The Struggle of Secondary School Arts

Rory Bishop discovers a saddening secret about school art.

Recently I have had to decide my GCSE subjects and have found myself at a crossroads when it came to picking my subjects, particularly Art, but what really shocked me was the realisation that no one in my Art class had chosen Art GCSE. As a result, I began to look into where the arts fit in the modern curriculum. The current English Department of Education (DfE) and English Baccalaureate seems to be pushing students to focus on the academic side of their school career, and have recently removed all of the four major creative art forms (DT, Art, Music and Drama) from their list of essential subjects for secondary school children. Are the arts needed nowadays or is it right that they are being removed?

To put this all into perspective, from 2015-2016, the number of national applicants for GCSE arts plummeted by 46,000. This is especially shocking because although it had been accepted that the arts were dying in secondary schools, it had been falling by only 9,000 annually up to that point. Interestingly, the most affected subject was DT, for which applications dropped by just below 20,000, and the least affected was Music which only dropped by 1,600. This is not simply a problem for GCSEs; BTEC applications have decreased by 20% and dramatically fewer candidates are choosing the arts at A level. This was only made worse when the budget for the Arts Council England was reduced by 32% from 2010-2015.

One of the many reasons why the arts are becoming much less significant is the constraints on state school budgeting. In schools which have been forced to withdraw a subject, this was an arts subject in 55% of cases. Furthermore, the Arts Council England’s budget was cut by a third in a mere four years, one of the main supporters of arts in schools. These factors have hindered potential development for the arts, crippling the subjects severely for the near future.

It can easily be argued that academic subjects, such as science, are more valuable in society than creative arts, such as DT or music. However, they will undoubtedly remain necessary in the future. Art is more than simple designing and drawing; it is a tool which can be used by anyone, any day, anywhere. It can teach observational skills, analysis and (although it’s cliché) creativity. Music has been shown to improve cognitive abilities and Drama teaches people to express themselves and to consider different perspectives.

At first this article may seem hyperbolic. Our world has become addicted to academic success, with incredible pressure placed upon students to constantly achieve high grades and better marks. There is no doubt that this is important, but where do the arts fit into this equation? There is no easy way to halt this trend. The decline of arts subjects is saddening, but it is happening nevertheless.