Arts A Levels Face Steep Decline, Official Figures Reveal

The number of students choosing creative subjects has fallen by 6.5 percent this year, as the arts continue to be marginalized in schools

Artist’s studio, 2016. Courtesy: Barcroft Media via Getty Images; photograph: Susannah Ireland

Artist’s studio, 2016. Courtesy: Barcroft Media via Getty Images; photograph: Susannah Ireland

The percentage of students sitting ‘creative’ A Levels has declined, official data released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has shown. This year, 6.5 percent fewer pupils took arts subjects – including Art and Design, Music, Design and Technology, Drama, Media, Film and Television Studies and Performing and Expressive Arts – at A Level. The figure represents a significant decrease compared with the 1.3 percent drop in students sitting A Levels across all subjects.

The rate of decline of students studying arts subjects at A Level is accelerating, analysis of data reveals. 2016–17 saw a 2 percent drop, compared to a 4.3 percent decline between 2017­–18 and this year’s 6.5 percent fall. 17,777 fewer pupils took creative A Level exams this year compared to 2015.

Performing and Expressive Arts has seen the steepest decline of arts subjects this year, falling by 16.9 percent. Media, Film and Television studies fell by 10.1 percent.

Jon Andrews, deputy head of research at the Education Policy Institute, told the BBC that decreases in creative subjects are likely to be a result of government policy. Changes including Progress 8, a secondary school accountability system introduced in 2016, and the English Baccalaureate, which was introduced in 2010 and encourages the grouping of subjects that the government describes as ‘important’, have likely affected students’ choices.

Various groups have expressed their concerns regarding the decrease in pupils studying arts subjects. CEO of UK Music, Michael Dugher, described the drop as ‘worrying’: ‘It is particularly bad news for our efforts to continue to produce highly skilled and talented professionals who often go on to teach music or play in one of the UK’s world-leading orchestras,’ he told Arts Professional.

In a statement, a government official responded to the statistics: ‘We have reformed A-levels to meet the expectations of universities and employers and our new gold standard GCSEs are more rigorous to match the best education systems in the world, better preparing young people for further study and the workplace.’

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