News

Arts GCSE and A Level entries 2021

13 August 2021

Further overall decline in arts GCSE and A Level entries; small year on year increases in some subjects. Far fewer arts GCSEs and A Levels are studied across England’s schools than a decade ago.

-38% decline in arts GCSE entries 2010 to 2021

-1% decline in arts GCSE entries 2020 to 2021

+2.4% increase in GCSE Cohort number 2020 to 2021

-31% decline in arts A Level arts entries 2010 to 2020, -1% decline 2020-2021

An extraordinary year, again

2021 has been an extraordinary year for GCSEs and A Levels due to the Covid pandemic – no exams took place and teachers set pupils’ grades. Pupils faced unprecedented upheaval in their education for 18 months out of the two years of their GCSE and A Level courses with school closures, lockdowns and large numbers of students isolating.

Much has been written about the grade inflation we have seen from teacher assessed grades (see coverage from Schools Week, TES and The Guardian). In A Levels 44.8% of students got A or A* results compared to 38.5% in 2020. The percentage of GCSEs awarded at grade 7 and above (what was an A) rose to 28.9% from 26.2% last year.

Interestingly within subjects Art & Design GCSE saw the smallest grade inflation with a 0.6% increase in grade 7 and above (PE saw the greatest with 7.1%). We wonder if this could be to do with the fact Art & Design GCSE is all coursework with no terminal exams. At A Level the subject with the greatest increase in A grades with a rise of 13.1% was Music. 

How were grades assessed this year?

Schools and colleges put in place internal quality assurance processes to decide teacher assessed grades. They were required to make sure at least two people were involved in each judgement and the head of each school or college had to sign off the grades. Students were only assessed on the content they had been taught to be fair to students who had been out of school for different amounts of time across the country. Read more from Ofqual on the process.

Existing inequality widening

In line with existing inequality in educational outcomes, students at independent schools have seen the biggest jump in their GCSE grades, with a 4% rise in grades 7 and above compared to rises of 2.3% at comprehensive schools.

Ofqual reported ‘a slight widening of the longstanding results gap between those students in receipt of free school meals and those who are not (this is seen at grades 7 and 4, and on average by 0.1 of a grade, compared to 2019).’ Read more about this from Schools Week.

Ofqual’s commentary on students at independent schools doing better than their peers in state schools, and the widening of results, concludes:

‘It seems likely that many of these changes reflect the uneven impact of the pandemic’.

Time to adjust the system?

Calls to reform GCSEs have been growing in strength over the past few years, and the impact of the pandemic on pupils and schools has only strengthened them. Sam Freedman writing in the Financial Times sets out the crisis. The Rethinking Assessment movement brings together many of the arguments for reform and voices calling for it.

We find it interesting to note how much better students do when their potential and abilities are assessed overall, rather than just being reliant on how well they perform over a few hours in an exam in the summer term of their year 11 and 13 and wonder just how much potential is being wasted through exams blocking students' progression to future study and careers.

GCSE Student Cohort numbers

The change of -1% in arts* entries is set against an increase from 2020 to 2021 in the number of students in year 11 (the year students take GCSEs) of +2.4%.

Student numbers are taken from the Department for Education Schools, Pupils and their characteristics statistics.

GCSE Arts Entries 2010 to 2021

Since 2010 GCSE arts entries have fallen -38% and in the last year overall entries declined by -1%.

GCSE results were published on 12 August this year. Results from the Joint Council for Qualifications show that between 2010 to 2021 in England there was a decline of -38% in the number of arts GCSE entries, from 673,739 in 2010 to 419,357 in 2021.

Between 2020 and 2021 there was a decrease of -1% in arts GCSE entries, although Art & Design and Music saw increases of +3% and +1% in their entries.

England only results

2010

2020

2021

% change 2010 to 2021

% change 2020 to 2021

Art and Design subjects

172,504

190,400

195,578

+13%

+3%

Dance**

15,884

9,130

8,848

-44%

-3%

Design and Technology

270,401

88,872

81,774

-70%

-8%

Drama

81,592

57,808

56,739

-30%

-2%

Media/Film/TV Studies

63,808

34,657

32,528

-49%

-6%

Music

46,045

34,665

35,202

-24%

+1%

Performing/expressive arts

23,505

8,996

8,688

-63%

-3%

Total

673,739

424,528

419,357

-38%

-1% 


A Level Arts entries 2010 to 2021

Since 2010 A Level arts entries have fallen -31% and in the last year overall entries have declined by -1%.

A Level results were published on 10 August. A Level arts entries continue to decline overall, although in the last year Art & Design entries rose by +1%. Performing/expressive arts entries saw a rise of +9%, although as the number of entries is small this is actually just an increase of 92 students, and Dance saw a rise of +8%, although again in real terms this is an increase of 87 students. None of these rises offset the larger overall declines in arts entries of the last decade.

England only results

2010

2020

2021

% change 2010 to 2021

% change 2020-21

Art and Design subjects

42,577

38,907

39,293

-8%

+1%

Dance**

2,261

1,116

1,203

-47%

+8%

Design and Technology

16,519

9,167

8,343

-49%

-9%

Drama

15,144

8,668

8,640

-43%

0%

Media/Film/TV studies

31,032

19,508

18,810

-39%

-4%

Music

8,790

5,032

5,039

-43%

0%

Performing/expressive arts

3,666

1,060

1,152

-69%

+9%

Total

119,989

83,458

82,480

-31%

-1%

 

Notes

All GCSE and A Level entry numbers are from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) annual results tables.

*We define arts subjects as Art and Design, Dance, Design and Technology, Drama, Media/Film/TV Studies, Music and Performing/expressive arts

**Dance GCSE and A Level numbers are from the examining board AQA and are for all of the UK. JCQ only reports Dance GCSE numbers within the PE results.