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Arts in Education continued

Currently, the majority of universities across the country ask for a Dance or Theatre A- Level to continue that subject at Degree level. Does taking that particular subject at A Level give students the best chance of completing that degree course? Discuss.

The reason for this topic choice is because arts in education seemed to be a topical headline for 2013 with the changes in curriculum taking place and a new model of GCSE’s being formed. The Cultural Learning Alliance published an article explaining the new system which includes ‘Attainment 8’ where Schools will be asked to publish league tables of children’s attainment in their 8 Best GCSE subjects. These 8 GCSEs will need to include English, Maths and at least three other English Baccalaureate subjects and Progress 8 – Schools will be judged on the progress that young people make in these 8 Best GCSE subjects. From this it is important to note that although the Department of Education press release refers to ‘English, Maths, 3 English Baccalaureate subjects and 3 others’, in reality, English, Maths and Science in themselves could take up 6 of the ‘slots’ that the ‘8 Best’ offers – leaving very little room for other choices once the other mandatory EBacc subjects have been chosen.

It has also come at a time where university fees have risen from around £3,000 to £9,000 and students have started to question whether to attend university depending on their career choices. Despite this rise in fees, Drama degree applications going up where figures from the University and Colleges Admissions Service show that the number of applications to drama courses for 2013 had increased by 7.3%, which is surprising when at the same time the term ‘soft subject’ for subjects such as Dance and Drama had started to make an appearance within government documents such as Darren Henley’s ‘Cultural Education in England’ report and within school documents like the ‘Informed Choices’ document by Wendy Piatt

I ask this question now after having completed two years of my own Theatre Studies degree at the University of Surrey. Looking back I wander if the A Level subjects I took gave me the best chance in completing my Theatre degree and I honestly believe they did. They provided me with a broad skill set which offers me greater flexibility in many of today’s industries. From personal experience I took subjects which now would be classed as ‘soft subjects’. I chose my subjects thinking they would be the best match for a degree in theatre and they included, Theatre Studies, Dance and Media Studies A-Level. For me, these subjects gave me good background knowledge, a shared language and strong practical skills to aid me in completing my chosen degree. However this is skills and knowledge I would have quickly gained during my first semester at university. So did it really put me at a better footing when completing the degree?  

When trying to answer this question I decided to create a small questionnaire to send out to universities who have a Faculty of Arts and to acquire opinions from lecturers that teach these subjects. I wanted to know if they believe students should be taking an arts subject at A Level before they progress onto a degree programme of the same nature, and I definitely got a mixture of answers/opinions which I will discuss within this article. Across this discussion piece there will also be glimpses of opinions from a variety of sources such as newspaper articles, government documents and theatre magazines.

Table of Responses





Dr Adam Alston

Lecturer in Theatre Studies

University of Surrey


Dr Stuart Andrews

Lecturer in Theatre Studies

University of Surrey


Sally Varell

Head of Dance

Cardiff Metropolitan University


Dr Paul Johnson

Head of Drama and Musical Theatre

University of Wolverhampton


Dr Clare Lidbury

Head of Dance

University of Wolverhampton


Lucy Nicholson

Course Leader for Dance Degree

University of Central Lancashire


The question ‘Does taking a particular arts subject at A Level give students the best chance of completing that arts degree course?’ is debated in more detail in the rest of my paper in which university lecturers are given a voice. I encourage you to read my debate piece and I welcome your feedback which you can email to

Download the full report here >>

For another contribution to the debate check out “Every Child Matters … Still” by PDSW’s Youth and Education Coordinator Gemma Connell >>

Heidi Lesiw

University Work Placement Student

Pavilion Dance South West


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