Press release

High-quality and more rigorous arts-based GCSEs and A levels

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announces final content for more rigorous and demanding arts GCSEs and A levels, and GCSE computer science.

Final content for more rigorous and demanding GCSEs in music, art and design, dance and physical education (PE), and A levels in dance, music and PE, has been published today (26 January 2015) as part of a commitment to raise the quality of arts education.

The new content will allow pupils to develop their creativity and self-expression, and broaden their understanding of Britain’s cultural heritage, while equipping them with the underlying knowledge and technical skills they will need to compete in the arts.

Key changes in the new content include in:

  • music: a greater focus on knowledge and critical engagement with a wide range of music. The level of demand has been increased at GCSE, with students expected to write (as well as read) staff notation, understand chord symbols and analyse unfamiliar music
  • art and design: a new emphasis on drawing, with students required to demonstrate an ability to draw for different purposes
  • dance: new theoretical content requiring critical appreciation and understanding of professional works at GCSE, and critical engagement and embodied knowledge at A level
  • PE: a greater emphasis on theory and use of data to evaluate physical activity. At GCSE students will need to be assessed in the role of player/performer in 3 activities, including at least 1 team sport

Announcing the subject content today for the new, high-quality GCSE and A level subjects, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

Our plan for education is ensuring all pupils experience a broad and balanced education which will prepare them for life in modern Britain and enable them to access a wide range of jobs in a competitive global market.

Today we are sending a clear message that arts education can be every bit as rigorous as the rest of the school curriculum. These subjects can lead to creative and rewarding careers in everything from engineering and design to our emerging digital industries.

Together with the announcement of more than £109 million to support young people’s cultural education, these rigorous standards will ensure that our country continues to be seen as the cultural capital of the world.

Also published today is a new, more challenging GCSE in computer science, which will teach pupils how to write code, design programs and understand the ethical and legal impacts of digital technology.

The new, rigorous computer science GCSE, which will be taught from 2016, includes up-to-date content on issues such as cybersecurity, and will provide young people with the knowledge and tangible skills they need to go on to further education and successful jobs.

The new GCSE in computer science builds upon changes made to computing teaching within the new national curriculum. More than 4 million children have already received crucial computing lessons since the introduction of the new national curriculum introduced in September 2014.

The reformed content across arts and computing demonstrates the government’s commitment to providing high-quality qualifications so every child leaves school prepared for life in modern Britain.

Welcoming the content, Althea Efunshile, Acting Chief Executive, Arts Council England, said:

The UK’s creative industry is a huge success for UK plc. This success wouldn’t be possible without the input of the arts and cultural sector, and they in turn rely on a strong curriculum in schools. We welcome today’s announcement.

Sue Wilkinson, Strategic Lead and Director of the Professional Support Unit of the Association for Physical Education (afPE), said:

The sector has been awaiting the outcome of the physical education GCSE and A level consultation, as we are all committed to ensuring young people have access to the best and most appropriate accredited provision.

afPE is very pleased to see that there are now 2 categories of activities, 1 for individual activities and 1 for team sports. Alongside greater clarity around the skills to be assessed in team sports, the breadth and scope will ensure a more developed range of physical competence. We appreciate and recognise the need for rigour across all subjects, including physical education.

Kevin Barton, Executive Head of Achievement, Youth Sport Trust, said:

It is important that any GCSE or A level qualification in physical education is assessed rigorously on both theory and practical elements, so the changes announced today are an encouraging step forward.

Assessing team and individual activities is also an important move as it allows students to demonstrate a wider range of skills, techniques and practical understanding, and requires schools to teach a broad, balanced range of activities as part of the GCSE PE curriculum.

Bill Mitchell, Director of Education at BCS, said:

The new GCSE in computer science means that students have the chance to develop deep computational thinking skills that will help them succeed in life. Whether they go on to become doctors, lawyers, engineers or rock stars, a computer science GCSE will help them to get there.

Simon Peyton Jones, Chair of Computing at School, said:

I am delighted that Ofqual have formally introduced computer science as a GCSE subject with its own subject specification. The subject content reflects the computer science component of the new programmes of study for computing, and gives students a clear progression pathway from GCSE, through A level, to university study in the subject.

The government announced in April 2014 that a number of subjects would be reformed as rigorous, demanding and world-class new GCSEs and A levels for first teaching from September 2016.

Notes to editors

  1. The reformed A levels and GCSEs published today will be ready for first teaching in September 2016.
  2. Read the:
  3. Read the government response to the consultation on art and design, dance, music, computer science and physical education (PE)
  4. Alongside today’s announcement, Ofqual is today confirming its decisions on how these new GCSEs and A levels should be assessed, including the proportion of non-examination assessment and the assessment objectives for each subject.

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