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Campaigners rebuff government claims that GCSE arts uptake is on the rise

The number of GCSE drama students in England has fallen by 4%. Photo: Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock Drama, music, media, film and TV studies all experienced another year of decline. Photo: Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
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Creative education campaigners have cautioned against the government’s claims that arts subjects are on the rise at GCSE, arguing that a spike in art and design this year “is not enough to correct several years of long-term decline”.

On GCSE results day, the Department for Education hailed a rise in the English Baccalaureate’s core academic subjects, which it claimed comes “hand-in-hand” with an increase in arts entries.

It said there had been a 3.2% increase in arts subjects, alongside a 3.7% rise in entries to the EBacc’s suite of subjects.

The DfE claimed this meant “a focus on academic subjects and the EBacc does not come at the expense of important cultural education”.

The government’s arts bracket includes five subjects, two of which saw a rise in entries – art and design subjects, by 9.5%, and dance by 7.7% – according to figures from the exams regulator Ofqual.

Drama, music, media, film and TV studies all experienced another year of decline. Drama entries fell by 0.5% to 58,255, while music uptake declined by 2.3%, and media, film and TV saw 12.0% fewer entries than the previous year.

The DfE’s statistics do not include design and technology GCSE, which dropped by 23%.

Campaign group Bacc for the Future, which calls for the eradication of the EBacc, said that because the increase had not occurred across all arts specifications, the government should look at creative subjects as separate entities.

“We are delighted that the uptake of art and design has enjoyed a 9.5% increase this year. However, when looking at the wider context, this spike is not enough to correct several years of long-term decline, nor the issues within the art and design teacher workforce and diminishing curriculum time. We are also concerned that the uptake of other creative subjects is continuing to decline,” it said.

Overall, uptake of creative subjects at GCSE level has declined by 28% since 2014, and 17% at A level.

Earlier this month, leaders from some of England’s largest producing theatres warned about the cuts to arts staff and facilities they are witnessing at schools they engage with.

In a survey, 92% said they had witnessed fundamental, major or significant change in the value placed on creativity by schools over the past five years, as well as seeing cuts to arts subjects and drama teachers being made redundant.

The GCSE results follow those last week for A levels in England, which saw the number of young people taking drama fall below 10,000 for the first time, a decrease of 40% compared with a decade ago.

Crisis in arts education, warn regional theatre leaders

What is the EBacc

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a performance measure for schools in England, implemented by the government.

It comprises a set of core subjects that are compulsory for all those taking the EBacc. These are English, maths, science (either double or triple award), a foreign language and either history or geography.

This means students will take a minimum of seven GCSEs.

It was introduced for schools in England in 2010, however under continued government encouragement has been increasing in prominence ever since.

At present, the government’s aim is to ensure that 90% of pupils sit the EBacc at GCSE by 2025.

Read our comprehensive guide to the EBacc’s relationship with the arts here

The EBacc: Everything you need to know

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