What do the 2017 GCSE and A-Level Results Say About Arts Education?

25th August 2017 - Adam Halls

2017 GCSE and A-Level results are out and IVE has poured over the data to look at what this tells us about the ongoing state of Arts Education in England.

Specifically, we reviewed OFQUAL’s provisional Summer Exam Entries report and the excellent analysis done by Schools Week. These numbers only apply to England as exam approaches are becoming continually devolved.


Starting with A-Levels, these exams have seen huge changes this year with 13 subjects being revised to move all assessment to the end of the course, alongside an across the board general reduction in coursework.

The end result, as the chart below (using data gathered from Schools Week) demonstrates, is an increase in top grades (particularly A* which has increased for the first time since 2011) and lower grades, with a reduction in B,C and D grades and slightly fewer students overall attaining an A-Level (98.1% this year vs 97.9% last year).

A-Level Results 2017 All Subjects

Red = a year on year decrease, Orange = no movement and Green = a year on year increase.

Despite the increase overall in A* grades, A* levels have fallen in the 13 revised A-Level subjects. This is to be expected as part of the rationale behind the revision was to increase the rigour of the qualification. Interestingly Art & Design bucked this trend with a slight increase in A* results year on year.

Effectively, A-Level results are demonstrating a pattern of an increasing gap between high-level achievers and those failing to meet expected standards.

This is replicated somewhat amongst subjects in the arts and culture sector, such as Music, and Art & Design.

A-Level Results 2017 Art & Design A-Level Results 2017 Music

Whereas in Drama and Media/Film/TV Studies we see a generally positive trend of increasing attainment.

A-Level Results 2017 Drama

A-Level Results 2017 Media Studies, Film Studies

Speculation for the reasons for these patterns could include:

OFQUAL also records data on the number of students sitting summer exams. Year on year we can see a clear trend of decreasing numbers of students taking arts and culture subjects.

A-Level Students Sitting Art Subjects 2017


At GCSE level English Literature, English Language and Maths have been amended to the new 9-1 marking system. Much attention has been focused on these new exams but a broad consensus is that results have remained relatively consistent, if slightly better than expected with nearly 2000 students achieving all level 9 or A* results, far more than was considered likely.

Outside of English and Maths though the results show a year of general decline in results.

GCSE Results 2017 All Subjects Except English & Maths

But that general trend is not reflected in arts and culture teaching. Indeed, unlike at A-Level, there is no consistent pattern emerging from GCSE results.

Art & Design fell into the same pattern as A-Level with increases at the top and bottom and reductions in the middle.

GCSE Results 2017 Art & Design

However, Music and Drama showed overall increases.

GCSE Results 2017 Music

GCSE Results 2017 Drama

While Media/Film Studies showed no clear pattern whatsoever.

GCSE Results 2017 Media Studies, Film Studies

One thing that is consistent though, is the decreasing number of students sitting arts and cultural exams. With the introduction of the EBACC, Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures arts subjects are not a priority for many schools with the majority of students unable to take more than 1 or 2 arts subjects at GCSE.

Some schools are, however, managing to buck the trend enabling pupils take all of the Ebacc subjects and up to 3 arts subjects as well, proving that it is possible if the intention is there.

Students Sitting GCSE Arts & Culture Exams 2017

While it is gratifying to see that arts and cultural subjects are continuing to be taught well and even, in the case of GCSE’s and the revised A-Levels, bucking overall trends in declining standards, a few takeaways from these results are clear.

For starters, more needs to be done to help those students that are underperforming in arts subjects, particularly in preparing them for an exam testing model.

More importantly though, fewer students are gaining the opportunity to take an arts subject at GCSE and A-Level. With increasing pressure to deliver good results in the EBACC subjects it becomes imperative that bridge organisations like IVE and our partner LCEPs and NPOs push for a greater inclusion of the arts into the curriculum, greater access to arts and cultural opportunities inside and outside school and raise awareness, via shared case studies, of how some schools are managing to buck the trend to enable pupils to take 2/3 arts GCSEs and achieve in all the Ebacc subjects too.

This is where schemes like Arts Award and Artsmark become crucial. Artsmark provides a framework that includes support and advice for schools to enable them to embed arts and cultural opportunities into the curriculum aligned with school improvement plans to help raise pupil attainment. Arts Award provides a framework for schools and arts organisations to both accredit young people for the arts work they engage in and develop their leadership skills.

Related Articles

21st October 2021

IVE artist micro-commissions 2021: creative paths out of Covid-19

Written by Tess Parker, Story Tiller Communications. Image courtesy of Green Lane. In February 2021, the arts and education sectors were dealing with a…

Read More
19th October 2021

Artsmark Celebration Week

Artsmark’s 20-year anniversary is kicking off this November with a celebration week. Taking place from Monday, 8th November to Friday, 12th November, we’ll be sharing…

Read More
2nd September 2021

How New Bewerley Community School unlocked creative talent and curriculum change to achieve Platinum Artsmark status

Written by Tess Parker, Story Tiller Communications. New Bewerley embraces music with the In Harmony Opera North team. When New Bewerley Community School started…

Read More
Sign up to our newsletter