Education & Family

Top experts' letter pleads for art history A-level

Students in art history A-level Image copyright Katrina Campbell
Image caption The A-level considers how the most pressing and social and political issues play out in art, say academics

Hundreds of academics have signed an open letter to an exam board, decrying plans to axe art history A-level.

The AQA board announced last week that it would not offer the A-level to new students after this year. Top experts battle to save art history

The decision to cut the A-level comes when "society has never required its insights more", argues the letter.

AQA said the change "was not about money or whether history of art deserves a place in the curriculum".

The letter, to AQA chief executive Andrew Hall, expresses "grave concerns" about the move.

"As AQA is the only exam board to currently offer the art history qualification, the decision will result in a subject of profound social, cultural and economic importance disappearing from the UK A-level landscape," it argues.

'Inspiring prospect'

The more than 220 signatories include leading members of university faculties, museums and galleries in the UK and overseas.

They range from world experts such as Oxford University's Prof Craig Clunas, Christina Prescott-Walker, senior vice-president of Sotheby's New York, and Prof Julian Stallabrass of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, to emerging art historians "who represent the future of the subject".

A reformed art history syllabus, due for first teaching next September, would have given students the "opportunity to study how the most pressing social and political issues we face today; from war to environmental change, identity to migration; play out and have played out through the visual and material world".

It was an "exciting and inspiring prospect", they argue.

The plan was to "encourage and support a greater number of schools and colleges, particularly in the state sector, to offer the subject to 16 to 18-year-olds".

The exam board's decision not to go ahead represents "a vital loss for students", they add.

Image copyright Katrina Campbell
Image caption AQA says the massive range of the subject makes it very hard to mark accurately

They argue that the A-level is an important route into a degree in the subject, while many directors, curators and educators in museums, galleries and heritage industries, crucial to international tourism and the economy, studied the subject both at A-level and at university.

"By denying young people access to the study of art history at a vital juncture in their lives, the AQA decision will actively discourage the next generation from pursuing careers in the arts and place current successes in real danger."

They urge Mr Hall "in the strongest possible terms" to take up an invitation to discuss how to make the new syllabus work.

In response, AQA said its decision not to offer the new syllabus stemmed from fears that accurate and reliable marking of such a wide-ranging subject would be impossible.

"We wanted to continue with history of art, and the best experts in the country have tried to produce assessments that meet the requirements and can also be accurately marked and graded, but the risks are too high," said a spokeswoman.

"We understand the disappointment of the subject community and, having tried for the past year to make the subject work at A-level, regret that we weren't able to achieve this."

During the 2015-2016 academic year 839 students took A-level History of Art; nearly 83% attained an A*-C grade and 10.5% gained an A*.

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