Why are arts subjects on the decline?

‘Arts GCSEs experience 37% drop in past decade.’ This headline from The Stage last month is extremely concerning

Its research found that this year:
·       424,528 young people were entered for an arts subject at GCSE level, compared to 673,879 10 years ago in 2010 (37%)
·       GCSE drama and music entries declined by less than 1%
·       A-level arts entries also saw another year of decline, with a 2% year-on-year decrease, contributing to a 30% drop since 2010
·       A-level drama experienced a 6% decrease in numbers, from 9,266 to 8,668

Why is this? What is stopping students taking arts subjects at school? 
If we go back to 2010 to when Michael Gove was Secretary of State for Education. He had the “great” idea of excluding arts subjects from the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) to focus on traditional ‘core/academic’ subjects at GSCE level i.e. English, STEM, history, geography, and language.

The EBacc was introduced to ensure more pupils attained higher grades in these said ‘core’ subjects that, ‘keeps young people’s options open for further study and future careers’ and are ‘essential to many degrees and open up lots of doors.’ As stated on the Governments website!

It is the Government’s aim that 75% of pupils will be studying EBacc subjects by 2022, with this figure rising to 90% by 2025.

This to me is wrong on so many levels. This tells me that the arts are deemed unimportant and studying these subjects will not help young people get a good job or have a fulfilling career. This is not the message we should be sending out to children who are passionate about the arts. 

As Secretary of State of Culture, Nicky Morgan, said: ‘a young person’s education cannot be complete unless it includes the arts.’ I certainly agree. (We won’t talk about the other comments she made when she was Education secretary – that I did not agree on!)

To me arts subjects are absolutely vital to us all, particularly from a young age. It enriches our lives, brings creativity into all we do, adds value and contributes to our learning by providing us with key skills such as communication, discipline, concentration and self-esteem. There are so many positives that come out of the arts. 

Some children may not be able to sit still and concentrate during a maths class, but they come alive on the stage. Some may not feel confident in their writing skills, but can read and play music beautifully. These opportunities cannot be taken away from the classrooms. It’s a real struggle for young people to realise their potential if they are not given the chance to experiment.

Steve McQueen, Artist and Director, is a true advocate of the arts in schools and has previously said: “The curriculum needs to be big enough to include all subjects and be for all children. Art and creativity are so important to science, to maths, or to any other academic venture. Cutting arts education means you cut off inventiveness which impacts on being creative.”

Why is it that creativity has to stop at 15? Arts subjects are only compulsory in schools from the ages of 5 – 14 and not beyond. Why?

What happens to those who are exposed to arts subjects from an early age and become extremely talented in say music or drama, but are told at 15 they can’t continue to study this subject when they get to GCSE? What must happen to all their enthusiasm, motivation and confidence? 

Their future choices and any potential opportunities are suddenly snatched away and they must go on to study subjects that they potentially have no interest in. How can we help build on young people’s potential if their strengths lie elsewhere?

If young people have a passion for something, they must go for it and follow their dream. Life it too short to be told what they can and can’t study and which subjects are going to open the most doors. Isn’t that down to the person, rather than the subjects they take, grades they get or school they go to? 

We need to show just how enriching and rewarding a career in the arts can be, and make young people aware of the variety, opportunity, experiences and potential within our industry. 

Theatre, and other segments of the arts, is missing out on so much talent because young people are being taken away from us and diverted into other industries because of our education system.

It’s about time the Government listened and recognised the importance of the arts and the way it enhances people’s lives, and that it MUST have a place on the school curriculum. It is a subject worthy of a qualification, just like all the rest.

Last week the inspirational and passionate advocate of the arts and creative thinking Sir Ken Robinson died at the young age of seventy. His TED talk “Do schools kill creativity?” is the most watched TED talk ever. Recorded in 2006 it’s well worth a listen.

It's a pity governments didn’t listen more to Sir Ken. We would all be so much happier if they had. RIP Ken. You will be sorely missed.


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