Christie’s supports charity delivering art history lessons for students at UK state schools

Art History Link-Up chief says subject is a rare offer at state schools because of cuts and teacher shortages

Students opting for art history at university dropped by 28.5% last year ©  The Climate Reality Project

Students opting for art history at university dropped by 28.5% last year ©  The Climate Reality Project

Art History Link-Up (AHLU), a charity which provides free art history top-up courses for students at state-run schools in the UK, has secured backing from Christie’s. Experts at the auction house will mentor students under the new “educational partnership” while Christie’s investment will also help AHLU deliver its teaching programme.

“Our students are unique: they come from diverse backgrounds and geographical locations from across the UK and are drawn together by their love of studying art history, in their own time, on term-time Saturdays,” says Rose Aidin, AHLU's chief executive, who says that over half of the participating students go on to pursue degrees in related subjects and careers in the arts.

“The partnership and Christie’s on-going support will allow us to plan courses for the future and offer vocational opportunities for our students. Christie’s staff will…. offer expert guidance, and access to their premises,” Aidin adds. Christie’s has hosted two tie-in events on Zoom in the past year including an Arts Careers Event attended by over 130 students in February. Other funders include the Rothschild Foundation and the Julia and Hans Rausing Trust.

Aidin explains why art history is still a rare offer in state schools. “Art History A-level class sizes tend to be smaller than for subjects such as English, History, Maths, so it’s an expensive subject to offer per head. Cuts to teaching budgets mean many ‘smaller’ subjects have been cut in state schools. Also it can be a challenge to find a subject specialist teacher,” she says.

“A PGCE with QTS [qualified teacher status] qualification is based on teaching GCSE and A level classes, or two consecutive key stages. As there isn’t a GCSE in art history, this means teachers generally need to train in another subject,” Aidin adds. Figures published last year showed a 28.5% drop in students opting for art history at university.

During the pandemic, AHLU had to adapt accordingly. Until March 2020, its free Art History courses for state-supported students were delivered Saturdays during term time at the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection in London in dedicated teaching spaces. When the galleries closed in March 2020, AHLU’s Art History for Everyone A level and EPQ courses pivoted online and have since continued on Zoom.

“Delivering our courses online has allowed us to double the number of students we can offer our opportunities to, and so reducing the cost per head, while allowing us to increase the level of support we are able to offer. Many of our students tell us they have had more teaching and support from AHLU than from their own schools throughout the last year of the pandemic,” Aidin says.

During the current academic year, AHLU recruited 80 more students. “Over 40% of our cohort are BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic], over 60% have Widening Participation indicators [linked to under-represented student groups], and over 30% are both BAME and WP. AHLU’s online delivery has also allowed us to recruit over half of our students from outside Greater London. Fifty-five per cent of the current student cohort come from across the UK,” she says.

Aidin says that the organisation has “ambitious plans” for the coming academic year and, with the backing of other donors, hopes to offer a third online Art History A level and EPQ course for an additional 40 students, and pilot also an Introduction to Art History course for younger students aged 13-15 (up to 60 students may participate initially).

“With funding in place, we could deliver art history courses to 200 state supported students in 2021/22,” Aidin says. Post-pandemic, Art History Link-Up also hopes to resume in-gallery teaching, possibly expanding to museums and galleries outside London.