Leaving the arts behind is a risk

My apologies to regular readers for the absence of any posts over the past few days, but I was at the Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth over the weekend and have been catching up on local matters since returning.

Earlier this week EPI, The Education Policy Institute, published an interesting report into ‘Entries in Arts Subjects at Key Stage 4’. https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Entries_to_arts_subjects_at_Key_Stage_4.pdf Authored by their researcher, Rebecca Jones it paints a depressing picture of falling numbers of entries, even after allowing for the recent decline in the secondary school population. In 2016 there were the lowest number of entries in a decade.  Provisional data relating to 2017 exam entries indicate that the decline observed in the most recent years is continuing

The fall came after a period of increasing entries up to 2013. How far the government’s determination to push the EBacc has caused the fall is a matter for discussion, but the idea of concentrating on a wider measure, such as Progress8 or Attainment8 could well offer a possible way forward to halt the decline.

According to the EPI report, there is a clear and consistent North-South divide in entries to arts subjects, with Southern regions showing higher entry rates than Northern regions. In 2016, the North East experienced a particularly sharp drop in arts entries. The proportion of pupils entering at least one arts subject now ranges from 57.3 per cent in the South West region to 47.8 per cent in the North East, a gap of 9.5 percentage points.

An interesting finding by the EPI team was that before 2013, pupils with high prior attainment were more likely than those with medium or low prior attainment to enter at least one arts subject. This pattern has since been reversed, and those with medium or low prior attainment are now more likely to have at least one arts entry. In 2016, the gap was 3.5 percentage points (54.4 per cent for pupils with medium and low prior attainment, compared with 50.9 per cent for those with high prior attainment).

EPI also found that there is a very large gender gap in entries to arts subjects. In 2016, 64.7 per cent of girls took at least one arts subject, compared with 42.5 per cent of boys, a gap of 22.3 percentage points.

There are substantial gaps in arts entries between pupils from different ethnic backgrounds. Black Caribbean pupils have particularly high entry rates, whilst pupils from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds are much less likely to have at least one arts entry than those from other ethnic groups. I wonder whether the examination boards need to look at syllabuses to see whether they are attractive to those from a wide range of cultures.

For the purposes of the EPI report, arts qualifications were defined as those relating to the following subject areas: art and design; drama and theatre; media, film, and TV studies; music; dance; and performing arts. The EPI analysis does not classify design and technology as an arts subject. Design and technology was excluded from the category of arts qualifications in the EPI report because it includes subjects which have very little overlap with the arts, such as systems and control, and electronic products. It is also categorised separately from art and design in official publications by the Department for Education, including the national curriculum and statistical releases. However, it seems likely that design and technology may have suffered in the same manner as arts subjects since Ebacc was introduced. The government certainly does not seem to fully appreciate its importance in the school curriculum.

The details of the EPI report are of interest to those with concerns about the details. However, the headline finding should concern everyone interested in the role of education in helping to create a civilized society.

 

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