Pressure of exams puts young off the arts

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Girls are ahead of boys in artistic activity both in and out of school - but both sexes lose interest when the pressures of GCSE examinations loom.

A survey of 4,532 11- to 16-year-olds in 192 state schools, to be published by the Arts Council today, shows that the demands of academic examinations causes artistic involvement to drop radically at the age of 15. Participation is lower for 15- and 16-year-olds than for any other age group.

This first survey of its kind, by the research group Mori for the Arts Council, shows that girls are more likely than boys to be involved in arts activities (93 per cent compared with 89 per cent).

The only area where boys do more is in computer graphics (48 per cent, against 28 per cent of girls).

Gender distinctions are reinforced by single-sex schools. For example, in all-girls schools 55 per cent of pupils have done some dance in their lessons; in all-boys schools only 7 per cent. Participation in drama and singing in a choir was also higher in girls' schools.

Outside school far more girls write stories and poetry (41 per cent of girls, 28 per cent of boys), and read novels (49 per cent of girls, 34 per cent of boys).

The main variation in the general statistics across the country is in Wales, where pupils are almost twice as likely to be a member of a choir (25 per cent compared with a national average of 13 per cent).

Overall levels of artistic activity among teenagers in the North of England are slightly below the national average.

The survey shows that 9 out of 10 school pupils are active in arts activities in school, and just as many out of school. The most frequently undertaken activities in school time were drawing, sketching and painting, (76 per cent of pupils), with writing stories and poetry (66 per cent) and acting (58 per cent) not far behind.

Outside schoo, 62 per cent carried on drawing, sketching and painting and 41 per cent read novels and poetry. Only a quarter continued their interest in drama.

Nearly a half of all pupils play a musical instrument, with as many playing outside school as in. Younger children are much more likely to be playing, with learning peaking at the age of 12. Only one-third of pupils in school receive free tuition in a musical instrument.

As for attendance at arts events, cinema is predictably the most attended venue (72 per cent). Nearly one-third of pupils had been to a theatre, and one in five to a museum or historic house.

But, despite the high number painting and drawing, only 12 per cent had ever visited an art gallery.

The report concludes that while participation in arts activities is high, girls are more likely to participate than boys, especially in dance and creative writing.

Another key conclusion is that a very low level of participation (46 per cent) is for arts activities taking place using school facilities out of school hours. Both facilities and staff are under-utilised out of hours, the report notes.

Jane O'Brien, senior policy researcher at the Arts Council, commented: "Indeed, if any area for potential improvement were recognised, it would be using school facilities out of school."

Secondary School Pupils and the Arts; the Arts Council of England; 14 Great Peter Street, London SW1; pounds 7.50.