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Decline in creative subjects at GCSE prompts fears that arts industry could be damaged

‘Maintaining the skills pipeline is vital to the future of the creative industries’

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 02 August 2018 00:38 BST
The number of teenagers being entered for creative arts subjects at GCSE has dropped significantly
The number of teenagers being entered for creative arts subjects at GCSE has dropped significantly (PA)

The number of teenagers being entered for creative arts subjects at GCSE has dropped significantly in the past five years, sparking fresh concerns that the UK’s creative industries could be damaged.

Entries for GCSE design and technology in England fell by nearly a third (32 per cent) between 2012 and 2017, a new analysis by the Press Association shows.

Performing and expressive arts entries have fallen by 26 per cent over the period, while media, film and TV studies entries have dropped by 22 per cent and drama entries are down 14 per cent.

Entries for GCSE music are down 8 per cent and art and design entries are down 1 per cent.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), has warned: “Maintaining the skills pipeline is vital to the future of the creative industries and drop in uptake of arts GCSEs would directly affect this.”

Industry experts and headteachers argue that the government’s reforms – which prioritise core academic subjects – are fuelling the decline. And school funding cuts have made the situation worse.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – a league table measure introduced in 2011 – only judges schools on the number of students that take up maths, English and science, a foreign language and either history or geography at GCSE.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said schools are trying to keep a broad curriculum “against impossible odds.”

On the decline in arts subjects, he said: “This has been caused by a combination of reforms to school performance tables which prioritise traditional academic subjects over the creative arts and a real-terms reduction to school funding which has forced schools to make cuts to the curriculum.”

Ministers have said they want to see 90 per cent of students taking the EBacc – which does not include any arts or design and technology subjects – by 2025.

Mr Barton added: “The curriculum is in danger of being narrowed to an academic core, depriving students of broader opportunities which inspire many into careers in the creative and design industries and damaging this vital sector of the British economy.”

Sam Cairns, co-director at the Cultural Learning Alliance, called it a “social justice issue”. She said: “Research shows that children with an arts deficit are disadvantaged educationally and economically while their more fortunate peers – generally from more affluent backgrounds – are more resilient, healthier, do better in school, are more likely to vote, to go to university, to get a job and to keep it.”

Caroline Julian, head of policy and public affairs at the Creative Industries Federation, said: “The exclusion of creative subjects from the EBacc is a key part of the problem, signalling to schools across the country that creativity is not fundamental to future skills and jobs.

“This is damaging to our future economy, as the rise of automation will increasingly require the next generation to be equipped with both creative and technical skills.”

Ms Annetts, who is also founder of Bacc for the Future, a group of more than 200 organisations calling on the government to review the EBacc, told The Independent: “Our creative industries are worth £92bn a year to the UK economy, and are growing faster than any other part.

“With growing automation of other roles and an impending Brexit, maintaining the skills pipeline to these industries will become all the more important.”

Data published by exams regulator Ofqual this year suggests the trend is set to continue across many creative subjects, with numbers down for GCSEs including design and technology, drama and music.

And the figures showed that the popularity of the arts among students taking their A-levels this summer has continued to decline, and students are also turning away from English and humanities.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “High quality arts subjects are an important part of every child’s education and the proportion of pupils taking arts subjects at GCSE has remained largely stable since 2010.

“Music remains a compulsory subject from age five to 14 and we are investing nearly £500m up to 2020 in a range of music and arts education programmes designed to improve arts provision for all children.

“This includes 120 music education hubs set up across the country to give every child the opportunity to play an instrument.”

Additional reporting by PA

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