Phil was delighted that the Government’s replacement for A-Level Archaeology still included lots of digging
thePipeline can reveal that the hopes of the more than 13,000 people who have signed the petition to save A-Level Archaeology set up by Dan Boatright are to be dashed as exam board Pearson will not be hosting a new archaeology A-level when the only current provider, exam board AQA, withdraws the subject. Hopes had risen that the subject might find a new home with Pearson after the Government announced in a written statement on Thursday [1 December 2016] that AQA’s rival would deliver a new Art History A-level replacing the examination which was also axed by AQA in October at the same time as the board announced unilaterally that archaeology would cease to be offered to A-Level students.
AQA’s October announcement was greeted with dismay by the heritage sector, with Historic England confirming that it had not been consulted by the commercial examination provider and was concerned that a small, but significant, pathway into the archaeological profession would be lost at a time when the pressures on development archaeology associated with major infrastructure projects such as HS2 and the Government’s housing programme are set to increase. The wider heritage sector was also angered by AQA’s announcement because a considerable amount of work to prepare a new examination capable of meeting fresh Government criteria for A-levels had been undertaken by a number of partners working with AQA, including the Council for British Archaeology [CBA]. The preparatory work included the offer of additional support to the A-level archaeology curriculum from University departments and others. This work continued after the announcement of the axing of the A-level by AQA and was developed to include an offer by AQA to share material already generated on the A-level specification.
Speaking to thePipeLine Dr Mike Heyworth of the Council for British Archaeology responded to the news from Pearson saying,
“We are delighted for the Association of Art Historians and others who have successfully campaigned to save the Art History A Level.
Dr Heyworth added,
“We are grateful to AQA for offering to share the specification material for Archaeology and potentially extending the existing qualification for a further year to enable a smooth handover to a new provider.”
A spokesperson for Historic England also reiterated that the organisation remained concerned about the situation adding,
“To try to address it we are working with universities and other organisations to promote archaeology apprenticeships and vocational training to offer potential new routes into the profession.”
“After careful consideration we are pleased to be taking on A levels in History of Art and Statistics, as well as offering GCSEs and A levels in five languages also being discontinued by another board.”
“We have worked to take action where we can to ensure that students continue to have access to a diverse set of subjects at A level, but unfortunately we do not have the expertise or resources to take on all the subjects being withdrawn by other exam boards.”
thePipeLine also asked if Pearson had been in dialogue with the CBA and its partners from the archaeology sector and given this offer of additional support and resources, which many subjects do not receive, why specifically has Pearson taken the decision not to support an Archaeology A-Level?
We also asked if this decision not to add archaeology to the A-level portfolio was based on the fact that for the time being archaeology is a minority subject and is thus unlikely to be profitable?
thePipeline understands that Pearson denies that profitability was a factor in the decision, and it is the case that the provider already offers A-levels with smaller up takes than that projected for archaeology. In the case of other A-Levels such as Art, which Pearson has taken on the company was also building on existing expertise. Critics note however that necessary expertise can be obtained easily if the will exists, but that as in all parts of the economy, research and development has a cost implication, however much of the work has already been done by a rival and however supportive relevent bodies in the target sector are.
thePipeLine understands that the offer on the table from AQA to share the specification material for Archaeology, and potentially to extend the existing qualification for a further year to enable a smooth handover to a new provider, only stands if there is a realistic chance of another exam board taking on the course. The question now arrises as to whether the Department for Education will work with the heritage sector and step up efforts to broker a deal to restore A-level archaeology?
Sources in the cultural sector have told thePipeLine that Culture Minister Matt Hancock had been heard saying that arts organisations should be giving credit to the DCMS for its role in saving the Art History A-level. It remains to be seen whether similar efforts will be made by the DCMS on behalf of archaeology. Supporters of A-level Archaeology will be quick to point out to Mr Hancock and the rest of Government, that news of Pearson’s decision not to support the examination came on the same day that the Heritage Counts report revealed the wider Heritage sector supports over three hundred thousand jobs, and in 2013 directly generated £10 billion in gross value added (GVA) in England alone, rising to £21.7 billion if indirect effects are taken into consideration.