Nicholas Cullinan by Chris Floyd, 2016 © Chris Floyd
UPDATE (5 December): Further to my blog post on the 2 November I am delighted with last week’s announcement that Pearson will develop a new A-Level in History of Art to be taught from September 2017, ensuring that the subject will continue to be part of the curriculum for state schools. This follows a campaign championed by the Minister of State for Digital and Culture and the Department for Education and led by the Association of Art Historians with the support of many arts institutions.
I hope this will make Art History accessible to a wider range of people and encourage a more diverse workforce in the cultural sector in the future. The Gallery looks forward to further supporting the study of this critical subject by continuing to work closely with teachers and students and connecting with schools, especially state schools, who may wish to start offering Art History.
The National Portrait Gallery - and museums and galleries throughout Britain - welcome hundreds of thousands of students of all ages who come to learn from, and enjoy our Collection. Many of them will be studying art history, but now it is proposed the subject be dropped from the A-level syllabus in England from 2018 with the result that it will vanish from the curriculum in state schools.
The Gallery had been working with other galleries on ways we could support the proposed new A-Level specification being developed by the Association of Art Historians schools group, but sadly this new specification, which would have brought the subject up to date and would have made it even more accessible with a view to including in many more school exam syllabuses, will now not be going forward.
Such a decision will surely affect future engagement with our culture, and may well have a marked impact on the demographic of people entering the heritage and culture sector for employment, or indeed just enjoying visiting museums and galleries. We know that more people visit visual arts venues than go to football matches and the cultural sector and creative industries is one of the country’s biggest employers and greatest economic assets, enjoyed and needed by not just students, but people of all ages and walks of life. The fact that our national museums and galleries offer free admission is something we should be proud of and celebrate. This decision seems to undermine this spirit of open access for all.
As well as our duty to provide essential resources for our schools and colleges, art history is at the core of everything galleries do. Far from being a “soft” subject, along with other humanities, art history is the key to understanding the significance of works of art to history and the relationship between society and art over time. The National Portrait Gallery reflects British life, culture and identity and its collections could not be curated or its exhibitions and displays staged without an understanding of art history. If this area of study is to be cut from schools and colleges the curators and arts administrators of tomorrow will be drawn from a smaller pool, which directly contradicts the commitment made in the Government’s recently published White Paper to create ‘a more diverse leadership and workforce in the cultural sectors’.
We would urge the AQA examinations board to reconsider this proposal, which could both reduce access to culture and have a negative effect on Britain’s visual arts economy.