The number of teenagers studying performing arts and creative courses at school has plunged amid a switch to traditional academic subjects prompted by government policy changes.
Leading figures from the arts community voiced alarm as GCSE entries for art, music and drama fell heavily. Design and technology experienced an even bigger drop.
Head teachers predicted that the trend would accelerate next year because of new school performance measures intended to record progress made by pupils of all abilities.
Schools are no longer judged on the percentage of pupils achieving a C grade or higher in five subjects including English and maths.
They will be measured on how pupils perform against predicted grades in English and maths; three GCSEs in the English baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects of science, history or geography, and languages; and any three further subjects, including creative or vocational courses.
Schools appear to have played safe and steered pupils towards academic GCSE options, probably spurred by another policy that 90 per cent of pupils must study a combination of EBacc GCSEs.
There was sharp fall in GCSE entries for design and technology (down by 9.5 per cent to 185,279) and performing arts (a fall of 9.4 per cent to 18,676), and big drops in art and design (5.9 per cent to 183,085), drama (4.7 per cent to 72,286) and music (4.6 per cent to 45,990). There were rises in geography (up 15,958 to 260,521), history (up by 13,481) and in biology, physics, chemistry and computing.
Colin Lawson, director of the Royal College of Music, said: “The drop across all creative subjects at GCSE is shocking and schools are clearly undervaluing these subjects.”
John Kampfner, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, said: “We remain very concerned at the drop in the number studying creative subjects as this has worrying implications for the skills pipeline in Britain’s successful arts and creative industries.”
Nick Gibb, the schools minister, welcomed the increased take-up of core academic subjects, saying that they “give students a wider range of opportunities”.