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The announcement last week (14 November) of the closure of Creative & Cultural Skills (CCSkills) was probably inevitable, writes Pauline Tambling, but it tells a deeper story.

Girl learning on a craft apprenticeship
Trying to grow careers initiatives and apprenticeships without building on past hard work wastes time and resources

Briony Campbell

That deeper story underlying the closure of CCSkills reveals the sector’s unwillingness to engage with mainstream government skills policy, preferring to do things its own way – however much it costs, and however much influence it loses. When Sally Bacon and I wrote The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the future, we charted 40 years of decline in arts education in schools. The equivalent story for post-16 education and training was bleaker. 

I don’t know the details of the CCSkills National Portfolio Organisation application, or Arts Council England’s (ACE) decision, but I suspect CCSkills had resorted to thinking of itself as a normal ACE-friendly programme of activities, rather than working with employers, while ACE had been itching for a while to defund its Sector Skills Council (SSC). 

Key interventions

This was different from when I joined the then Arts Council of England as Director of Education and Training in 1998. I inherited from Maggie Semple and her panel chair, Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, an excellent new policy - Leading through Learning - for what was then called the English Arts Funding System.

All ten Regional Arts Boards had training officers at the time, so there were eleven of us delivering to an agreed national plan, and an equivalent number covering education. One of our most important interventions was to work with the then Department for Education (DfE) to solve the problems of access to discretionary local authority funding to train in vocational dance and drama schools.  

The DfE matched £10m per year to equivalent lottery money and was happy for ACE to run the programme. Thanks to the sterling work of my colleague Edward Birch, we managed to put in place a workable positive solution so that organisations such as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art became part of Further/Higher Education, giving students the same entitlement to grants as those applying to universities. 

We also funded Metier, the predecessor of CCSkills – not to run a programme, but because we knew that with ACE-matched funding, it would be able to unlock a steady stream of skills training in the arts, and mostly to contribute to a National Vocational Qualifications Framework, which at that time was important for all qualifications development. 

Becoming a Sector Skills Council

Potential to create a proper skills council for the arts and culture arose in 2004. Lord Tony Hall immediately saw the value of creating an organisation like CCSkills, together with Tom Bewick, the first CEO, who had been a special adviser to government and had devised the Sector Skills Council programme. 

CCSkills was to be recognised alongside over 20 major sectors, together representing 90% of the economy, and earn around £1m in contracts per year from the DfE to research labour market intelligence, develop standards and apprenticeships, and develop industry-specific solutions. For CCSkills, this meant the Creative Choices careers website, highly regarded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, as well as the Backstage Centre in Thurrock, funded entirely through regeneration and skills money. 

For many of the other big sectors, becoming an SSC was an extension of their previous roles as Industry Training Bodies but for CCSkills it was the first time we were able to collect labour market intelligence, set standards for apprenticeships and develop industry-specific solutions for growth. The premise on which these organisations were based was that employers would fund additional work for the long-term. Indeed some, like construction skills, had a mandatory levy. In 2010 funding for SSCs was a casualty of the first round of austerity cuts.

Shifting the dial on sector engagement with training

CCSkills always struggled with the need to raise actual or in-kind funding from its employers. When apprenticeships were reformed in 2009, many of the more commercial employers in the arts, particularly in theatre and cultural heritage, saw the value of taking on non-graduates into non-graduate entry-level roles. 

ACE devising the Creative Employment Programme (2013-2017) – which saw 4,000 young people taking an apprenticeship, or a paid internship in a cultural organisation – shifted the dial on the sector’s engagement with training. Apprenticeships and Level 2 and 3 qualifications* are deemed by government to be the single most effective method for keeping young people out of future unemployment.  

It is ironic that the arts sector speaks so much about increasing diversity in the arts but fails to pick up the most obvious way of achieving that end: employing young people from Further Education, rather than relying on the Higher Education sector for jobs that do not require a degree.

Sector's problem with apprenticeships

The CCSkills press release on its closure seems to put huge emphasis on the ACE cuts. ACE in its turn seems to rely entirely on the new Creative Industries Sector Vision (CISV). The latter seems to be repeating past mistakes by creating fixed term programmes to deal with every issue anew. The vision particularly highlights the importance of the National Plan for Music and the long-awaited Cultural Education Plan which, as we say in our Arts in Schools report, will be yet another well-crafted document which will give non-statutory guidance to schools. Rarely do such plans reach schools with minimal arts provision. 

In England, Education Minister Nick Gibb’s ‘knowledge transfer’ curriculum has left little space for creativity and curiosity. Through the CISV, the sector promises to create what are called ‘portable apprenticeships for freelancers,’ when CCSkills went to great efforts to create the standard and so far has received minimal take up. It wants to support the new T Levels but if the Prime Minister’s new Advanced British Standard (ABS) is introduced it will replace both A Levels and T Levels. 

Given that the main thrust of the vision document focuses on the commercial part of the creative and cultural sector – highlighting particularly music, games, fashion, broadcasting, AI and tech – it is hard to see how the arts and heritage sectors will benefit. The vision plans to work out why the sector has problems with apprenticeships. But there is a belief that an all-graduate workforce is needed, which results in arts and humanities graduates taking on low-paid administration jobs which would be better filled by local young people through an on-the-job qualification like an apprenticeship. I expect the lion’s share of this funding will go to higher education and research. 

CCSkills should not need ACE funding. It needs to be funded by employers. And trying to grow careers initiatives and apprenticeships without building on past hard work wastes time and resources. Yet again the sector is doing what it always has: dreaming up new time-limited initiatives without learning from the past. Here we go again.

Pauline Tambling CBE was Chief Executive Officer of CCSkills until 2018.

* Level 2 and Level 3 Qualifications are equivalent to GCSE and A Levels and are deemed to be most effective in ensuring that young people are less likely to end up unemployed. 

Link to Author(s): 
Pauline Tambling


Pauline is so correct in her opinion and analysis piece on how the arts (and Heritage sector to some degree) are not stepping up to the challenge of longer term thinking and training. Too much reliance is on ACE fickle short term schemes and Higher Education. In the Theatre sector there are many different skills from performing, to building and construction, electrics to performing, admin and business skills, many of these could be open for school leaver entry with a training programme attached, instead companies employ on an ad hoc basis of young arts graduates and offer next to no training beyond induction. If they built good, co-ordinated, on the job specific industry training and routes into the industry then the sector will become richer, and have a more long term vision. Today's reliance on production to production, or season to season planning, overuse and bad treatment of freelancers could be changed to build a sec tor with better employment and progression and retention of skills build within and for the industry, rather than relying on generic experience from HE and other sectors and planning on a wing and a prayer. I'm talking of the Theatre sector, but think Pauline's comments are applicable to so many parts of the Arts and Heritage, we need to build a proper, well skilled specific workforce to enable sustainable growth (or even just continued existence). Lets get the sector thinking about its future and create the belief needed to get everyone to invest in that future. Dermot

Thank you Pauline for this succint and crystal clear analysis of the journey we've been on, and where we've landed. I agree with every sylllable, and think fondly or the opportunities we have had for professional partnership over the years. Your work and your thinking have made, do make and will continue make a signficant positive contribution to equity, diversity, inclusion and sustainability in our sector.