Researchers blame Progress 8 for decline in GCSE art subject entries

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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New evidence about the negative impact of the EBacc performance measure on arts education at GCSE has contradicted the government’s own research. Pete Henshaw reports

The government has been called upon to withdraw its claim that the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) performance measure has not resulted in falling entries to arts subjects.

It comes after a report last week showed a notable decline in arts subject entries at GCSE over the past two years.

The study, published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), highlights the triple pressure of the EBacc, Progress 8 and wider financial issues as being to blame for the decline.

It says that the EBacc element of Progress 8 is putting “particular pressure on arts subjects”.

However, the findings are at odds with a Department for Education (DfE) analysis published in July showing that in schools where EBacc entries have increased the proportion of pupils entered for at least one arts subject has also increased.

The figures in the EPI’s analysis show that the 2016 entry rate for arts subjects was the lowest in a decade, with a particular decline between 2014 and 2016 coming after several years of gradual increases.

Arts qualifications are defined as those relating to art and design, drama and theatre, media, film, and TV studies, music, dance, and performing arts.

The average number of arts entries per-pupil fell from 0.80 in 2013 to 0.70 in 2016 (in 2010 it was 0.75).
Meanwhile, the proportion of pupils taking at least one arts subject fell from 57.1 per cent in 2014 to 53.5 per cent in 2016 (in 2010, the figure stood at 55.6 per cent).

It means that, proportionally, around 19,000 fewer pupils took arts subjects in 2016 than in 2014 and early 2017 exam data shows that the trend is continuing.

The proportion of pupils entered for the EBacc in state-funded schools has increased from 21.8 per cent when it was introduced in 2010 to 39.7 per cent in 2016, with the majority of this increase taking place in 2012 and 2013.

However, the EPI analysis says that in 2016 – when Progress 8 was first used – the proportion of pupils being entered for four of the EBacc’s five components rose by 11 per cent.

Progress 8 measures a pupil’s progress across eight subjects: English, maths, three EBacc qualifications, and three other subjects (either EBacc subjects or other approved qualifications).

The report – Entries to Arts Subjects At Key Stage 4 – states: “It is likely that it is the EBacc element of Progress 8 which is currently particularly putting pressure on arts subjects by limiting the number of option subject slots that can be filled by non-EBacc subjects.

“It is the Progress 8 requirement of entry into at least five EBacc subjects which appears to have been particularly important for arts entries in 2016: entry to the full EBacc increased very little in 2016, but entry to four EBacc components rose by over 10 percentage points. As schools adjust further to Progress 8 and the phasing in of more new GCSE curricula, as well as financial challenges, it seems likely that the pressure on arts subjects could increase further.”

The report acknowledges that the EBacc curriculum has had an impact on Pupil Premium attainment in English and maths. However, it adds: “The government needs to acknowledge that at the same time, the EBacc and Progress 8 have brought increased pressure on arts subjects, and to consider the impact which reduced access to the arts is likely to have both on pupils and on the creative industries more widely.”

The EPI report also finds that trends relating to pupil prior attainment have shifted in recent years. Before 2013, pupils with high prior attainment were more likely to enter at least one arts subject. However, this pattern is now reversed and those with medium or low prior attainment are more likely to have at least one arts entry.

The report adds: “This could be because high-attaining pupils were the first to be encouraged by their schools to enter the EBacc. In contrast, those with medium or low prior attainment may have initially been guided towards arts subjects, away from vocational qualifications.

“More recently, these pupils may have shifted away from arts subjects as schools focus on ensuring that they fulfil the EBacc element of Progress 8, even if they do not take the full set of EBacc subjects.”

The report comes after the government confirmed in July that it wants to see 90 per cent of year 10 pupils starting to study a full suite of EBacc GCSEs by 2025. An interim target of 75 per cent by 2022 has also been established by the DfE.

Ministers are adamant that the EBacc has not negatively influenced entries to arts subjects. A DfE analysis – Trends in Arts Subjects in Schools where English Baccalaureate Entry has Increased – drew on data from the National Pupil Database and focused on around 300 schools whose EBacc entry rates have risen by
40 percentage points since 2010.

The report states: “The proportion of pupils entering at least one arts subject has remained broadly stable, both for schools whose EBacc entry has seen a large increase and for other schools.

“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.”

Publishing the report, schools minister Nick Gibbs said: “Alongside the EBacc, the arts are a crucial part of a broad and balanced curriculum and it is great to see that the best schools ensure young people have the option to study both academic and creative subjects.”

However, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, remains unconvinced.
He said: “It is clear that the EBacc element of Progress 8 is putting the squeeze on arts subjects. We welcome the EPI’s report, which echoes our long-held concerns. The influence of the EBacc works against a broad and balanced curriculum, and it is imperative that it be withdrawn.

“Long-term damage has been inflicted on creative and technical subjects excluded from the EBacc. Many schools have resisted fully implementing the government’s proposals for the EBacc because they recognise that this narrow range of subjects is not the right choice for every child.

“As recently as July this year, in its latest pronouncement on EBacc, the government was claiming that ‘entries to arts subjects have not fallen as a result of the introduction of the EBacc’. In the light of the EPI report, this claim must be withdrawn.”

The Association of School and College Leaders, meanwhile, wants to see a government review of the decline in arts subjects.

General secretary Geoff Barton said: “The government must stop burying its head in the sand. The evidence is clear that arts subjects are being driven to the fringes of the curriculum by accountability measures which heavily prioritise a narrow range of academic subjects, and an education funding crisis which means schools are having to cut courses.

“Nobody is disputing that the curriculum should have a rigorous academic core, but it also needs to maintain a breadth which preserves student choice, and protects the huge importance of arts subjects in our cultural life. The government must review how its policies are squeezing the life out of the arts.”


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