Emily Labhart

Producer | Consultant | Mentor

AQA GCSE Dance draft specification released 2015

Released just before the summer holidays of 2015, AQA’s draft specification for their new GCSE Dance course has some notable differences from the current programme that has been available for certification since 2014.

To help make things a little clearer (and to save wading through the draft spec’s full 38 pages) I’ve made a handy little table that outlines key points from both the current and potential specification side by side for easy comparison. You can download it by clicking this link: AQA GCSE Dance specification comparison

My initial thoughts on these changes are as follows:


  • I can appreciate why they’ve made the changes to the theory aspects in terms of weighting it 40/60. I think it’s in order to raise the perceived value of the course/discipline by showing that there is a rigorous analytical component. Which does however bring in to play a whole other host of questions about how we place value on the mind vs body…though that’s for another blog post 😉
  • I think it will be difficult to learn eight set works in detail when often there is less than an hour allocated per week to dance theory at Year 10 & 11, which could then mean that practical sessions are held after school to accommodate this. Often, even if a school runs Dance as a subject in its own right (e.g not as part of PE) from Year 7-9, there is no theoretical component – it’s nearly always a practical session. So to then ask students in Year 10 to learn a whole host of dance language/analytical skills and apply these to eight works is huge.
  • From what I can gather, in the new spec there doesn’t seem to be scope to explore the eight professional works practically. This is unlike students on the current programme who use one of the prescribed works as part of the Solo Composition task. It is of course possible that students will be introduced to these works in the studio regardless in order to compliment their theoretical understanding – however if it doesn’t form part of the assessment, will teachers be able to give this the time and energy this process deserves?
  • Making the course linear by holding all exams at the end of the two years (including choreography and solo performance) potentially makes the course far more challenging than a modular approach. Arguably students will now be expected to be at their creative best (for choreography) at the same time as being 100% clued up on their theory paper and their performance/technical skills. There is the notion that creatives often work best under pressure, but perhaps this is one step too far for 16 year old students with between three and five hours of dance teaching per week.
  • Due to these changes, the fear is that schools may become more inclined to run the BTEC course instead as it’s more flexible and can suit learners who could find the GCSE framework difficult to navigate. If this happens and the GCSE course becomes less and less desirable, this could mean another change to the specification (tricky for teachers) or the dissolution of the programme entirely. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this would not have a great impact on the perceived value of arts subjects in schools.Ultimately I think AQA have succeeded in making the course more academically ‘rigorous’, however this may be to the detriment of the kind of learners who are likely to study Dance at this level in the first place. Having taken GCSE Dance myself and gone on to further study in this field, the new course would prepare students much better for what A-Level and Degree study is like – particularly with the research elements in choreography and the focus on analytical and evaluative skills required for the written paper.AQA are clearly working hard to make the distinction between vocational dance study (e.g BTECs) and a more academic approach to the discipline with this new draft specification. I imagine there has been significant pressures to ensure the course ‘weighs up to’ it’s non-artistic rivals in the humanities or sciences (thanks to everyone’s favourtie EBacc threat) and the shift in ratio from 80:20 to 60:40 practical to theory indicates they have taken these steps.

The course has not yet been approved by Ofqual so the draft spec I have been referring to is not confirmed, however it is likely that the direction of the course will be very similar if not the same as they have outlined with this release. Due to be rolled out from September 2016 with first exams to be taken in June 2018, read the full specification here.

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