From education to employment

We need great teachers who are also masters of their craft

From beer to handmade hair accessories, the concept of ‘craft’ or ‘craftsmanship’ comes with a number of pre-conceived and often conflicting ideas. It conjures up images of joiners, carpenters and potters – trades that are perhaps more manual and traditional in their nature.

At the same time, ‘craft’ industries are undergoing a resurgence of interest. Marketers use the concept to describe products that are of high quality and well made. Take the brewing industry. A few years ago they woke up to the idea that marketing beer as ‘craft’ means consumers will pay a premium for it. Meanwhile, sites like Etsy and Not on the High Street are awash with lovingly made objects from amateur or part time craft enthusiasts, promoted across Instagram and Pinterest. For many of them, their ‘craft’ hobby has become a full time job. And I’m sure you will have watched one of the popular ‘Great British’ TV shows on the BBC. Whether it’s Bake Off, Sewing Bee or the Pottery Showdown, all are influenced and inspired by craftsmanship in some way.

People are attracted to the idea of things being lovely and painstakingly made and will buy into it. They see the benefits of quality and excellence. But what about the concept of craftsmanship in contemporary education?

In an important piece of new research, Professor Bill Lucas and Dr Ellen Spencer from the Centre for Real-World Learning have sought to address this. Their report, A practical guide to craftsmanship, commissioned by City & Guilds, revitalises the idea of craftsmanship by discussing how its qualities and attributes can be taught. Among the findings, the research points to a need for more vocational teachers who are also confident craftspeople or experts within their discipline, with the ability to pass on their expertise to the next generation.

Just as the Government looks to increase the number of apprentices, the report calls for the development of craftsmanship among staff at FE colleges. It states that industry leaders and the best people within each sector should be approached to support this vocational training. To facilitate this, two-way relationships between education and industry should be built and developed in the same way that universities and hospitals partner to further research and knowledge development.

The research also makes clear that, contrary to popular belief, people are not born demonstrating excellence in a particular area. Whether or not it takes the 10,000 hours of practice to achieve this, as Malcolm Gladwell claimed in his book Outliers, the point is that craftsmen have developed a mindset and a set of qualities that enable them to improve their skills and become expert through practice and focus. Rather than looking at craftsmanship in its traditional sense, the researchers have focused on the concept of developing a ‘craftsmanlike attitude’ and identified three strands of thinking around the concept of craftsmanship: it’s learnable; it’s about ‘becoming’; it’s about the culture.

The idea that craftsmanship is teachable is an important concept for the education community and it’s clear from this research that FE, with its close links to industry and focus on contextualised learning, is well placed to deliver this. There are some very fine examples of craftsmanship in this country, with many colleges, schools and training providers showing real excellence. We need to make sure the links between education institutions and word class craftsman continue to be forged.

Taking the idea one step further, there is a link through to the workplace. Developing a craftsmanlike attitude increases employee engagement as people take greater pride in a job well done, rather than moving quickly from one task to the next.

Craftsmanship shouldn’t just be something we watch on TV or find on the packaging of artisan products. The knowledge of the UK’s top craftsmen and women should be harnessed to enrich our education system. Furthermore, craftsmanship, as a drive for excellence or pride in a job well done, should be embedded into all industries from administration through to agriculture to help us compete more effectively on the world stage.

To read the report visit

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