If A-level and GCSE exam choices show us a picture of where the next generation is headed, then this year was not a pretty sight for the arts. Alarmingly, statistics show that take-up of A-level Literature for this year has plummeted by 3,500 students compared to 2018, and English Language take-up has dropped by 22%, whilst Art and Design is down by 1.6%. In total there has been a 24% decline overall across all arts A-levels since 2010. The picture at GCSE level shows a similar fall, with Art GCSE showing a decline of 10% and 35% decline across arts subjects from 2010 -2018.
The knock-on effects of this decline for future generations are potentially huge, as a lack of creatives, artists, and musicians making art would be a huge loss for the colour and vibrancy of society. It would also lead to a lower engagement in the arts from audiences and would continue the trend of undervaluing arts subjects not only in schools but in our wider culture.
The charity sector is responding and aiming to meet the needs of young people that may be put off studying arts subjects. Arts Emergency, a charity that matches students to mentors in the creative sector to encourage study of the Liberal Arts, is a big advocate for students pursuing arts subjects stating:
“They’re stopping before they seriously pursue a flight of fancy because these things aren’t taken seriously, because they’re not obviously profitable or sensible. That’s a tragedy.”
It’s a shame because we know that the arts contribute widely. For the individual arts subjects encourage creativity, practice critical thinking, and can improve wellness helping students overcome stress and improving health and happiness.
It is also important to note that; “schools that integrate arts into their curriculum show improved student performance in Math’s, English, critical thinking and verbal skills.” Beyond the classroom these skills are vital. A growing school of thought even champions an increase of arts and humanities graduates in tech, with “Creativity, curiosity and empathy” cited as the top employability skills of the future, all of which are skills that arts subjects foster.
These three core values are also really important for jobs in the charity sector. As well as technical skills and specialist knowledge, we need creativity in order to create new campaigns, to innovate and to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Curiosity leads to innovation and empathy is at the heart of charity work. Industries thrive when they include a wide range of thinkers. Therefore we must do more halt the deprioritisation of arts subjects in the curriculum and to encourage young people that there is so much value in pursuing arts subjects.
Understanding the motivations of the next generation and the barriers which they face entering into these subjects, and the careers beyond, can help us to redress the balance. The question here should not be how many students are taking these subjects but how many that wanted to take them decided against it. Following your interests can lead to a fulfilling and rewarding career, and the future of our industries depends on it. We require passionate advocates to help build our arts institutions, to raise vital funds and to stimulate new ideas and thinking but also creatives are an essential part of broader needs like tech, business and employability – as such the debate about the value of art needs to go above and beyond the instrumental value of arts itself.
By Frances Campbell, Development Associate at Cause4