Art History for All? | Advocacy for educational opportunities

As champions and ambassadors for art history and the arts and humanities in this country, we work to ensure the continued vitality and vibrancy of these fields, and to argue for policy and economic regimes that ensure these subjects are open to all.

In our responses to recent policy consultations on education and funding, we have highlighted our concerns with respect to meaningful and equitable access to education, regardless of location, class, income, gender or race. Social mobility and long-term life prospects are increasingly affected by issues relating to social, cultural and financial capital, contributing to a ‘postcode lottery’.1


Access to post-18 education has improved for working-class youngsters getting a university place but, as the Social Mobility Commission and others report, there is a significant correlation between social class and educational success and, ultimately, employment and income. There is a huge disparity in terms of university participation rates around the UK; disadvantaged young people in post-industrial areas are half as likely to achieve two or more A-levels and almost half as likely to go to university compared with those in more socially and ethnically diverse urban areas.


Various studies suggest that children have early occupational aspirations – some suggest that at age seven, children already envisage future careers. We believe it is important that academic and scholarly careers should be highlighted earlier on within a young person’s educational journey, particularly in areas where – for a range of reasons – technical and vocational routes will be suggested as the natural choice. This is not to dismiss these routes, but rather to argue that an academic trajectory should be signposted as an available option, in particular to children from backgrounds under-represented within the university population.

We contend that a more nuanced and discursive approach is required to ensure that our post-18 education system, and the funding mechanisms associated with it, is accessible, regardless of financial, class or geographical issues. More effort needs to be expended to encourage the take-up of academic qualifications in the humanities, and in particular art history, from those groups currently under-represented within HE. We believe it is important to scaffold learners earlier in their school journey so that they understand the specific merits of academic, technical and vocational qualifications, and that an academic route is a valid and realistic option.


We recognise that there is a range of complex and inter-related issues and barriers for people from so-called ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds progressing to and succeeding in post-18 education. As an association and as an academic community we need to make sure that we do all that we can to break down these barriers and to ensure that our art history truly is an art history for all.


Over the coming months we will continue to work with members and partner institutions in Yorkshire, the Midlands and the South East to build on existing insights and bring new thinking to how we provide educational and engagement opportunity to young people who sit outside our traditional audiences and locations.

To find out more, and how to get involved in our education and advocacy activities visit or email our Campaigns Manager Trevor Horsewood.

1 Social Mobility Commission (SMC), Social Mobility in Great Britain: Fifth state of the nation report, November 2017.