Cutting creative A-Levels allows arts industry to be 'dominated by the wealthy elite'

'I have serious concerns about the consequences this decision will have on the whole art industry,' says Dr Janina Ramirez

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News that History of Art will no longer be available as an A-level option in England has been met with backlash from top academics, who argue the decision is classist and majorly short-sighted.

In a letter to schools, the AQA examinations board said it was struggling to recruit “sufficient experienced examiners” and could no longer justify the “risks” involved in maintaining the subject.

The move follows major government reforms which have led to a number of creative GSCE and A-Level courses being cut from the school curriculum

Art history, Anthropology and Creative writing are among the subjects to be axed - a move which follows proposals from former education secretary Michael Gove that “more challenging” subjects must be prioritised in schools.

Speaking to The Independent, Oxford University lecturer and course director Dr Janina Ramirez said dropping art history as an A-level would have “serious consequences for the art industry”.

“To not give students the opportunity is a disgrace and it makes me extremely concerned,” she said.

“There are some wonderful state schools who offer the A-level where it’s really popular, but the subject has been gradually pushed out of secondary education. 

“By dropping art history, the art world will remain the domain of the wealthy elite. There’s no way state school pupils will be able to get the same level of access without it. It’s classist.”

The state-educated historian added: “It’s incredibly frustrating because at Oxbridge we are only just starting to tip the balance between state and private entrants – this will push it back again.

“By reducing access to the art industry, you’re not taking any of that elitism away – it just becomes a smaller pool of people holding all the money.”

Final AS History of Art exams will be sat by pupils next year, and the last A-Level exams will be taken in 2018. 

The subject is currently only offered by a small number of state schools and has long been the domain of private education. 

AQA insisted its decision had “nothing to do with the importance of the history of art”, but that the “complex and specialist nature of the exams” was not sustainable.

Announcing a series of changes to qualifications as part of education reforms last year, the former education secretary said schools must make way for “more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous” subjects.

Critics hit back at the proposals, arguing that creative subjects were being overlooked and left the curriculum unbalanced. 

Responding to the news on Thursday, the Association of Art Historians said: “Like many of our colleagues across education and culture we don’t hold with the notion that creative subjects are ‘soft’ subjects nor that they lack criticality or analytical rigour.

“The draft specification for the new History of Art A Level in particular is engaging, modern, diverse and relevant…  Its themes offer students the potential insight into the problems and creative solutions found by past and present societies across the world. 

“As a consequence we believe that the specification not only supports the development of core skills in writing and communication and the ability to read and research widely and effectively but also encourages empathy, tolerance and mutual respect.”

Historian Simon Schama said: “Axing art history deals another blow to the creative capital of this country.

“Art history is an exacting discipline: to engage with it needs history, philosophy, languages, literature, tools the next generation needs.”

A spokeswoman for exams regulator Ofqual told the BBC that AQA's decision not to continue the development of the new syllabus need not necessarily mean the end of A-level art history.

“The option for AQA or another exam board to develop a specification... in future will remain open,” she said.

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