A-level results day shows maths most popular subject as design dwindles

Figures show that 103,655 students took maths this year, while 51,900 took art, design and technology subjects.

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Art, design and technology dwindles in popularity at A-level compared to maths and science subjects, Ofqual A-level results day analysis shows.

Today (16 August) marks A-Level results day, which has shown a high number of students making their grades to go to university across the board this year.

Creative subjects still popular at uni

Over a quarter of England’s 18-year-old population – 27.9% – have been accepted onto an undergraduate course through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), a record number. In total, 411,860 students have so far been placed onto undergraduate courses across the UK, a slight decrease of 1% on last year.

Creative arts and design is still one of the most popular subject areas for undergraduates, coming below only two other subject groups, business and administration studies and biological sciences, data from UCAS shows.

But the number of students accepted onto creative arts and design courses at university has still dropped by 5% on this time last year, down from 44,110 to 41,980, a decrease of 2,130 students.

The final number of those taking creative courses this year is likely to increase up until 31 August, as students who did not make the grades get placed at university through clearing.

A rise in those taking science and maths A-levels

There has been a rise in those taking STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) at A-level.

Maths was the most popular subject at A-Level this year, with 88,205 students taking it and 15,450 taking further maths, according to data from Ofqual, the Government’s exam regulation board. Other popular subjects were chemistry, biology, history and psychology.

Half the number of art, design and tech entries compared to maths

Half the number of students took art and design A-levels this year compared to maths, at 41,150, while an eighth of the amount of those who took maths took design and technology, at 10,750.

In total, 103,655 students took maths this year, while 51,900 took art, design and technology subjects.

Art and design A-level students’ performance has stayed relatively constant since last year, at over a quarter – 27.5% – of students achieving A* and A grades.

Looking ahead to entries made this year to sit exams in 2019, the number of those who have chosen creative A-levels has dropped.

The number taking art and design has dropped by 850, and the number taking design and technology has dropped by 970 students.

Analysis: why has the number of students taking art and design subjects dropped?

The drop in uptake of creative subjects is not a new trend, and has carried through from GCSE through to A-level and undergraduate level for the last few years.

Application figures from UCAS last year showed that there were 17,000 fewer students applied for creative subjects compared to 2016.

There has been criticism of Government education policy in recent years, which many see to have prioritised science and maths and neglected creative subjects.

EBacc qualification focuses on STEM

This includes the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) qualification, which makes it compulsory for GCSE students to take English, maths, science, IT, a language and a humanity, leaving little space for creative subject options.

There has also been an emphasis on STEM, with the Government’s last few industrial strategies focusing on building up careers and skills in these areas.

Previous Government budgets have focused on STEM, with Philip Hammond pledging £23 billion towards science and technology in his 2016 Autumn Statement with little mention to arts funding.

Pressure of tuition fees

Design professionals have also put the drop down to a combination of high (£9,000-per-year) tuition fees and the perception of creative job prospects.

“The pressures of tuitions fees are kicking in,” Peter Higgins, creative director at Land Design Studio and an external examiner in undergraduate interior design, told Design Week last year. “Students seem more inclined to study STEM at university as they have more tangible, predictable career options.”

Could creative industries sector deal help?

However, in March this year, the Government launched a creative industries sector deal as part of its latest industrial strategy, which has promised measures such as £2 million towards a creative careers programme in schools to boost diversity in the sector, and £64 million towards developing partnerships between universities and UK creative businesses.

The question of whether the number of students taking creative subjects will rise again, or whether these areas will continue to lose out to STEM, will depend on how much space Government devotes to creativity in future policy and therefore how much emphasis is placed on it in schools.

Hide Comments (4)Show Comments (4)
  • andy penaluna August 17, 2018 at 10:58 am

    What is often overlooked is the spin off that comes from design, most prominently the notion of ‘design thinking’ in other disciplines – business primarily. In my view this is a thin veneer of what design educators can achieve and what they know, and having led a national quality guidance for the UK University sector on Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, these talented educators who know how to install a sense of future thinking and evaluate the learner not merely on what they recall, but what they can achieve, are very much needed.

    The lack of vision in policy concerns me greatly and although I’m lucky enough to have a voice of sorts, I do wish some dots could be joined to make this discrepancy clear!

  • Tom August 20, 2018 at 8:10 am

    In my experience, the teachers with their lack of design experience (not down to them I hasten to add), the curriculum with its lack of relevant and up-to-date curricular structure and the way these are taught are massive barriers and the fact that the creative industries don’t seem to be taken seriously. Fix these and more people will be drawn to the subject as a whole.

  • Tom August 20, 2018 at 8:11 am

    Completely agree with you Andy.

  • Ezri Carlebach August 20, 2018 at 9:08 am

    I agree with Andy Penaluna, the dots desperately need joining, and what’s missing from this article is any reference to recent government communications heavily promoting maths, which comes on top of the narrowing of time and space for creative subjects. It’s true that we need to greatly increase the level and sophistication of digital skills, but a) that need is greatest among the existing workforce – not at A-level – and b) we need to concentrate on areas where humans have an advantage over machines. Maths is not one of them! See, for example, the NMITE approach: https://nmite.org.uk

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