A level minority report: Dance, Music, Philosophy.

I start from a belief that Dance, Music and Philosophy are wonderful A level subjects which should be accessible to sixth form students not too far from where they live as part of a broad educational offer.

The published performance tables provide data on exam entries and results subject by subject at school level. Amongst other things, this allows an analysis of how many candidates are being entered for particular subjects. For this post, I’ve simply picked these 3 ‘minority’ A level subjects which often have small numbers and looked at the distribution of entries across London in 2015 .

What the data reveal is a very patchy offer across London with students in some boroughs having little or no local opportunity to follow one of these A level subjects. Cohort sizes are generally very small and in the current climate this provision must be vulnerable. If most sixth forms operate as market competitors, there is little chance of any rational collaborative planning to ensure good coverage and viable group sizes. For example, there is nothing to prevent every sixth form in a particular area from closing any of these subjects, or any others, reducing choice even further. It may be that some centres are already offering joint provision which doesn’t register in the national tables but it won’t be many.


A level Dance

A level Dance is ‘on its last legs’ in many sixth forms and could become an endangered species if something isn’t done soon. A total of 198 London students were entered from 54 centres, giving an average cohort size of 3.7 students. The overwhelming proportion of candidates came from the state sector (96%) and 26% of those came from 9 sixth form or FE colleges with an average cohort size of 5.4. Only two centres had more than 10 candidates; one of which was the BRIT school which is a specialist performing arts provider. 10 London boroughs had no A level Dance entries at all.

A level Music

A total of 605 students were entered from 184 centres, giving an average cohort size of 3.3. One third of all the A level Music entries in London come from private fee-charging schools. Nevertheless their average cohort size is also small at 3.7. Of the publicly funded sixth forms, 24 candidates came from 3 sixth form colleges with an average cohort size of 8. Across London only 3 centres had over 10 candidates while 49 centres had only 1 candidate each. 15 of the London boroughs have less than 10 A level Music candidates across the whole borough.

A level Philosophy

A total of 584 students were entered from 78 centres, giving an average cohort size of 7.5. The subjects is healthy in those colleges where it is offered. However, geographical coverage is very patchy with students in 9 London boroughs having no local provider in their borough. Publicly funded sixth forms have an 86% share of these entries and, of those, 47% come from 14 sixth form or FE colleges. Average cohort sizes are: 4.2 for the private schools, 7.6 for publicly funded school sixth forms and 17.1 for sixth form or FE colleges. 16 centres have over 10 candidates and 13 have only 1 candidate each.

How collaboration could help

Given the total take-up of these subjects across London, one could envisage a distribution of roughly one viable provider per borough for Music and Philosophy and possibly one for pairs of boroughs for Dance. With a bit of goodwill and some common timetabling, these subjects could be safeguarded and brought within the reach of all London sixth formers while creating vibrant and cost-effective group sizes.

The forthcoming area reviews of post-16 provision don’t include school sixth forms, but they should certainly consider the issue of ‘minority’ subject coverage and the dangers of either ‘extinction’ or non-viability for valuable subjects. If nothing is done about these, young people’s entitlement to a broad course offer could well be further undermined.

A level entries in publicly funded sixth forms by London borough (2015)

London borough Dance Music Philosophy
Barking 0 5 0
Barnet 14 34 52
Bexley 9 13 16
Brent 0 3 8
Bromley 28 27 22
Camden 1 17 43
City of London 0 0 0
Croydon 24 22 3
Ealing 3 13 0
Enfield 4 28 0
Greenwich 4 9 15
Hackney 1 4 11
Hammersmith & Fulham 0 9 4
Haringey 0 10 22
Harrow 10 20 19
Havering 7 26 19
Hillingdon 9 13 0
Hounslow 3 4 0
Islington 15 2 43
Kensington & Chelsea 1 3 11
Kingston 4 9 15
Lambeth 1 12 0
Lewisham 6 20 69
Merton 0 0 0
Newham 3 5 9
Redbridge 2 21 8
Richmond 0 5 16
Southwark 0 10 5
Sutton 20 21 32
Tower Hamlets 0 4 19
Waltham Forest 0 4 21
Wandsworth 13 15 23
Westminster 8 13 0
London total 190 401 505

Data drawn from the underlying data in the 2015 performance tables.

Other A-level subjects, such as in languages clearly merit a similar analysis – to follow.

See also:

More sixth formers doing research projects (February 2016)


About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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