Decline in optional GCSE subjects like drama in Wales

Pupils singing Image copyright Thinkstock

There has been a decline in the number of pupils studying drama and other optional subjects in Wales, figures have shown.

Entries for GCSE drama this summer were down 8% on 2015 and the figure has fallen by a third over the past decade.

It is said to be part of a more general move away from optional subjects, with a greater focus on the core curriculum.

One teaching union has warned schools could be losing expertise ahead of the introduction of a new curriculum.

In the 2016 summer examinations there were 2,624 pupils registered for GCSE drama - down from 4,182 entries in 2007.

According to the WJEC exams board, the figures are part of a wider trend which has seen a fall in entries for many optional subjects.

WJEC chief executive Gareth Pierce said there has been "a definite fall" in numbers taking optional subjects.

"The largest falls have been in French, German and design and technology but there are also substantial falls in music, drama and geography and this has been quite a pronounced trend over a decade," he said.

Schools say they are now dedicating more time to maths, English and Welsh as a response to Welsh Government policy, he added.

"There has been a massive emphasis on literacy and numeracy skills and therefore maybe this is a consequence of that emphasis," he said.

But the introduction of a new curriculum in Welsh schools within the next five years is likely to put greater emphasis on subjects such as drama and music. It will be based on six areas of learning including the expressive arts.

Rebecca Williams, from the UCAC teaching union, said any reduction in drama provision might have to be reversed in the next few years.

She said: "If we lose the expertise from the workforce now, we'll probably be seeking to replace it again in a year or two and it will probably be harder and possibly more expensive for schools to go out looking for new teachers."

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Media captionStudents are taking a GCSE drama course with a theatre group in Aberystwyth, not in school

As well as less space in the timetable, a squeeze on school budgets could also mean some schools are cutting back on drama provision.

"It's often teachers in the more minority subjects, if you like, that are more vulnerable to perhaps losing hours or days or even losing jobs entirely," she said.

"So you do see subjects that completely drop off the curriculum because you no longer have a teacher in the school that is qualified to teach.

"They're subjects where pupils have the opportunity to express themselves in a way that's different from other subjects on the curriculum and it's a terrible shame that it isn't an option for the pupils if it's not on the curriculum in the school."

Arad Goch Theatre Company in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, has warned that cutting back on drama could have a damaging effect on children's education and on the creative industries.

The theatre has started offering GCSE drama at the same time as the local Welsh language school stopped its provision.

It charges £180 a term for two-hour sessions once a week after school, with help available for children from poorer backgrounds.

'Many implications'

Jeremy Turner, the company's creative director, said it had thought carefully about offering the GCSE.

"It would be far better if every school in Wales were to offer drama and music and all the other arts for free to every child in every school. Unfortunately that's not the case.

"We've had to measure up and weigh up between charging for a course which means that maybe some children can't afford it and losing drama altogether.

"I don't want the arts to be elitist - the arts should be for everybody.

"There are many implications - some are are professional implications, such as less people well trained to enter the profession which has become an important part of the Welsh economy."

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