2016: The Year Of Mis-Education

“When things are difficult Art always flourishes” – FKA Twigs

Over the past 27 years – my whole life span in itself – I think we’ve been fed this notion that we’ve been living through a period of progress unobstructed. What’s overlooked too frequently is the fact that both red and blue strands of the UK government have played their part in systematically making things harder for people of my age group and younger.

First it was the Conservative Government’s introduction of the ‘Further and Higher Education Act’ in 1992 then the Blairite Labour government got involved with it’s push towards a policy of ‘inclusiveness’. We entered a period where ‘giving everyone a chance’ ironically resulted in fewer chances. A 2:1 became a commonplace achievement and ultimately devalued degree attainment. The pressure of student loans and higher debt burdens were compounded by the elimination of social structures like squatters rights, Education maintenance allowance and housing benefits for young people – eroding public finances and killing us softly.

When I look around at the end of 2016, many commentators are glossing over what were clearly a series of warning signs set out in slow and steady stages. Painting this year’s political results in the UK and the US as a huge surprise, the liberal left are in a state of collective amnesia overshadowing their long oversight about real racial issues and inequality. Why? Because the idea of looking at things from a chronological vantage point has provided alternate and opposing narratives that either – only bad things happened in the past or that it was better back then and to be great again we need to return to the good old days. If anything our Digital Age has shown that the past can be accessed, referred to and appropriated at any time by any means. If only perception remains linear or chronological, who’s issue is it that reality is now moving back to the future?

The idea that ethnic or minority populations believe they’ve been sailing through the ‘good times’ only to be rudely awoken this year, is a false narrative. The idea that hate speech had been banished until the referendum result was announced or the US election result became known is a myth. Barack Obama’s legacy will be unpacked over the coming months, years, even decades, while we wonder back at how a black man in 2004 spoke at his first keynote DNC speech and rose to become the president talking of hope and change. A speech marked by a statement “that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn … that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”

Inevitably the end of year arguments will paper over the greater issues, 2016 is marked as a year of mis-education, when facts didn’t matter and history lessons could be written by anyone.

Where education is failing alongside great technological progress, and social progress is being halted while many people across the country continue to flourish despite rising poverty, it’s the grassroots movements that are taking a more direct and effective approach to the issues in their own communities. In 2016, a new re-education has started the real work of building a new thriving creative community otherwise locked out by the privilege of the few.

Skepta’s Mercury Prize win has undoubtedly represented much more than just a moment of success for an independent musician, his success has also given him the means and the opportunity to re-invest back into his community. But why are projects like this even necessary in 2016? In the 5 year period between 2010 to 2015, funding for the Arts Council England has been cut by 32% while local government funding has also being cut by 40%. With cutbacks across many arts funding bodies, the realisation we’ve lost nearly half of our local government funding, has also shifted the burden on musicians to build social and creative industry eco-systems.

Alongside individual projects developed in collaboration with artists like Skepta x Levis and FKA Twigs x WeTransfer, the traditional education system itself is in a state of flux.

As a longstanding exception, the Brit School’s creative approached to learning has initiated a new movement in education. Often viewed as the UK’s flagship Fame school almost to the point of being a cliche – the Brit School may have appeared from the outside as the first step you take before an audition for X Factor (as Leona Lewis eventually did). When I was at Croydon College, the Brit School was often dismissed too easily as the place you went because you fancied doing Drama for a few more years. But a look at the new landscape in 2016 reveals how much more vital the Brit School has become in providing state educated students a foothold into the creative industries through an interdisciplinary education. Funded with support from the British Record Industry, The Brit School also offers students the chance to study subjects like Visual Arts & Design, Interactive Media, Creative Design Technology and Community Arts Practice. A continuing raft of successes in the music industry and film industry, including Katy B, Amy Winehouse and Adele has also meant applications have never been higher, and entry harder still.

Last year, the findings of the Warwick Commission report were made public. Making an assessment into the current state of the Creative industries, the report drew some humbling conclusions about the way things stand. Although valued at £76.9 billion to the UK economy subjects like film, video games, dance, art, music and fashion are being systematically removed from mainstream state education. The perception that if you go to Oxford to study the classic arts, you’re seen as an intellectual but if you attend any other ordinary college to study jewellery design you’re suddenly a lazy undergrad has created a hierarchy of arts learning. The discouragement of a pursuit in creative subjects across government initiatives however has also meant that those students whose parents are better equipped financially to supports their arts endeavours, are able to build careers through unpaid internships into jobs in the creative industry instead.

The Guardian found: ‘some of the most striking statistics are around education. Between 2003 and 2013 there was a 50% drop in the GCSE numbers for design and technology, 23% for drama and 25% for other craft-related subjects. The number of arts teachers in schools has fallen by 11% since 2010. The report highlights a downward trend in participation in most cultural activities. For example, the number of 5 to 10-year-olds who engaged in dance activities was down from 43% in 2008-09 to 30% in 2013-14.’

