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A-level results day: Music uptake falls by nearly half

A-level results published on 13 August by the Joint Council for Qualifications show that the uptake of music at A-level continues to decline, a worrying trend over the last 12 years that shows no signs of abating.

Since 2008 there has been a 47% decline in music entries at A-level.

Source: https://analytics.ofqual.gov.uk/apps/Alevel/Outcomes/

However, we are pleased to see that a larger percentage of students attained the top grades in music in 2020 compared to all A-level subjects. A total of 35% of pupils achieved A*-A grades in music compared to 28% for all subjects.

A-level results were awarded to students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland today.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the ISM said:

Young people studying A-level music this year have experienced significant disruption to their lives because of COVID-19 and the grades published today must be a fair reflection of their ability and hard work. We are pleased to see that overall a larger percentage of students attained the top grades in music this year compared to all A-level subjects, and we congratulate all students from this year’s cohort. However, it is extremely concerning that the number of candidates in A-level music continues to fall: 47% over the past twelve years.

‘There is a vast array of evidence, including our State of the Nation report, demonstrating that funding cuts and accountability measures, such as the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), are devastating music education and creative subjects, yet the Department for Education remains fixated on this highly flawed policy.

‘It is vital that studying music does not become the preserve of the privileged few, which is why we urge the government to either extend the EBacc to include arts subjects, including music, or scrap it altogether. In light of the continued decline in music education, and the ongoing challenges the sector faces caused by COVID-19, the National Plan for Music Education, which expires this year, must be refreshed as a matter of urgency.

        Notes to Editors

        State of the Nation report

        • In February 2019 the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, in partnership with the University of Sussex and the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), published a report entitled Music Education: State of the Nation which outlines the broad landscape of music education in England. The report found that government policy, particularly around accountability measures like the English Baccalaureate, has significantly negatively impacted on music education in schools in England. Curriculum time for music (which is statutory for Key Stage 1–3) has reduced, along with opportunities for children to pursue music to GCSE and A Level.
        • The report also revealed that the EBacc is negatively impacting young people from groups experiencing high levels of social deprivation. Students are discouraged from taking creative subjects in order to focus on subjects that form part of the EBacc. Yet a higher percentage of secondary students eligible for free school meals (FSM) were temporarily or permanently excluded from school last year than achieved the EBacc.
        • Read the ISM press release.

        What is the National Plan for Music Education?

        • The Music Education in England report, otherwise known as the ‘Henley Review’, was published in 2011 and set out recommendations for the minimum expectations of what any child going through the English school system should receive in terms of music education. It highlighted high quality and sustained music education in the school curriculum as the cornerstone of every child’s music education. The Henley Review also highlighted challenges and threats to music education, including inappropriate accountability measures which worked against the Arts, insecurity of funding, patchy provision that led to inequality of access and issues regarding training, recruiting and supporting the diverse workforce.
        • The National Plan for Music Education (NPME) was born out of the review and is based on its recommendations. It was launched in 2012 and is due to expire later this year.
        • A consultation was held earlier this year in order to inform proposals for an updated NPME which is due to be released in the autumn. However, on 22 July in the House of Lords, Baroness Berridge could not provide a time frame for when the plan would be refreshed.

        About the ISM

        The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) is the UK’s oldest professional representative body for musicians, set up in 1882 to promote the art of music and to protect the interests of all those working in the music sector.

        The ISM has over 10,000 members right across the UK. We are one of two subject associations for music education and have many thousands of music teachers in the membership working in every setting including the classroom and music education hubs. The ISM provides the secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education which published the acclaimed State of the Nation report last year focusing on music education.

        We campaign tirelessly in support of musicians’ rights, music education and the profession as a whole. We are a financially independent not-for-profit organisation with no political affiliation. This independence allows us the freedom to campaign on any issue affecting musicians.

        For more information, please contact [email protected].