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GCSE arts entries ‘slump to lowest level in a decade’

Under the EBacc, students are not required to study arts subjects at GCSE. Photo: Shutterstock Photo: Shutterstock
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Uptake of arts subjects at GCSE level has hit the lowest point in a decade, according to a new study.

The findings are the latest in a string of warnings over the declining position of creative subjects in schools, as campaigners continue to argue that the government’s English Baccalaureate is to blame for decreasing numbers of students taking subjects such as drama and music.

The report, by the Education Policy Institute think tank, analyses trends in entries to arts subjects between 2007 and 2016.

It says that 53.5% of pupils took at least one arts subject in 2016, the lowest figure of the past 10 years.

In 2007, 55.6% of pupils were entered for at least one arts subject, a proportion that steadily increased to 57.1% in 2014 before dropping more steeply since then.

Provisional data from 2017 indicate the decline of recent years is set to continue, the report says.

EPI’s study claims evidence from teachers and school leaders had highlighted several factors putting pressure on arts in education, including the EBacc, the government’s attainment measure Progress 8 – which includes the numerical GCSE grading system – and financial issues.

“The extent to which this pressure impacts on a school’s arts provision depends on the precise combination of these factors within a school’s specified context and the extent to which school leaders are able and willing to prioritise arts subjects under these circumstances,” says the report, which is written by Rebecca Johnes.

It also claims there is a “clear” north-south divide in the amount of pupils taking arts subjects, with the southern regions showing higher entry rates. The North East experienced a particularly sharp decline in 2016, it says.

The report claims that, despite statistics on exam entries from Ofqual and the Joint Council for Qualifications and surveys from teachers, “the government has denied that arts subjects are suffering”.

It concludes that the government must acknowledge that both the EBacc and Progress 8 have brought increased pressure on arts subjects and consider the impact that reduced access will have on pupils and the wider creative industries.

Responding to the study, campaign group Bacc for the Future called on the government to meet with the arts industry and with unions to reconsider the EBacc in its current form.

Henry Vann, head of external affairs at the Incorporated Society of Musicians – which runs the group – said: “This is a timely, independent, rigorous and important contribution to the EBacc debate and should be read carefully by the secretary of state for education and all those in government.

“It is highly likely that 2017’s recently published GCSE results will show a continuation in this worrying trend, and we look forward to further analysis by the Education Policy Institute once these results are available in full.”

Recent figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications, published on GCSE results day last month, saw the percentage of young people taking drama at GCSE drop by 9% on the previous year.

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