Drama continues decline in popularity at GCSE and A-level in England – figures

Provisional figures showed exam entries for drama A-level are down by 5.8% compared to last summer.

The number of pupils taking drama at A-level and GCSE has fallen compared to last year
The number of pupils taking drama at A-level and GCSE has fallen compared to last year (David Davies/PA)

Drama is continuing to fall in popularity among GCSE and A-level students in England, figures suggest.

Provisional figures for England show exam entries for drama A-level are down by 5.8%, while A-level entries for media studies have also fallen by 1.3%.

The picture is similar at GCSE where performing arts entries have dropped by 3.1%, while entries for drama have fallen by 0.8% compared to last summer.

But GCSE and A-level entries for modern foreign languages and computing have increased, the latest figures from the exams regulator Ofqual show.

The overall number of entries for this summer’s exams for both GCSE and A-levels has risen, according to provisional figures published on Thursday.

GCSE provisional entries have increased by 4.8% from 5,543,840 in summer 2023 to 5,811,790 this summer, while A-level entries have risen by 2.4% from 806,410 last summer to 825,390 this summer.

But not all subjects have benefited from the overall increase in entries.

At A-level, entries for sociology are down 6.9% on last summer, while geography has declined by 3.9% and history by 2.6%.

Entries for German have increased this summer after a downward trend in recent years, with provisional GCSE entries up 3.4% since last year and A-level entries up 3.1%.

Meanwhile, computing is enjoying a continued rise in popularity, with provisional GCSE entries up 6.2% since last year and A-level entries up 11.8%.

Languages and computer science are included in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – a Government measure which aims to ensure pupils take English, maths, science, a humanities subject and a language at GCSE.

The Government’s ambition is to see 90% of pupils studying the EBacc subject combination at GCSE by 2025.

At A-level, entries for mathematics and further mathematics have also increased since last summer (by 11.4% and 19.8% respectively).

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We’re delighted to see an increase in GCSE entries in some creative arts subjects, design and technology, and in French and German, all of which have seen very significant, long-term falls in entries.

“However, it is clearly tough to maintain these subjects as seen by the fact that both drama and performing arts are down at GCSE, and there are also drops in entries for some creative arts subjects at A-level.

“Schools and colleges do need Government support to maintain a broad curriculum – it is an important and much-valued feature of our education system but, at present, Government policies and resourcing tend to lead to narrowing of the curriculum.”

In December last year, a House of Lords committee called for the EBacc to be axed as it raised concerns about the decline in creative and technical subjects.

The Education for 11–16 Year Olds Committee’s report said the current system is limiting pupils’ opportunities to study a broad and balanced curriculum.

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The provisional entry figures published today show the continuation of a catastrophic trend.

“Just this week, the Government made another attack on the arts in education with its damaging, inaccurate rhetoric around degrees in these subjects.

“With young people hearing this, and schools and colleges both underfunded and constrained in the subjects they can offer thanks to wrong-headed, inaccurate performance metrics like the EBacc, it’s no wonder entries in arts subjects have almost halved since 2010.”

Caroline Norbury, chief executive of industry body Creative UK, said: “It’s concerning that the number of drama GCSE and A-levels are falling. Sadly, this is representative of a wider pattern across creative subjects.”

She added: “Creative education provides young people with invaluable cognitive and communication skills, the ability to think critically, and supports complex problem solving. These are all essential skills our future workforce will require – and not just within the Cultural and Creative Industries.”

Conservative peer Lord Baker, who is a former education secretary and chairman of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust – which supports university technical colleges (UTCs), said: “Today’s data is a highly encouraging indicator of how young people are choosing GCSEs which will equip them with the correct knowledge and skills for destinations such as degree apprenticeships and Stem university courses.

“It is especially pleasing to see entries to the design and technology GCSE continue to improve, in spite of the English Baccalaureate system which discourages schools from delivering technical subjects.”