With A-Level results out in England today and news headlines pronouncing the impending doom – a lack of University places for the 660,000 candidates applying this summer; some in the advertising industry are turning convention on its head and shying away from the traditional academic route. They have come together to create and leverage a new way of educating people who want to become a ‘creative’ in the advertising industry. Could this be a blessing in disguise for those A-Level students who didn’t ‘make the grade’ this summer?

Marc Lewis, Dean of the School of Communication Arts 2.0 (www.schoolcommunicationarts.com) was one of the last students to get a scholarship from the School of Communication Arts in the 90s. Flash forward to September 2010 and Marc along with the backing and support of dozens of the advertising industry’s creative stalwarts including as Sir John Hegarty, Rory Sutherland, Robin Wight and Graham Fink are launching the School of Communication Arts 2.0.

The School’s ethos is that vocational learning should be considered as ‘action in rehearsal’. It endeavours to provide bright, ambitious and talented young adults with the best launch-pad for a successful career in advertising. This is reflected in everything from the design of its central London base, to its network of industry mentors, and from its groundbreaking approach towards developing a qualification, to its industry-backed investment fund of £10,000[1] for seeding students‘ start-ups.

At a time when student grades are the topic of the day, the School takes a very different approach to the selection of its candidates. The School doesn’t believe that academic qualifications are the way to recognise creative talent; instead students should demonstrate their creativity by showcasing their portfolio, responding to a brief set or demonstrating that they can consistently have creative ideas that can be communicated through an experience, visually, verbally or aurally. Words that can be used to describe the type of students the School is looking for are quirky, geeky, cynical, witty and memorable. But all must be respectful, focused, open-minded, hungry to learn and committed.

The School will provide an apprenticeship flavour of learning. Every day it will bring people from ad agencies, music, fashion, film, architecture, technology and gaming companies in to hang out with the learners. With a student to teacher ratio of 1:6 (50 students to 300 teachers/mentors) this contrasts heavily with the academic route of 1 teacher to up to 30 students.

The accredited curriculum exists as an online wiki (http://schoolcommunicationarts.com/mentors-room/curriculum-wiki/wiki-info), allowing the industry to continually iterate the skills that will help them to get a job. This is something that is believed to be an industry first. A working curriculum designed collaboratively and openly by the industry for the industry.

The school has outlined three pathways, one is called the Ideapreneur pathway (http://schoolcommunicationarts.com/mentors-room/curriculum-wiki/what-is-an-ideapreneur), one is for Copywriters and the last is for Art Directors.

The School runs an 18 month programme. Art Directors and Copywriters spend 12 months working on real briefs in the student created advertising studio. Their final 6 months are on placement within an advertising agency. The Ideapreneurs spend 12 months working with an MBA student and a technology student building their business model and launching their product/service. At the end of their time at the school they are put before venture capitalists to pitch for their next round funding.

With the increasing rate of change of the global economics, the increasing power of the consumer and the emergence of new technologies, students need to demonstrate to the business leader of now that they can be the business leaders and inspiration of the future. The question is, does academia prepare students to respond to this challenge quick enough?