Lack of focus on creative industries is threat to UK plc, says boss of Elmwood

A lack of emphasis on creative industries at an early age in schools, from Ofsted, is an 'emerging threat' to UK plc, according to the boss of a leading design agency.

26 April 2016 .......       Jonathan Sands, chairman of design agency Elmwood on Water Lane, Leeds. Picture Tony Johnson
26 April 2016 ....... Jonathan Sands, chairman of design agency Elmwood on Water Lane, Leeds. Picture Tony Johnson

Jonathan Sands, chairman of Leeds-based Elmwood, believes that a lack of emphasis on creative output in Ofsted inspections could hinder businesses.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Sands said: “There is an emerging threat to UK plc because the real challenge in education is the way Ofsted ranks schools and education. The creative industries is not one of the key ranking criteria.

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“Schools tend to focus on what gets measured. If the creative industries are not really measured as part of their Ofsted rankings then they won’t focus their energies on it.

“When all public sector industries are strapped for cash, schools being one of them, why would they invest in things like musical instruments for example, which cost a lot of money and are part of creative subjects, if they’re not going to get measured by the success of their musical output.

“Are they going to invest in the latest design kit in terms of Macs, software and virtual reality kit if ultimately they are not going to get measured on the success of the output of their creative product?

“I actually really worry about education generally in the creative industries in the UK because it doesn’t really get measured or people don’t show real appetite for it until secondary educa- tion.”

An Ofsted spokeswoman said that the Chief Inspector has made it “very clear” that schools should be offering a wide range of opportunities and that a variety of courses helps pupils and prepares them for life after school.

“Where inspectors identify that a school is not conforming to statutory requirements in relation to the curriculum being offered, this will be reflected in the inspection findings and the relevant judgements,” she added.

“Our ongoing curriculum review is looking not only at whether schools offer a broad and balanced curriculum, but also at how future inspection can better reflect the quality of the curriculum on offer.”

Mr Sands was a speaker at the Visual Media Conference in Leeds hosted by sector organisation CDi (Creative Digital Industries) on March 27.

He delivered a talk on Biomotive Triggers, which looks at how brands can effectively decode creativity.

“I wanted to basically prove that design and creativity isn’t a subjective practice,” Mr Sands said. “There is a quantifiable effect.”

One of the talking points for the industry has been the potential impacts of Brexit. Mr Sands called on businesses to become more innovative.

He said: “I believe especially in a post-Brexit world we need to be innovative and more creative than ever so we need to be able to give businesses processes and tools to improve their creative output.”

Mr Sands added that all businesses were second guessing what Brexit may or may not mean for them.

“It’s certainly something that as a business we are looking at because around 80 per cent of our revenue is outside the UK,” he said.

Elmwood’s top four or five clients serviced out of its Leeds office, where the firm employs around 50 staff, are based in mainland Europe.

Mr Sands said: “We are actively looking right now in Holland and Denmark where two of our biggest clients are to see whether or not we should open our doors in mainland Europe

“If we do that then our focus on growth could be in mainland Europe rather than Yorkshire and that would be a real disappointment because home is where the heart is and Leeds has been good to us for 40 years.

“I’ve been working at Elmwood for 35 years man and boy.

“I hope very much that the Leeds studio will remain the heartbeat of our business globally.”