Photographers snap into action...

30th April 1999 at 01:00 save their A-level from being demoted to an option within the art syllabus. Chris Bunting reports

PHOTOGRAPHERS are organising an 11th-hour campaign to save their subject's A-level.

The Associated Examining Board's photography A-level attracted only 1,309 candidates this year, but a formidable alliance of academics, photographers, museum curators and teachers is being mobilised in its defence.

They say its demise would threaten their subject's future in Britain's schools and claim exam chiefs are trying to force changes through by stealth.

A spokesman for the Government's exams quango, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, confirmed that A-level photography will only be offered as an option within A-level art. The QCA phased out stand-alone photography GCSEs last year.

"This has been generally welcomed. The GCSE and A-level photography specifications were too narrow in range, scope and demand to be accepted as qualifications in their own right," the spokesman said.

The campaign against the change is being led by Ashley la Grange, a photography teacher at Rickmansworth School, Hertfordshire.

He says there has been no proper consultation and claims that the change will result in a much narrower approach to photography.

Existing art and design courses, he said, largely ignored the history and theory of photography as well as branches of the subject such as photo-journalism and documentary photography.

"What they are doing is offering a course in photography which is not really a course in photography at all," he said.

The art and design takeover is also likely to reduce the number of pupils taking the subject. Students will be forced to choose between photography and other specialisms, rather than taking it as an additional A-level. For some small photography departments such losses might mean closure. One third of the centres taking A-level photography this year have fewer than eight pupils.

Amanda Nevill, head of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford, said: "We haven't been consulted and didn't know that there were these plans. I find that quite frightening."

Paul Hill, director of photography at De Montfort University, Leicester, called for a one-year delay to the changes. "This is the first I have heard of this and that is just by chance. There is a lot of alarm among people in photography about this," he said.

Paul Wombell, director at the Photographers' Gallery, London, had not heard of the plans before being contacted by Mr la Grange. "I am very concerned that the opportunity to study photography in its own right is being lost and I have the feeling that the people doing this don't understand its importance," said Mr Wombell.

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