Participation in all arts areas is down and the subjects themselves are being starved of funding and teaching staff continue to leave in droves. Ideological policies driven by ‘austerity’ have only helped to cement the inequality we all see, the Equality Trust found: “in 2010, while the top 10% received 31% of all income, the bottom 10% received just 1%. In terms of wealth, in 2010 (the latest year for which data is available), 45% of all wealth in the UK was held by the richest 10%. The poorest 10% held only 1%.”

By the end of the London riots in 2011 the scene was changed, as the embers burned out and the anger simmered down slowly, people conspired to change things. They planned ways to be heard because the Daily Mail insisted the riots had simply been an excuse for blacks and chavs to steal trainers and trash their own neighbourhoods. Socio-economic arguments weren’t entertained by the liberal left, but people inside and out of London set about restoring their communities while the government went on a sentencing free for all. But the evidence on show in 2016 is proof that after the riots, people actually got to work.

Reams of certified entrepreneurs are now being heard as they tell their own stories about creating their own businesses, while the government remains focused on immigrants. Things may have seemed quiet on the surface but a look at the variety on offer, creatively, in London in 2016 shows these things couldn’t have happened over night. Online broadcasters, publications, musicians, producers, videographers, directors and scriptwriters have seemingly all come to light this year. But we all know it takes more than one year to become an overnight success.

Underneath the tone deaf mainstream, a multitude of pots have been cooking all across the underground. And the government is still on cutbacks.

Krept and Konan started the year appearing at Croydon Council’s cabinet meeting in January to launch a new scheme designed to help young people forge careers in the creative industries. Their Positive Direction Foundation is aimed at enlisting industry experts to conduct secondary school workshops centered on topics including songwriting, sound engineering, graphic design and programming for young people aged 11-18. I’ve lost and gained so much over the years, but now in my position, I want to breathe life back into the community. I chose to give something back to Croydon because it made me who I am today” – Konan is quoted as saying. Schools involved will have up to 30 places each on the PD Foundation scheme, more than 100 students in total will be working with industry figures and the programme has been reported to have received £10,000 in funding from the council.

Will Kennard – one half of Chase and Status – also got involved in opening a free school, called ELAM, in 2014 as a way of supporting young people whose options are rapidly disappearing. “I am concerned that many of our talented young people are falling through the gaps. I am concerned that our current schooling system isn’t doing enough to ensure this talent is properly nurtured. I am concerned that unless you come from a particular demographic (predominantly middle class), your opportunities and access to the professional world are greatly diminished through no fault of your own.” he told the Big Issue in 2014, “the industry itself holds the key to unlocking these opportunities. That is why I am working with a range of organisations from the creative sectors to set up East London Arts and Music – The Industry Academy.

East London Arts and Music sixth form was created specifically for students 16-19 who wish to pursue a career in music or digital media. “A trainee of ELAM will cover all aspects of music: performance, technology and business. The Level Three BTEC we offer sits inside a broader programme that delivers qualifications in maths, English and enterprise alongside work placements, mentoring and classical musical grading,” said Kennard.

FKA Twigs recent Baltimore Dance Project, has even taken UK musicians community initiatives beyond the UK borders, and these bridges are being laid out to help anyone whose talent may lie in creative industry. The roots of communities are being restored with each project, they are places where people can come together, away from the seductive lure or perceived glamour of ‘street life’. The impact of music education on young people is huge and research shows it can help with empathy and concentration as well as being the obvious creative outlet. We see time and time again the way in which music making and songwriting is an escape for many young people across the country, as BG Media has shown whether your estate is in London or in a regional town, starved of investment getting your music heard online is a proven way out of a shit situation, not just for performers but the video directors, editors, producers, DJ’s and photographers around them too.  

Electronic Music School, Point Blank decided this year they would also raise the bar educationally and are offering, for the first time a certified BA(Hons) Music Production and Sound Engineering course. Rob Cowan CEO of Point Blank told DJ MagDelivering a full degree puts us academically on a level playing field with all Universities and means that students can gain the same value qualification with us as they would do from Oxford or Cambridge. Now the biggest difference between us and most Universities is the fact that we have equipment and resources that Universities can only dream of. Our big driver is providing the best student experience and now that we deliver a BA (Hons), it means that students can achieve a full degree whilst using the best resources, in small groups, and with more contact hours than any university.”

Community, means something more for people who have grown up on estates and in low income boroughs. Locked out of the traditional education system that serves the privileged few, 2016 has shown a counteraction within communities can draw out more and more creative producers. Less funding does not logically equal less talent. The talent is finding a way to invest in itself and 2016 has shown that when we invest in ourselves, the whole team begins to win.