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Last week’s A level results appear to confirm a feared knock-on effect of the introduction of the EBacc at GCSE level.

Man playing a violin in a park

The continuing decline of the arts in England’s schools was evidenced by last week’s A level and AS level results.

Figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) show a 2% drop in the number of students completing A levels in creative, artistic and technical subjects in 2016/17 compared with the previous year.

Following Government reform of AS levels – the qualification immediately succeeding the GCSE – the number of students sitting arts and creative AS levels has fallen even more dramatically, with entries into four subjects, including drama and music, falling by over 50%.

Falling entries

Art and design subjects were the only creative subjects to see an increase in the number of students taking them at A level (up 1.3%), while the most severely affected were music (down 9.4%), performing and expressive arts (down 13.5%) and media/film/TV studies (down 4.2%).

The changes to the number of students sitting A levels in arts and creative subjects in England are as follows:

  • Art and design subjects: up +1.3% to 40,470
  • Design and technology: down -0.05% to 10,657
  • Drama: down -4.1% to 10,751
  • Media / film / TV studies: down -4.2% to 24,450
  • Music: down -9.4% to 5,610
  • Performing and expressive arts: down -13.5% to 1,744

AS level reform

JCQ has labelled the ‘decoupling’ of AS and A levels – a reform which is leading many students to study a two-year A level without completing an AS level – a “significant driver” in the fall in students studying AS levels, which declined by 42% across all subjects in England.

The impact of this drop on A level entries remains to be seen, but the pace of decline of students sitting arts and creative AS levels has outstripped the average across most subjects: music was down 50.2%; drama was down 66.3%; and performing and expressive arts subjects were down 70.5%. The number of students taking art and design courses – the only arts subject area to increase the number of entries at A level – has also more than halved, down 51.1%.

Narrowed curriculum

The news follows repeated warnings that the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – a Government performance measure based around a suite of GCSE subjects – is narrowing the curriculum and diminishing pupil choice, satisfaction and wellbeing.

GCSE entries for the EBacc subjects, which do not include any arts subjects, were this year up 9% on 2016, while entries for GCSE arts subjects were down 9% over the same period, raising concern about a knock-on effect on pupils studying arts subjects at A level.

Speaking about last week’s figures, Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musician and founder of the Bacc for the Future campaign, said: “The English Baccalaureate, as revealed in the Government’s own figures and numerous studies and academic research, has had a devastating impact on arts subjects in our secondary schools.

“These new figures further demonstrate the decline at a time when now more than ever we need creative subjects in our schools.

“The creative industries contribute a staggering £90bn a year to the UK and their continued success rely upon the talents and skills coming through our schools. This should be a wake-up call to Government that their EBacc plans need to be rethought, before any more damage is done.”