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Is digital creativity becoming the domain of the privileged?

Despite the increasing importance of digital creativity – the ability to combine digital and creative skills – our new research has found that pupils at private schools are more likely to have opportunities to develop these important skills than pupils at state schools.

The survey of 3,461 secondary schools teachers in England, conducted by TeacherTapp, uncovered that:

  • Most teachers of core subjects English (69 per cent), Maths (65 per cent), and Science (63 per cent) never offer students opportunities to develop their creative digital skills.
  • This figure drops to 38 per cent of teachers in private schools and rises to 68 per cent in state schools across all subjects.
people sitting at a table with laptops

Why digital creativity matters

Our future economy will be built on creativity and technology. That means digital creativity will become even more important in the future. As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly central across the economy, people with skills that are resistant to automation creative and digital skills key among them will have huge opportunities.

For those students who leave school without these skills, however, the future looks more precarious. And at present, the UK education system is failing to prepare our young people for the future, with these findings suggesting students in state schools may be particularly at risk.

Labour market research also shows that there is already a creative digital skills shortage in a number of key creative industries. As the UK leaves the EU, it is more important now than ever before that the UK’s education system is equipping young people with the skills they need to secure jobs in the UK’s creative economy and that means massively widening and diversifying the current pool of talent.

Teachers said the biggest barriers were a lack of access to reliable technology (64 per cent), a crowded curriculum or lack of time (59 per cent), and an emphasis on exam preparation (36 per cent).

Chart showing gap in provision of opportunities to develop digital creative skills between state and private schools

The decline in arts education risks widening the gap in digital creativity development

The poll also underscores the importance of subjects like arts and Design & Technology (D&T) that give students opportunities to develop key creative digital skills that will prepare them for a changing future.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, teachers of arts subjects, including D&T, have greater awareness of techniques to develop creative digital skills. The poll found that 4 in 5 arts teachers had experience of classroom activities that give students opportunities to be creative using digital technology. However, for all other subjects, this figure was below 50 per cent.

This is important because this means that the opportunity to develop these critical skills for the future isn’t available to every pupil. Given that arts and D&T education is under threat and in decline, especially in state schools, these findings are a double whammy and suggest the decline in arts provision risks making this gap between state and private schools even bigger.

Chart showing teacher experience and awareness of how to develop creative digital skills by subject

We need to support all young people to engage creatively with digital technology

All this should ring alarm bells for parents and policymakers alike.

These findings serve as a wake-up call and back up calls from the Durham Commission on Creativity in Education for the education system to better 'support young people to engage creatively and critically with digital technology'.

But it’s not only about preparing all young people, regardless of background, for a future where these skills will be more important than they already are today, or about ensuring the UK’s creative industries have access to the talent they need to stay world-leading. It’s also about what kind of future we want and who we want to be creating it.

In an increasingly digital world, where children learn to swipe before they learn to write, it’s important that our education system equips young people with the skills to create, not just use, technology. We need to ensure that the digital environment is not just a place of passive consumption, but also creative expression. And the opportunities to create our shared future must be open to all, not restricted to the 7 per cent of UK students who attend private schools.

We desperately need we to provide young people with more and better opportunities to be creative with technology and we need more experimentation to test new approaches and build evidence of what works.

We can’t wait any longer. Ensuring that all young people have equal access to opportunities to develop their digital creativity is about democratising who produces the digital world into which our lives are increasingly enmeshed. Our education system has to change with our changing world and help a generation of digital natives become digital creatives.


Will Bibby

Will Bibby

Will Bibby

Senior Programme Manager, Government Innovation

Will was a Senior Programme Manager working on Nesta's people-powered public services and education programmes.

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