Art history A-level dropped as government trims creative subjects from curriculum

Art historians fight back against claims the subject is 'soft', arguing its loss could have a detrimental effect on the industry

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Thursday 13 October 2016 13:11 BST
Some 839 students sat an A-level exam in the subject this summer, making it an expensive course for the board to maintain
Some 839 students sat an A-level exam in the subject this summer, making it an expensive course for the board to maintain (Getty)

Art history is soon to be made an historic A-level qualification, as the last exam board in England has announced it will drop the subject in schools after next year.

The decision comes amid a series of changes to the curriculum set by former education secretary Michael Gove, who proposed cuts to the number of creative and art based courses to make way for “more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous” subjects.

Pupils sitting AS exams in AQA History of Art next year and A-level exams in 2018 will be the last of their kind.

Other subjects to be axed from next year by the board include Statistics, Classical Civilisation and Archaeology, the latter of which is not available on any other board.

Top academics have condemned the move and criticised insinuation that art history is a “soft” subject or worthless to school-age children.

The Association of Art Historians said the decision could have a detrimental effect on the wider industry, since students would be far less likely to gain an interest or be able to gain access to the subject if it was no longer made available to them before higher educational study.

A spokesperson said: “Being able to signpost educational opportunities such as an A-level in art history to students who may never have considered this an opportunity, forms a significant part of our campaign work with partners across west Yorkshire, Bristol, Brighton and Sussex. The loss of that A-level means that for many prospective students of the subject that door will close and future opportunities [will be] lost.”

According to the AQA exam board, History of Art requires students to develop their ability to communicate their understanding of art historical movements, building wider knowledge of the relationship between society and art over time.

The course, establishes a “framework for exploring aspects of western art and architecture”.

In a statement, the AQA exams board said the decision had not been made lightly, but that the subject was too “complex” to ensure good results.

A spokesperson said: “Our number one priority is making sure every student gets the result they deserve. We’ve identified three subjects – Archaeology, Classical Civilisation and History of Art - where the complex and specialist nature of the exams creates too many risks on that front. That’s why we’ve taken the difficult decision not to continue our work creating new AS and A-levels in these subjects.

“We also looked at our new standalone AS and A-levels in Statistics, and have come to the conclusion that the subject is actually best assessed as part of our wider maths qualifications.

“Our decisions have nothing to do with the importance of these subjects, and it won’t stop students going on to do a degree in them as we’re not aware of any universities that require an A-level in these subjects.”

They later added: "The ‘complexity’ is around the high degree of optionality and the impact this has on setting grade boundaries."

Art history is only offered by a handful of state schools and has long been criticised for its reputation as an "elitist" subject. Some 839 students sat an A-level exam in the subject this summer, making it an expensive course for the board to maintain.

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