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A decline in the arts at GCSE? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 4 October 2017

October 4, 2017
A decline in the arts at GCSE

A decline in the arts at GCSE?

In a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ we read:

The proportion of 15- and 16-year-olds in England studying arts subjects such as music and drama has fallen to the lowest level in a decade as a result of government policies and education cuts, figures show.

A report by the Education Policy Institute suggests schools have whittled down the number of pupils taking the likes of dance and fine art at key stage four, after reforms pushed pupils towards more traditional academic subjects such as geography and English.

The EPI report published on Thursday blamed the Department for Education (DfE) over its new Progress 8 performance measure – based on results from predominantly academic subjects at GCSE – and its promotion of the narrow English Baccalaureate (EBacc) suite of subjects as partly responsible for the shift.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said it was clear that the Ebacc and Progress 8 performance measures were squeezing arts subjects out of schools.

I have just listened to a BBC radio 4 programme on science today. (Not my usual choice of topic, I might add, as I view myself as a Humanities’ teacher – but how blinkered I realised I was as I listened.) A lady scientist was being interviewed and she explained that although she was initially interested in Physics at school, she then moved across to Arts’ subjects at sixth form because she found them so fulfilling. Later, at university, she returned to her love of science and studied Astro Physics – and, in particular the science of the Sun. She explained how the beauty of this life-enhancing star reignited her love of science. She is now involved in the science of space weather and its impact on our satellites (etc.) but still looks on Creation with awe and wonder.

Today I am at the Independent Schools’ Association (ISA) London West art exhibition and yet again am struck not only by the ingenuity of our young people but also by the way their creations owe a great deal to Maths (some ingenious 3D models heavily reliant on correct angles and weights), Nature (massive ceramic sculptures), History (sobering aspects of war, devastation and disease), Food Technology (lifelike plates of vegetables) and, of course, Science seen in globes, spheres, human bodies and an imaginative use of a wide variety of materials.


At Ballard 66% of our 2017 GCSE cohort did one or more of fine art, product design, dance, drama, music, expressive arts. This seems to demonstrate that we have a higher take up for ‘the Arts’ than most schools nationally as on average, state secondary schools entered 51.3 per cent of pupils for at least one arts subject at key stage 4 in 2017, while private schools entered 47.6 per cent.

We are fortunate at Ballard in not being tied to Progress 8 measures (and the like) and a straight jacket of ‘forcing’ pupils down a particular academic route based on Government dictates. We are not blind, of course, to the realities of employment today but if this snapshot from the ISA art exhibition – and the science professor on Radio 4 – are anything to go by, a choice in favour of the Arts (or even just one related subject) is a distinct positive and one to be commended.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

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Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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