Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
Hi there! I’m Cat Sercombe, I am Head of Arts Award at Trinity College London awarding organisation. I am responsible for making sure that Arts Award is made available to as many young people as possible across the UK. You will usually find me in meetings or with my head buried in data, budgets or an Arts Award toolkit but when I am not doing that I’m brushing up my dance skills learning Lindy Hop - proving you’re never too old to learn something new!
What’s great about your job?
It’s incredibly rewarding, I am supported by a very dedicated team who make sure that everyone’s Arts Award experience is an excellent one! The best thing about my job though is hearing about and seeing the great projects and arts and cultural experiences young people have the opportunity to participate in. We see Arts Award projects in every possible art form imaginable from art, theatre, dance and music, right through to creative writing, film making, curation, object handling and circus to name but a few, the opportunities are limitless!
And what’s challenging about it?
I think the biggest challenge is seeing Arts Award advisers come up against barriers like not enough resource, money and time to be able to offer arts experiences in the way they would like to. The Arts Award adviser community work tirelessly to keep the arts on the agenda particularly in education where the focus has changed, and we see less, and less arts provision delivered through the curriculum.
What is your biggest success to date?
I think this is simply seeing young people achieve and find their confidence. I have worked with young people who have been at risk of exclusion from school or have struggled with mental health issues. When you first work with them it takes time to gain their trust and for them to realise you’re not going to make them do something they’re not comfortable with. Overtime they begin to let down their barriers, grow in confidence, communicate more positively and work as part of a team. It’s a real privilege to be part of their personal journey as they achieve things they never thought possible and to see their pride as they realise they have done it through their own hard work and perseverance despite their challenging circumstances.
My second biggest success is helping an engineering graduate gain a placement at the European Space Agency - pretty cool hey!
Why did you want to work in the arts?
I’ve always wanted to do something in the arts. I learnt to dance from a really young age and was lucky enough to take part in workshops with dance companies like Northern Ballet and Rambert dance company. I also really enjoyed doing drama, so much so I did a degree in Theatre, Film and Television. I had gained a little bit of teaching experience and decided I was interested in looking at how I could combine drama and working with young people.
And what specifically drew you to Arts Award?
I had delivered Silver Arts Award with a group of young people from Hackney who were completing a programme to support them to progress into further education or work. I had delivered lots of different accreditation in the past but could see the transformative effect Arts Award had on the group, all of which had challenging circumstances. As the young people progressed through the programme they grew in confidence and felt a real sense of achievement as they led their own projects and gained a formal qualification - for some the only qualification they had ever achieved.
Could you outline your career path to this point?
I have done all sorts, but my career has mainly focussed around supporting young people to progress into education or work. I did work placements at university with ITV and Yorkshire television but decided the TV industry wasn’t for me. After graduation, I started off as a youth worker and worked on lots of different projects supporting young people from a range of backgrounds and situations, before working for a community theatre company as a drama facilitator. I’ve worked on youth theatres, community outreach programmes with schools and delivered arts training programmes for young people not in education, employment or training.
Before joining Trinity and the Arts Award team, I worked for a university as part of the careers and employability team supporting students gain placements and graduate jobs.
What are your views on the current provision of arts education in schools?
It’s a really challenging environment for both teachers and school leaders. The government’s focus on STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics], EBacc and Progress 8 mean that many schools need to prioritise these outcomes, which means for some the arts becomes less of a focus. We all know the arts can be of huge benefit to young people as a tool to develop the soft skills that are vitally needed for young people to be able to apply their knowledge in the workplace. The education sector realises this is a missed opportunity for young people and one which could potentially create a skills gap in the creative and cultural industries. Luckily through the hard work and dedication of many teachers and headteachers we still see great arts provision in many schools, but greater support needs to come from the government before we see arts education be a core part of the curriculum.
Could, or indeed should, Arts Award serve as a replacement?
Arts Award is flexible enough to be embedded as part of a curriculum offer, or run as enrichment or extracurricular. The beauty of Arts Award means that the organisation can decide how it might best fit their provision, either as supplementary to other courses like GCSE’s or A levels or, as a standalone programme of activity. Arts Award can offer a straightforward way to accredit existing arts activities, it’s really down to organisations to decide what is the best accreditation for the young people they are working with.
Why are the arts so important?
The arts provide so many opportunities both for those who are trying something for the first time or have existing interests and experience of an art form. The arts encourage creative thinking and problem solving, provide opportunities to have a go, fail, try again, all while building confidence and providing a sense of achievement.
There are so many opportunities in the arts and people wrongly assume you need to be able to draw or act or play an instrument which is not the case! Tapping into your creative side can have all sorts of benefits beyond learning a skill, such as positive impacts on your wellbeing or contributing to your local community.
Where do you see Arts Award going in the next five years?
I see it going from strength to strength with even more young people achieving an Arts Award, with us aiming to have awarded 3/4 million awards!
What is some career advice you wish you had been told?
Don’t be afraid to ask people for help along long the way and be persistent. Write, email, tweet people in the industry - there is no harm in asking for advice or asking about work experience opportunities. The worst that can happen is that they say no - be confident and make your own opportunities.
You have the ability to send a message back to 16-year-old you. What would you say?
Don’t worry, the hard work will pay off in the end and although there will be lots of challenges along the way, you’re going to have a great time and have some awesome experiences. Oh, and even though you thought you would never move to London, you will, and you will love it!
What do young people need to do to follow in your footsteps?
I am not sure I even knew my kind of job existed, but the best advice I can give is to not take too much notice of all the press around the arts not being of value. If you want to carve out a career in the creative and cultural industries, then you will make it happen!
My university friends have a saying ‘fake it until you make it’ - which simply means be confident enough to give it a go, learn fast and who knows what doors will open!!!