MPW London: Latest News

High-Profile Campaign Saves Art History

01 December 2016

Art History Reinstated

In mid-October, we reported that AQA (the only exam board to offer Art History) would not be reforming the qualification, effectively meaning that by 2018 it would be extinct. The news was not well-received. Artists, gallery curators, tutors and students were all up in arms and began an extremely effective campaign to save the qualification by explaining its many merits (and also publicly demonstrating its popularity).

On 1st December 2016, less than two months after the initial announcement, the government reneged on its decision to abolish A level Art History and confirmed that Pearson would be developing a new qualification in the subject.

Rod Bristow, President of Pearson in the UK, said*:

"The response from the public, from teachers and from young people shows many people have a real passion for [Art History]. W

e're happy to help make sure [it] remain[s] available. 

We believe that Awarding Organisations, government and schools should all work together in the interests of the students who want to have access to these important qualifications.

There are, of course, some disadvantages to the study of Art History A level. Many critics have described it as elitist (certainly, it is something of a preserve of private schools). As evidenced by the campaign and its many supporters, Art History has a lot to offer to students. Perhaps the problem was never that the subject was ‘soft’ (as initial reports on the cut suggested) but that it was a minority subject, offered by only a tiny percentage of state schools. Maybe the change should not have been to axe it but to recognise this and work instead on increasing its availability to all students. Now that A level Art History is once more an option, will the government look to improve access to it? We will wait and see.

For more information…

To read MPW’s initial report on the loss of Art History A level, please see below.

The Association of Art Historians released a statement following the government’s announcement. Click here to read it.

A level Art History does not make the cut in the new reform
13 October 2016

Art History Article

AQA, the only exam board in the UK to offer History of Art A level, have announced that they will not be reforming the qualification. In effect this means that by 2018, when the full phase of the reform is complete, students will no longer have the option to study Art History before undergraduate level.

The main argument around this decision appears to be that Art History is seen as one of the ‘soft’ subjects that were first targeted by Michael Gove, the instigator of the reform. However, MPW and many other leading institutions are quite baffled by this dismissal of what has long been considered a prestigious and valuable discipline.

The AQA website summarises its A level History of Art qualification as follows:

History of Art (Art of the Western World) establishes a framework for exploring aspects of western art and architecture. It enables students to achieve an appreciation of some significant themes from classical Greece to the end of the twentieth century and demonstrate the skills of investigation and interpretation within the context of History of Art.

This does not sound especially ‘soft’. Art History is taught at most leading Russell Group universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. Our future King, Prince William the Duke of Cambridge, started a degree in Art History at Edinburgh. His wife the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, read the subject in full at the same university. Louis Theroux did at Oxford. Looking further afield, Princeton University in the States, an Ivy League institution that is currently ranked 7th in the world, recently published an article in their paper entitled “For career success, major in art history”. All of which amount to rather a ringing endorsement of the subject.

Regarding the reform (or, in this case, lack thereof) John Cameron, Head of History of Art at MPW London, comments:

This is very sad and disappointing news and is a quite extraordinary thing to do at a time when so many outreach programmes have begun to develop the subject in state schools and art galleries and exhibitions are more popular than they have ever been. Art History is where knowledge from many disciplines comes together: religion; history; sociology; politics; science; philosophy; classical civilisation; geography and more. 

We live in a world full of images, from the sublime to the mundane. Even brands and logos are part of this and surely it is highly relevant in the modern world to train people to look and think. 

As Simon Schama has said today: 

Art history A level axed as "soft". SOFT?? tell that to Kant, Hegel, Ruskin, Burckhardt, Panofsky, Schapiro and the rest


For more information on the educational reform, see our webpage.

To join the Art History debate, visit Twitter and vote in our poll.