativity is valued as part of the rich tapestry of society.

Without creative and artistic thinkers we will not survive. We need them to invent our way out of the terrible mess we have made of this beautiful planet.

Baroness Benjamin is a Liberal Democrat peer

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