Education experts worry about Queensland high school students dropping out of arts subjects over ATAR result


Eden Gray entered college this year with an impressive ATAR, earned in part with arts subjects in high school, but her track record is shrinking as students turn to science subjects in the belief that they will graduate. ranking.

The 18-year-old earned an ATAR of 95.35 after studying Music, Music Popularization, Drama, Literature, Specialist Mathematics and Mathematical Methods at Stretton State College in Brisbane last year.

She plays saxophone and percussion and participated in six musical ensembles during her studies.

“I personally didn’t like science…it would have caused a lot of stress,” she said.

“They brought joy to my 12th year.”

But educators and creative industry leaders are worried about the future of some arts and humanities subjects in Queensland high schools, as students are dropping them en masse in the belief that they will achieve a higher ATAR with Science subjects.

44% drop in arts enrollment

In 2012, data from the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) revealed that 23,035 Year 12 students were enrolled in one of five arts subjects, which include music, visual arts, drama, dance and cinema, television and new media.

Last year, there was only a total of 12,772 registrations, a drop of more than 44%.

Humanities subjects also experienced a reduction in class size over the same period.

While there had been slight increases in enrollment in philosophy and economics, there were significantly fewer enrollments in geography, ancient and modern history, and legal studies in 2021 compared to 2012.

In the six social studies subjects, the number of 12th graders over the same period fell by around 6,000 or 20%.

Meanwhile, QCAA data also revealed that year 12 engineering enrollment had more than doubled from 630 students in 2012 to 1,359 students in 2021, while enrollment in physics, chemistry and biology fell 7%.

Drama Queensland chair Stephanie Tudor said one of the biggest drops in arts enrollment has coincided with the introduction of the ATAR system.

“In drama alone, we went from 6,500 students in 2012 to around 3,000 students in year 12 last year, and the biggest drop was between 2017 and 2019 when the new QCE (Queensland Certificate of Education) and ATAR has been introduced,” says Ms. Tudor.

Lower scaling of art subjects

ATAR is a mechanism used across Australia for university admissions.

It is a number between 0 and 99.95, measured on a student’s best academic performance, which indicates their position in relation to other students in their age group.

The higher the ATAR, the higher the ranking. As part of the process of calculating an ATAR, subjects are scaled.

The decline in arts and humanities enrollment has been attributed to the introduction of ATAR.(ABC News: Nicole Chettle)

For example, a student who scores 80% on an assessment may find that their score is actually worth less (or more) than 80%, depending on the subject scale.

This scaling can change from year to year, depending on a cohort’s grades and subject choices, but in two years of ATAR in Queensland, arts subjects have generally declined, while scientists have generally increased.

“What we’re seeing is that arts subjects are at an all-time low as an area of ​​learning,” said Rachael Dwyer, senior lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at the University of the Sunshine Coast. and Co-Chair of Queensland Advocates for Arts Education.

A self-fulfilling prophecy

Stephanie smiles.
Drama Queensland president Stephanie Tudor said some students who excel in the arts do not choose to study arts for the sake of subject scaling.(Provided: Stephanie Tudor)

Dr Dwyer and Ms Tudor said the message that comes from ‘scaling up subject areas’ drives high-achieving students away from the arts, even if students excel in those areas.

“I think as parents and students try to understand the system, they drift away from topics that are perceived as ill-suited,” Ms Tudor said.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School principal Jacinda Euler said there was too much emphasis on the impact of subject scaling.

“It leads to bad choices,” she said.

“The reality is that any subject you pursue in high school, if you do very well at the top of that subject, scaling will have minimal impact.”

Jacinda smiled at her desk.
Jacinda Euler, director of Brisbane Girls Grammar, says the focus on scaling subjects can lead to “poor choices”.(ABC News: Sally Eeles)

Queensland Advocates for Arts Education and Drama Queensland are working with education stakeholders QCAA and QTAC to see if they are “doing all they can to ensure the scale measurement is valid and that it is adequate comparison between subjects”.

“We need to…ensure that the arts are valued in schools and that students who take arts subjects in schools are rewarded for their efforts,” said Dr Dwyer.

Moving forward in life after school

The QCAA, which is responsible for curriculum development and testing in schools, said the drop in arts and humanities enrollment over the past decade has also coincided with more students turning to applied and professional subjects.

Ms Euler agree that vocational education and training has become more sought after.

Ms Tudor said the hardship caused by the pandemic has played a role in deterring students from pursuing careers in the creative industries, with artists, crew and venue staff out of work.

picture of rachel.
Rachael Dwyer says arts subjects teach you creativity, collaboration, and thinking for yourself.(Provided: Rachael Dwyer)

Arts education experts also believe that the declining popularity of the arts is a consequence of a broader societal trend to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Over the past decade we have seen a very strong push for STEM education,” Dr. Dwyer said.

While she said these subjects are important for a strong economy and workforce, they “miss out” on the creativity and collaboration that arts subjects foster.

In June 2020, then Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced plans to offer cheaper college degrees for jobs in engineering, science, health, computing and education, while degrees in the humanities, social sciences, communications and law would become more expensive.

The newly sworn in Albanian government has yet to indicate any change in the cost of university degrees.

Different pathways to university

Ms Gray, who plans to become a teacher, is now a freshman at QUT, studying a dual degree in education and fine arts, with a major in music.

Despite her high ATAR, Ms. Gray’s acceptance into the fine arts was based on an audition.

Eden plays the saxophone
Eden Gray did not use her ATAR result to enter university where she is majoring in music.(ABC News: Lucas Hill )

Dr Dwyer said that of the 241,000 students who applied to college last year, 61% of them did not use their ATAR as their means of college entry.

They were granted “early entry” on the basis of their academic results or other qualifications, or were accepted on the basis of a portfolio of work or an audition.

She believes that students and parents should place less importance on a single ATAR number and that schools should not use them as a way to market themselves.

The QCAA is carrying out a review of the Queensland Secondary Schools curriculum as part of a five-year review process, the results of which will be published online later this year.

A QCAA spokesperson said “Queensland’s Certificate of Education recognizes a wide and diverse range of learning options”.

“The QCAA encourages students to choose subjects that they like, that they are good at and that correspond to their post-school career.”

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