Gatsby Benchmarks 4 (careers in the curriculum) and 5 (encounters with employers) case study: Introducing children’s book publishing to Year 9 art students

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Keen to extend careers across the whole curriculum as part of their overall careers programme, The Misbourne school in Great Missenden asked Bucks Skills Hub to introduce its Head of Art to a children’s book publisher.

Maxine Nichols, who teaches art and photography, wanted her Year 9 students who had chosen GCSE Art & Design to experience how illustration is actually used in industry – and inspire them about the careers it could kick-start.

Enterprise Coordinator Luisa Clarke put her in touch with Make Believe Ideas, a children’s book publisher based in Berkhamsted, and together they agreed objectives for the collaboration which would take place over the summer term.

Working together

Make Believe would make two visits: the first to present an overview of their industry, explain the publishing process from editorial and design through to production and sales, and set a practical challenge for students to create their own book brief; the second to give feedback on the students’ work.


So enthused were they with the idea, Make Believe sent a team to the school to represent the different key publishing roles:

  • Studio Director Annie Simpson;
  • Account Manager Josie Male;
  • Senior Designer Rosemary Bolt;
  • Senior Editor Holly Lansley.

The setting was, naturally, the art room, surrounded by a colourful backdrop of student art projects. The team began by introducing themselves, their company and the publishing process to the group of around 30 students, all of whom would be starting their GCSE the following term.

Their one-hour presentation then explored the interplay between design and editorial, looking at how text and pictures are initially sketched out and finding out how illustrations are commissioned (from initial brief, draft stages, character development, colour palettes, finishes and printer plotters through to end product).

The Make Believe team then left The Misbourne students with a choice of four book briefs to complete, each one with additional guidelines:

  1. Create a cover for a board book with an alphabet or counting theme
  2. Come up with a picture book story idea and create a cover to go with it
  3. Create a box set design for a new idea based on a classic game (eg bingo, snakes and ladders, memory, snap etc)
  4. Design a cover for a book with quiz activity content and a snappy title aimed at tweens.

Make Believe Ideas returned six weeks later – and every single student had risen to the challenge! The art teachers had worked with individuals to develop their concepts, encouraging students to look at adding depth to their work by including a message within it.

As a result, many had explored themes in their work such as having the confidence to stand out from a crowd or looking at different types of friendship. They had all gone beyond the brief and included notes on ideas such as the target audience, story development, character introductions and colour palette. Students came up with original typography, incorporated a variety of different finishes and had researched their readership by visiting bookshops or looking at younger siblings’ books.

The team met for an hour beforehand and wrote on post-it notes their individual feedback from different publishing perspectives. The class then joined them, and after a short re-introduction and recap of the brief, they split into four, each going with one of the Make Believe team to continue discussions in small groups. The one-hour session ended with a short question and answer time.

Feedback and evaluation

The resulting book briefs from the challenge were so inspired that Mrs Nichols said they could contribute to students’ GCSE work: “The session was amazing and provided students with a real insight into the creative industries and the potential careers within it. They were captured by the different presenters and the exemplar books and materials provided by the team. The project ‘live brief’ was exactly what they needed to inspire and challenge their creative thinking and build upon their research and practical skills. Also tackling the demands of a deadline that cannot be extended.

“The students were so excited and came straight to me afterwards to share ideas and ask questions. This experience has made lasting memories and inspired our young people. I hope many of them consider a career in publishing and one of the many, varied job options that we learned about.”

Josie Male, Account Manager at Make Believe, said: “My colleagues and I had a great time working with Bucks Skills Hub and the staff at The Misbourne to inspire and encourage their Year 9 art students. We realised that there are so many career paths for art and design students within the publishing industry which school students may not necessarily be aware of, so hopefully we widened their horizons for the things they could go on to achieve. It was also wonderful to see the students putting so much thought and time into the project briefs we set – so much talent and plenty of unique ideas!”

Luisa Clarke, Enterprise Coordinator for Buckinghamshire Skills Hub, added: “If there was ever a good illustration (forgive the pun) of what a ‘meaningful’ employer encounter should look like, this was it! The students saw their subject from a commercial perspective, and heard that their love of art could actually be transformed into a career to inspire them for the rest of their working lives. It was truly motivating, and a great example of how bringing the world of work into the curriculum can increase students’ motivation.”

If you would like to book a speaker, a workplace visit or activities for your school/class, please go to or speak to your Enterprise Coordinator.

If you would be interested in delivering an inspirational session to young people, you can register on, add yourself to the directory and post your offer.