Decline in drama and media studies A-levels as computing and languages surge in popularity

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Drama is seeing a decline in popularity among GCSE and A-level students in England, according to recent figures.

Preliminary data for England indicates that exam entries for drama A-level have decreased by 5.8%, while A-level entries for media studies have also seen a drop of 1.3%.

The trend is mirrored at GCSE level where entries for performing arts have declined by 3.1%, and entries for drama have dipped by 0.8% compared to the previous summer.

However, the latest figures from exams regulator Ofqual show an increase in GCSE and A-level entries for modern foreign languages and computing.

Despite the fall in certain subjects, the overall number of entries for this summer's exams for both GCSE and A-levels has risen, as per provisional figures released on Thursday.

GCSE provisional entries have seen a rise of 4.8% from 5,543,840 in summer 2023 to 5,811,790 this summer, while A-level entries have increased by 2.4% from 806,410 last summer to 825,390 this summer.

However, not all subjects have seen a boost from the overall increase in entries. A-level entries for sociology have fallen 6.9% compared to last summer, while geography has seen a decrease of 3.9% and history by 2.6%.

German entries have seen an uptick this summer after a downward trend in recent years, with provisional GCSE entries up 3.4% since last year and A-level entries up 3.1%.

Meanwhile, computing continues to grow in popularity, with provisional GCSE entries up 6.2% since last year and A-level entries up 11.8%.

Within English Baccalaureate (EBacc) a governmental initiative aiming to ensure pupils undertake English, maths, science, humanities and a language at GCSE level - languages and computer science are included.

The Government has voiced an ambition to see 90% of students studying the EBacc grouping by 2025.

Meanwhile, A-level entries for Mathematics and Further Mathematics have witnessed growth since the previous summer, increasing by 11.4% and 19.8% respectively.

Commenting on this situation, Pepe Di'Iasio, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) general secretary said: "We're delighted to see an increase in GCSE entries in some creative arts subjects, design and technology, and in French and German, all of which have seen very significant, long-term falls in entries."

He continued: "However, it is clearly tough to maintain these subjects as seen by the fact that both drama and performing arts are down at GCSE, and there are also drops in entries for some creative arts subjects at A-level.

"Schools and colleges do need Government support to maintain a broad curriculum it is an important and much-valued feature of our education system but, at present, Government policies and resourcing tend to lead to narrowing of the curriculum."

In December last year, a House of Lords committee called for the EBacc to be axed, after concerns about the decline of creative and technical subjects.

The Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee released a report indicating that the current educational system is curtailing students' chances to engage with a wide-ranging and balanced curriculum.

Daniel Kebede, the National Education Union's (NEU) general secretary, commented on the concerning trend revealed by the latest provisional entry figures: "The provisional entry figures published today show the continuation of a catastrophic trend."

He also criticised recent Government actions, stating: "Just this week, the Government made another attack on the arts in education with its damaging, inaccurate rhetoric around degrees in these subjects.

"With young people hearing this, and schools and colleges both underfunded and constrained in the subjects they can offer thanks to wrong-headed, inaccurate performance metrics like the EBacc, it's no wonder entries in arts subjects have almost halved since 2010."

Caroline Norbury, CEO of Creative UK, expressed her concerns about the decline in drama GCSE and A-level entries, noting it as part of a broader issue: "It's concerning that the number of drama GCSE and A-levels are falling. Sadly, this is representative of a wider pattern across creative subjects.

"Creative education provides young people with invaluable cognitive and communication skills, the ability to think critically, and supports complex problem solving. These are all essential skills our future workforce will require and not just within the Cultural and Creative Industries."

Conservative peer Lord Baker, a former education secretary and chairman of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust which champions university technical colleges (UTCs), remarked: "Today's data is a highly encouraging indicator of how young people are choosing GCSEs which will equip them with the correct knowledge and skills for destinations such as degree apprenticeships and Stem university courses.

"It is especially pleasing to see entries to the design and technology GCSE continue to improve, in spite of the English Baccalaureate system which discourages schools from delivering technical subjects."