New report: Entries to arts subjects at Key Stage 4

21 September 2017

Today the Education Policy Institute published a report Entries to arts subjects at Key Stage 4, in which it has analysed entries to arts subjects between 2007 and 2016.

EPI has had access to pupil level data and has unpicked the recent trends in arts subject entries, looking at both the percentage of all arts entries taken by the cohort and the percentage of pupils with at least one arts entry. Providing these two stats is very useful as it provides a picture of what is happening to children’s access to arts, as well looking at how many students are continuing to study any arts past the end of Key Stage 3.

It is worth noting that EPI made the decision not to include Design & Technology in its analysis as it felt that D&T included too much subject knowledge that is not arts focused. It has also only used data from mainstream state funded schools.

Key findings from the report are:

  • Entries to arts subjects by Key Stage 4 cohorts have declined over the past couple of years, following several years of gradual increases.The 2016 entry rates are the lowest of the past decade.
  • The average number of arts entries per pupil changed from 0.80 in 2013 to 0.70 in 2016; this followed an increase from 0.75 in 2010. 
  • Provisional data relating to 2017 exam entries indicate that the decline observed in the most recent years is continuing. 

Cause of the decline

The report looks at the likely causes of the changes in entries, using the data as well as surveys and interviews with teachers. It concludes that Progress 8 appears to be having a greater impact on entries than the EBacc because Progress 8 is the Floor Standard for secondary schools. However it is the EBacc embedded within Progress 8 that is driving choices.

The report also noted the key impact of school leaders’ decisions:

'Evidence from teachers and school leaders indicates that various factors are placing pressure on arts subjects, including the EBacc, Progress 8, and financial issues. However, the extent to which this pressure impacts on a school’s arts provision depends on the precise combination of these factors within the school’s specific context, and the extent to which school leaders are able or willing to prioritise arts subjects under these circumstances.'


It goes on to say:

‘In cases where the school had maintained or expanded its arts provision, this was often because the head teacher had decided to prioritise a strong arts offer over maximising EBacc entry rates.’ 


Gender gap and regional differences

The report flags that there is a very large gender gap of 22.3 percentage points in entries to arts subjects, with 64.7% of girls taking at least one arts subject compared to 42.5% of boys. There are also regional variations in entries with a gap of 9.5 percentage points between entries in the South West at 57.3% and in the North East at 47.8%.


Looking at the ethnic background of pupils shows Black Caribbean pupils have consistently had the highest rates of entry to arts subjects while students from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds have the lowest rates. In 2016, when 53.5% of all pupils took at least one arts subject, 59.8% of Black Caribbean pupils entered at least one arts subject 41.9% of Indian pupils and 39.5% of Pakistani pupils.

Attainment levels of students taking arts subjects

Also of interest is that students with medium or low prior attainment are more likely to have at least one arts entry. Before 2013 this trend was reversed with pupils with high prior attainment more likely to enter at least one arts subject.

Next steps

This is an important report for the cultural learning sector, highlighting the importance of school leadership, parental support and key regional, gender and ethnicity gaps, as well as the trend for higher attaining students to move away from taking arts subjects.

The Cultural Learning Alliance will be looking closely at the findings and adapting its work over the coming year to focus on the areas of greatest concern. Please do let us know below your thoughts, if the report reflects your concerns and what actions we could support you to take.

Read the full report.