GCSE league table plans 'risk marginalising the arts'
Plans to count separate GCSEs in dance and drama as one qualification for school league tables risk marginalising performing arts, say head teachers.
From 2014, schools where students take both subjects at GCSE will see them listed as one in league tables.
The government says this is because the subject matter is too similar.
"Some schools may be tempted to say, 'If we can't count both we won't let pupils do both,'" said Duncan Baldwin of the head teachers' union ASCL.
Mr Baldwin added that the changes would also affect some other pairs of related subjects such as art and photography or music and music technology - which will no longer count as separate subjects for performance tables from next summer.
He told BBC News that the union broadly supported the principle behind the practice of "discounting" very similar qualifications as this prevented some schools manipulating the performance tables by entering pupils for the same subject twice and having both grades count.
He said schools were under pressure to perform well on league table measures, which included the proportion of pupils who achieved five GCSEs graded A* to C.
However, he argued that some of the pairs of subjects which now cancelled each other out were definitely "distinct disciplines".
"This is a debate about where you draw the line," said Mr Baldwin, who is the union's deputy policy director.
He added that the changes were concentrated disproportionately on arts subjects rather than on the humanities or sciences.
"Many subjects overlap in content and in the skills demanded.
"History and ancient history will continue to be counted as separate subjects and there is maths in science subjects.
"The question is - at what point is there sufficient overlap for them to be ruled effectively the same?"
The union has asked the Department for Education to reconsider some of its decisions, particularly on dance and drama, and is gathering evidence from subject specialists.
Mr Baldwin added that it was "particularly unfair" that the changes, which will take effect from next summer, were announced after students had begun their GCSE courses, as it was too late for schools to make changes.
The new rules will affect schools rather than individual students, who will still gain separate GCSEs even if they do pairs of subjects that "discount" each other in the performance tables.
In a statement, the Department for Education responded: "We use discounting to discourage schools from entering their pupils into a number of similar qualifications.
"As there are overlapping elements in the syllabuses for dance and drama and for art and photography, they will discount each other in the 2014 performance tables."
ASCL's comments echo those of other leading figures in the fields of education and the arts who have expressed concern that the government's strategy does not give parity to arts subjects and so may jeopardise children's cultural education and risk undermining Britain's creative economy.