Trends in arts subjects

20 July 2017

As part of the English Baccalaureate consultation response the Department for Education has published Trends in arts subjects in schools where English Baccalaureate entry has increased. The DfE has looked at 297 schools where the number of pupils entering EBacc subjects has increased, and asked if there were changes to the number of pupils entering at least one arts subject. They take 2011 as their baseline, not 2010, when the EBacc was introduced, and do not classify Design & Technology GCSE as an arts GCSE.

The report states, but does not provide the underlying data (e.g. no information on school make-up, size, geography, location, or numbers of arts subjects taken), that:

‘There is little correlation between the change in EBacc entry and the change in arts uptake in state-funded mainstream schools. The small correlation that exists suggests that schools where EBacc entry has increased tend to have also seen an increase in their arts uptake.’


If the data for this statement comes from the New Schools Network (NSN) report published in February which made the same claim, we disagree with its analysis. Key differences are:

  • NSN used GCSE entries from 2011 as a baseline, when the EBacc had already been introduced: we use 2010
  • NSN excluded Design & Technology GCSE, and Independent School entries, which we include in our figures

The DfE report goes on to look at all the schools’ results and concludes that schools which had a high number of children taking at least one arts subject in 2011 have seen a fall and those with a low number have seen a rise. They did this by grouping schools by the percentage of children they had taking at least one art subject. 66% or more children taking one art subjects was seen as high and 33% or less taking one arts subject was seen as low.

We’re not sure how useful this analysis is as it doesn’t look at what happened to the number of children taking more than one arts subject.

Broadly stable = a small decline?

The report also states ‘The proportion of pupils entering at least one arts subject has remained broadly stable’, but they do not provide the percentage of pupils. As in the past Nick Gibb was keen to celebrate a 1% increase in the number of pupils taking at least one arts GCSE (from 46% to 47% in July 2015 – a number you could only reach if you excluded Design & Technology and Dance entries and included AS levels), we can assume ‘broadly stable’ means that it has fallen slightly.

It is worth noting that the data only goes up to 2016. Ofqual provisional data on arts GCSE entries this year has shown another year-on-year drop of -8% in total entries. The report also doesn’t look at the entry rate for pupils who took more than one arts GCSE.

We suspect that part of the fall in arts entries of -27% since 2010 comes from schools switching students away from second arts GCSEs to additional EBacc subjects. The continuing drop of -8% in entries between 2016 and 2017 could change the DfE analysis significantly if we assume the majority of the previous decline in arts GCSE entries was due to children taking one instead of two arts subjects.

Whatever the arts GCSE entries story we know from the DfE schools census that the number of arts teachers has fallen by -16% since 2010, and the number of arts teaching hours has fallen by -17%. Children are getting less access to arts in schools than they were in 2010.