A group of the UK’s top universities has scrapped its list of preferred A-level subjects, which did not include the arts and had been accused of dissuading young people from creative learning.
The Russell Group, which represents the UK’s 24 leading universities, will no longer publish its facilitating subjects list, which had comprised eight traditional academic subjects and was the basis for the suite of subjects in the EBacc.
It has instead launched an interactive website offering students more personalised results.
The list had been criticised for excluding the arts and narrowing the curriculum, with a recent cultural education report from the Royal Shakespeare Company calling for the Russell Group to review its approach to facilitating subjects. It said “the implication is that if you want to keep your options open, don’t study arts subjects”.
The RSC welcomed the Russell Group’s “significant shift in approach” by dropping the list, which director of education Jacqui O’Hanlon said had “unintentionally contributed to [a] prevailing and very damaging attitude; it has unintentionally devalued arts subjects”.
She added: “The Russell Group’s new guidance simply states that students should study what they enjoy and what they are good at. This brilliant but simple change of emphasis places student experience back at the heart of their decision making.”
The Russell Group’s new site will show the subjects recommended for specific degrees, but will also allow pupils to input different combinations of A levels to explore which degree courses they open up.
Arts Council England chair Nicholas Serota said the Informed Choices guide would “better reflect the full variety of subjects that form a well-rounded education”.
“The new guide makes clear that arts disciplines are valuable subjects of study in themselves but can also contribute to the knowledge and skills required for many professions from law to medicine and design to engineering,” he said.
His comments were backed up by Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and founder of the Bacc for the Future campaign, which strongly opposes the EBacc’s exclusion of arts subjects.
She highlighted the “devastating” decline of creative subjects at A level, and said the Russell Group’s decision “further calls into question the EBacc policy”.
Last year, education experts warned that the decline in arts subjects in schools was having negative impacts on young people choosing to pursue careers in other sectors such as science and medicine.
Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College London, said he was encountering students with high exam grades but lacking “tactile general knowledge” learned through creative subjects.
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.