GCSE and A Level announcements

26 April 2014

On April 9 Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education announced that Art & Design, Dance, Drama and Music GCSEs would be part of the suite of qualifications to be reformed ready for teaching from 2016.

A Levels in Dance, Drama and Music will also be reformed alongside other subjects, also ready for teaching from September 2016.

Gove made some very encouraging remarks about the value of cultural learning:

I am passionate about great art, drama, dance, music and design, and I am determined to ensure every child enjoys access to the best in our culture. I also want all schools to be able to nurture creative talent in every child.

On the same day, Ofqual published information about how it will assess Geography and History at GCSE and how other subjects, including Art & Design, will be assessed at A Level. This included the news that History GCSE assessment will no longer include coursework or any non-exam assessment. However, Art & Design A level will be 100% non-exam assessment.

Ofqual is also consulting on the proposal that Science GCSEs will no longer include practical experiments as part of the final grade; students will be given a separate pass or fail result for practicals.

You can read more about the annoucments and some of the 290 comments on the BBC news story here, and Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England's response here.

What is good about this?

It is now confirmed that Art & Design, Dance, Drama and Music will continue to exist as GCSEs and A Levels.

We had been concerned that some arts GCSEs and A Levels might cease to exist and end up as solely vocational qualifications. This would have had an impact on how the subjects were perceived by teachers and students alike.

It is also very good news that arts GCSEs will be reformed ready for teaching from 2016 alongside the remaining EBacc subjects. Delaying the implementation of new GCSEs, which will be identified by grades awarded as numbers 1 to 9, rather than letters, ran the risk of the arts being seen as less important subjects.

Michael Gove’s statement was very welcome. As regular readers of CLA news will know there are a series of disincentives acting on the provision of arts subjects in schools at the moment so we were pleased to see the Secretary of State now providing strong leadership around the value of arts subjects.

It is also good news that it has been recognised that Art & Design is best examined through coursework, rather than in a timed exam.

What we still want to see

While we welcome Michael Gove’s very positive statement and confirmation that arts GCSEs will continue, the arts in schools remain in a perilous position.

2013 saw a decrease of 14% in GCSE entries to arts subjects. The new accountability measures still include the EBacc at their heart. Arts GCSEs in subjects as diverse as ceramics and graphic design still discount each other.

Teacher training numbers in Art and Music were cut by 35% in 2012 and, although the number of places are now rising in line with the increase in other subjects (30 places this year), this does not undo the loss of 385 places in 2012.

We are concerned that the removal of coursework in the History GCSE sends the message that research, evaluation and enquiry skills, which are essential for further study and higher education, are no longer valued.

We would like to see the following concrete measures being introduced, to back up the Secretary of State’s recent statement:

  • Removal of the EBacc from accountability systems
  • Reforms to discount codes
  • Addition of Film to the national curriculum
  • Ofsted not judging any school beyond ‘requires improvement’ unless it offers a broad and balanced curriculum which includes the arts and culture
  • STEAM adopted – adding the 'A' of Arts to the STEM subjects

The CLA will continue to advocate at every opportunity for these changes and are currently developing a policy document on STEAM supported by a peer review group including Arts Council England, NESTA and Next Gen which we will publish shortly.