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Axing Art History will only affect privately educated pupils

ByRowan Gourlay

Oct 18, 2016

It is a great shame that the Art History A-Level has been scrapped by Theresa May’s government, perhaps even a disgrace. Art History is a subject that introduces children to great masterpieces, broadening their minds and giving them a cultural education. Like Media Studies, Creative Writing, and Home Economics, Art History is considered a ‘soft’ subject that is not challenging enough for the young minds of today. I have seen several friends post about this on social media, asking me to sign a petition to protect Art History, and declaring that children should not have the opportunity to a cultural education taken away from them.

However, until it was announced that Art History was being scrapped, many, including myself, were not even aware that it could be taken at A-Level. There are just 17 state schools in the country that offer it as an option. Art History is a privilege for the privately educated, and, given that only seven per cent of children go to private schools, roughly 93 per cent of children would have never have had the opportunity to study Art History anyway.

Historian Simon Schama tweeted that by axing Art History the government is damaging the country’s “creative capital”, “impoverishing” the next generation. Sadly, it is not an entire generation that will be affected by this: by Schama’s reckoning, state school pupils have always been culturally ‘impoverished’.
Subjects such as Art History and Classics have long been taught in private schools, and long remained inaccessible to the vast majority of state school pupils. At the same time, private schools have large budgets to spend on drama productions, art shows, sports facilities and the like. Privately educated pupils do not just get the benefits of smaller class sizes and longer school days. They get a cultural education that is largely denied to state school pupils.

Recently it was reported that half of British Oscar or Bafta-winning actors attended a private school, as well as 28 per cent of Britain’s team at the Rio Olympics. This is a direct result of the time and money put into ‘soft’ subjects and extra-curricular activities by private schools.

I do not know a single person studying Art History who went to a state school. Would it occur to you to apply for a subject you had never heard of previously?

Clearly, the government did not scrap Art History in an attempt to make private and state education more equal. It is a problem that will only be solved by increasing accessibility, not decreasing it. Culture, including art, is an important and rich part of society, and it must be accessible not just to the people who can afford to pay for it. This is a problem not limited to academic study.

While we are lucky in Britain that many art galleries are free to the public, exhibitions of renowned artists usually cost upwards of £15 for a ticket, almost twice the cost of a cinema ticket. This is simply an unaffordable luxury for many people. If we really wanted to ensure that the next generation were able to explore the world through art, we would broaden the opportunities that are available at state schools and make these privileged subjects accessible to everyone.


Image: Creative Digest

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