2020 A-Level results reveal further decline in students studying art and design

Grade data released today shows 300 fewer students on art and design-related courses this year, with girls nearly three times as likely to study the subjects as boys.

The release of A-Level results today reveals that the number of students studying art and design has gone down once again.

It is a relatively small drop – with 38,915 students studying the subjects compared to 39,220 in 2019 – but it marks the third consecutive year of a decline that began in 2017.

The number is considerably less than the most popular subject, maths, which was taken by 87,165 students.

Coronavirus complications to grading

While there are fewer students studying art and design, figures do suggest that attainment this year has been higher: 31.2% of candidates in 2020 achieved an A or higher in their final grades, compared with 27.7% last year.

This is the highest percentage of A grades or higher recorded since 2010. But just how representative this data on attainment is could be up for debate, given the cancellation of exams because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis and the use instead of teachers’ assessments, which were then regulated with an algorithm.

As the Guardian has reported, figures from Ofqual – the non-ministerial government department that regulates qualifications in England – show that almost 40% of teacher assessments were downgraded by one or more grades in the algorithm standardisation process. Only 2.2% were upgraded.

Girls almost three times more likely to study design

As has been a trend for some time now, results show that female students are taking up art and design with a much higher frequency than their male peers.

With 9,830 male candidates and 29,085 female receiving art and design qualifications, the data suggests girls are almost three times as likely to study the subjects. This has remained relatively unchanged since 2013.

A knock-on effect for universities

A continued drop in the number of young people studying art and design at A-Level has a knock-on effect for university admissions.

Data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reveals a drop in the number of students placed onto creative arts and design courses for the coming academic year. Some 43,180 students received places this year, compared with 43,940 last year – a 2% drop.

There are number of factors weighing in on this change. The pandemic has changed the way universities will operate come September this likely has had some effect on placements beyond just grades.

Elsewhere, the steady rise in popularity of apprenticeships could also be having an effect, while many also attribute the falling rates in creative subjects to the government’s focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) over STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths).

Another contributing factor appears to be the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) qualification in 2010. The requirement makes it compulsory for GCSE students to take English, maths, science, IT, a language and a humanity which means that there is little space left for a creative subject .

That said, creative arts and design courses remain one of the most popular choices at university level. Out of all subjects on offer, only subjects allied to medicine, social sciences, and business management attracted more applicants in 2020.

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  • Neil Littman August 17, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    What isn’t mentioned in the article is the impact of fewer overseas students coming to the UK to study. Entire university faculties are at threat of shutdown across a whole range of subjects due to this issue.

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