Vital infrastructure and housebuilding projects are suffering from a skills shortage that will worsen following an exam board’s decision to stop offering archaeology A level, critics have warned.
Professionals in the industry have called AQA’s decision to withdraw the archaeology AS and A level “extremely damaging” for the sector and the future of large projects – such as the HS2 high-speed rail link between London and the north.
Archaeologists play a vital role in preparing a site for construction and have made a number of important finds during the building of Crossrail in London, for example.
More than 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for the subject to be saved, following the decision last week to axe the qualification – alongside history of art, classical civilisation and statistics.
The campaign, started by a subject leader of archaeology in a sixth-form college, has won the support of industry professionals and archaeological experts at universities across the country – and even Time Team star Sir Tony Robinson has pledged his support.
The AQA has said the qualification will no longer be offered to sixth formers from next year because of challenges around marking and the "specialist nature" of the topics.
This summer, only 369 students sat the A-level exam in archaeology. AQA was the last exam board in England to offer it at A level.
Dr Daniel Boatright, subject leader for archaeology at Worcester Sixth Form College, who started the petition, said: “AQA is extremely naïve if it believes UK students will benefit from a curriculum of only the major subjects. What we will be most sorry to lose is a subject capable of bringing out talents and potential in students that might have been left undiscovered.”
The Chartered Institute of Archaeology (CIfA) has called the decision "extremely damaging", citing a noted shortage of archaeologists to meet demand for a growth in infrastructure projects.
Pete Hinton, chief executive of the CIfA, said: “The A-level in archaeology is an important route into the archaeological profession and therefore represents a set-back for the sector, which has made strides towards improving diversity and skills in the workforce.
He added: "We are calling on government and AQA to look at ways to come to a revised conclusion on the future of the Archaeology A level that would prevent irrevocable harm to the discipline and to students’ options for studying this great subject."
Dr Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology, said: “This is disastrous news for archaeology. Another vital route into the study of the subject is being removed, just at a time when we were looking to expand our support for the revised A level and its link with apprenticeships to provide an alternative route into an archaeological career. We need more archaeologists."
Claire Johnson, lecturer in archaeology and ancient history at Gower College Swansea, said: “Many professional archaeological units and academic departments have expressed disdain at the decision, stating that more, not less, archaeologists will be required in the future, due to large projects such as HS2 and situations such as Brexit.
“This country prides itself on variety and diversity of education, and this is quite simply a 'brain drain' on arts and humanities subjects.”
An AQA spokesperson said: “Our number one priority is making sure every student gets the result they deserve – and unfortunately the number of very specialist options we have to offer in this subject’s exams creates too many risks on that front. That’s why we’ve taken the difficult decision not to continue our work creating a new AS and A level.
“Our decision has nothing to do with the importance of archaeology, and it won’t stop students going on to do a degree in it as we’re not aware of any universities that require an A level in the subject.”