The number of young people studying the arts in school is continuing to decrease, according to industry research, and is widely expected to keep falling this year, and next.
A report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) asserts that the number of students selecting an arts subject (fine art, music and drama, for example) to study at Key Stage 4 (KS4, the GCSE years) in England and Wales in 2016 was at its lowest for over a decade. 2016 was the third consecutive year that numbers had fallen, and provisional figures for 2017 revealed the fourth year of decreases.
What's the reason? - The EPI report blames both a decrease in funding, causing schools to restrict access to the arts in general, and also the recently introduced EBacc, for the fall in arts numbers.
EBacc (the English Baccalaureate) has proved deeply controversial since its introduction, focusing as it does on English, science, maths, humanities, and foreign languages, and reducing the scope for young people to choose an arts subject for study at GCSE.
It is the EBacc which is having the most significant adverse impact on the arts, according to the EPI, with students studying the EBacc reported to be 7% less likely to take an arts subject at GCSE than their peers.
The EPI report contradicts studies from the Government, which say that the EBacc has not affected the uptake of arts subjects.
Why does it matter? - The findings of the report are adding to fears within the arts sector of a 'talent crisis'. More and more leading artists in their fields are choosing to bypass the UK, working and touring in other parts of the world instead. Combined with a lack of essential arts education, there are concerns that this could lead to a shortfall in the numbers of young people training in the arts, damaging a vital sector of the UK economy.
Also noteworthy is the direct impact on school budgets of changing curricula. From the hassle and challenges of ensuring that there are the right numbers of teachers trained in each subject, through to the trouble of replacing children's school desks, and re-equipping classrooms to teach different subjects. At a time of reduced funding and other pressures, these are all problems which many schools could do without.