Entries to arts subjects at Key Stage 4

The state of arts subjects in England’s schools has been a highly contested topic in recent years – with claims that changes to performance measures, along with financial pressures in schools, have caused a decline in entries. Such arguments have been rejected by the Department for Education. Drawing on data covering arts subject entries by Key Stage 4 cohorts over the past ten years, this timely EPI report seeks to add clarity to this debate. Along with overall trends, it also examines how arts entries vary between different regions, and by pupil characteristics – such as gender, socio-economic status, and prior attainment.

The report that finds that entries to arts subjects at KS4 have declined over the past couple of years, with the latest data from 2016 showing entry rates have fallen to the lowest in a decade. The average number of arts entries per pupil fell from 0.80 in 2013 to 0.70 in 2016, with the proportion of pupils taking at least one arts subject falling from 57.1% in 2014 to 53.5% in 2016. Examining the drivers behind these trends, our analysis suggests that it is the introduction of Progress 8 that is particularly significant. The report finds a significant north-south divide in arts entries – with southern regions showing higher entry rates than northern regions. This ranges from 57.3% of pupils entering at least one arts subject in the South West, to 47.8% in the North East.

A gender gap also exists in the take-up of arts subjects, with 64.7% of girls taking at least one arts subject, compared with 42.5% of boys. In addition, the latest data shows that there are gaps in entries between pupils from different ethnic backgrounds: black Caribbean pupils have particularly high arts entry rates, whilst pupils from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds are much less likely to have at least one arts entry. The report also finds that pupils who enter the EBacc are less likely to take at least one arts subject than those who do not. In 2016, this stood at 56.5% for non-EBacc pupils, 49.2% for EBacc pupils.

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