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Performing and expressive arts students drop 10% at A level

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The number of students taking performing and expressive arts subjects at A level has dropped more than 10% this year, as a leading education body criticised the funding pressures threatening arts teaching in schools.

A total of 1,948 students took an A level in the performing and expressive arts category in 2017, which includes dance studies, compared with 2,179 last year.

A-level drama was also hit by a decrease of 3.7%, according to official figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications, the membership body for the seven largest providers of qualifications in the UK.

Changes to the examinations by former education secretary Michael Gove mean that students who received their results this week are assessed only by the final A level paper in a number of subjects. Coursework and AS level papers do not contribute to the final grades.

The impact on arts subjects of the reformed qualifications, which focus heavily on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, has been criticised by the Association of School and College Leaders.

General secretary Geoff Barton responded to the statistics, saying: “The government must get to grips with the continuing decline in entries to music, drama, French and German. These subjects are vitally important to the future of young people and to the economy. Drama and music underpin our cultural life and creative industries which are worth a fortune to the country.”

The ASCL also attacked the “severe funding pressures” that the government is putting on schools and colleges.

“The level of funding for post-16 education is simply not sufficient to sustain courses with relatively small numbers of students, and many schools and colleges have no alternative other than to cut these courses. Increasingly, they will be available only in the private sector, making a mockery of the government’s claim to be promoting social mobility,” Barton explained.

Campaign group Bacc for the Future expressed concerns that the decline in take-up of arts subjects is a result of the government’s controversial English Baccalaureate system, which encourages schools to provide a group of ‘core’ subjects at GCSE level – including English, maths and science – at the expense of arts subjects.

Bacc for the Future founder Deborah Annetts 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 we need creative subjects in our schools more than ever.

“The creative industries contribute a staggering £90 billion 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.”

However, the government recently confirmed that it would continue with its EBacc plans, and would not revise the system to include a mandatory arts subject.

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