Maida Vale School Head Magnus Bashaarat on a long-overdue realisation that creative subjects help to fuel the UK economy and provide rewarding careers

Last June, the Conservative government published a much-anticipated and much-delayed sector strategy for the creative industries. In his foreword to the report Rishi Sunak wrote: “These industries generate £108 billion a year, employ over 2.3 million people in every corner of the country. And there is a real sense of energy in the sector, which has grown at more than 1.5 times the rate of the wider economy over the past decade”. An eclectic list followed of Great British Creative Products: Ed Sheeran, Football Manager (the console game, rather than the archetype), the National Theatre and Adele amongst others. This told us something about the PM’s music and gaming habits but was also a welcome indication of the pride the UK should feel in its creative industries.

“Schools have an opportunity to re-energise, restore and reconstitute the creative curriculum”

In the education world, STEM subjects have been the zeitgeist since the then education secretary Michael Gove spoke to the Royal Society in 2011. In that speech he said: “Asia has a massive trade surplus, holds the fate of the dollar in its hands, enjoys surging growth and is developing schools, technical colleges and universities which are dramatically outpacing our own”. TikTok, AliBaba and Shein were coming to get us. So, schools piled into resourcing STEM subjects which led to STEM degrees at university which were ‘sought-after’ by employers.

But this focus on a narrow range of more practical, specialised, and vocational subjects began the gradual denudation of the creative landscape in school music, art and drama. The Education Policy Institute’s analysis of 2023 GCSE results shows fewer grades awarded for creative arts subjects than STEM subjects. Against the background of the government’s ‘sector vision’, and the realisation that UK Plc needs songwriters, sound technicians, dancers, game designers, graphic designers and costumiers, as much as it needs aeronautical engineers, biochemists and pharmacologists, schools have an opportunity to re-energise, restore and reconstitute the creative curriculum.

Maida Vale School on the importance of a creative curriculum
Maida Vale School art rooms – Magnus Bashaarat says the government’s recent strategy paper for the creative industries is a reminder of their role within the UK economy

Maida Vale School is only a ten-minute walk from the former BBC Maida Vale Studios where a panoply of rock royalty – David Bowie, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Dusty Springfield amongst others – recorded sessions. In September 2024 we will be launching a course in Games Development and Coding, alongside Music Technology and our current A-level Music course. Our aim will be to have a game designed and coded by a Sixth Form student, with music written by another Sixth Form student, rehearsed, performed and recorded in Maida Vale Studios (#Radio3 Sound of Gaming) by an ensemble of Sixth Form students, and with our Deputy Head Mr Toby Fisher on bass guitar.

Maida Vale School opened its doors to its first Sixth Form cohort this year, and as we grow the numbers of students at the school, we plan to ensure the range of subjects and pathways on offer in the curriculum will become the broadest among London independent schools. If you want to research Brecht and Stanislavski, then A-level Drama will be for you. Many students will still choose traditional subjects, and certainly STEM and the humanities, are popular at MVS.  But for those who want to practise musical theatre, then Performing Arts and Productions Arts is the pathway. And then a career in the creative industries – songwriting for Ed Sheeran, onstage at the National or mixing film soundtracks – awaits.

Maida Vale School

Further reading: Debating strengths – why schools encourage reasoned argument