Russell Group scraps preferred A-levels list after arts subjects hit

Friday, May 24, 2019

Arts education organisations have welcomed a decision by the Russell Group of research-led universities to scrap its controversial list of preferred A-levels, after long-running criticism that it has contributed to a devaluation of arts subjects.

The group’s list of so-called “facilitating subjects”, including maths, English, sciences, languages, history and geography, was originally drawn up to help pupils choose A-levels that would open doors to more degrees at the most selective universities.

Critics claim it has resulted in a narrowing of the school curriculum, squeezing out arts and creative subjects in favour of the more traditional, academic subjects included on the list. Subjects like art and music have been among the hardest hit.

Now they are calling on the government to reconsider its favoured English baccalaureate (EBacc) suite of subjects which is based on the Russell Group list and is, they say, similarly influencing GCSE choices in schools.

Announcing its decision, the Russell Group, which is made up of 24 universities, said the list of preferred A-levels had been “misinterpreted” by students who mistakenly thought these were the only subjects that top universities would consider.

An interactive website offering more “sophisticated and personalised” guidance on A-level choices will replace it, giving creative subjects and other less traditional subjects greater prominence.

Sarah Stevens, the Russell Group’s director of policy, said: “The website will give pupils, teachers and parents the opportunity to test out many different combinations of subjects based on their interests to find out the degrees that may be open to them.”

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, which is the UK’s professional body for musicians, said the list of facilitating subjects has had “a devastating effect” on the uptake of creative subjects at A-level.

“This is particularly the case within A-level music,” she said, adding that it was the fastest disappearing subject in schools.

Annetts said the Russell Group move now called into question the EBacc, which is based on the now-abandoned list of facilitating subjects. “We urge the government to look again at their EBacc policy, which is already failing on its own terms and has no place in a 21st century education,” Annetts said.

Jacqui O’Hanlon, chair of the Cultural Learning Alliance and director of education at the Royal Shakespeare Company, welcomed the Russell Group move, saying that the advice on facilitating subjects had unintentionally devalued arts subjects and led to a decline in time spent teaching the arts in schools.

She said: “We hope that this important move by the Russell Group makes a significant contribution to changing perceptions of the value of arts subjects in the English education system.

“Scrapping the old facilitating subjects list and providing comprehensive, nuanced and interactive guidance is a clear message to students, parents and schools: studying the arts can offer a route to a wide-range of different careers and fields of study.”

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

Source: The Guardian