10th August 2021, A level result day, with just 5,039 Advanced Level music candidates among 696,000 entries in total successfully completing one of the most complex subjects taught at Key Stage 5 (less than 1%). This represents another year of the decline in a subject that should be increasing in number.

A recent article in the music teacher magazine summarises research by Dr Adam Whittaker and Professor Martin Fautley from Birmingham City University expressing ‘cause for concern’ for the future of A Level Music[1]. The report warns that if the current rate of decline continues in a linear manner, A Level Music is likely to have zero entries by 2033. 

Their latest report states that ’those who lack the means to support private instrumental study are unlikely to have sufficient income to pay for school fees, even if a bursary supports them to a greater or lesser extent’, highlighting that a disproportionately large number of A Level Music entries come from independent schools. 

The findings argue that ‘the opportunity to study A Level Music seems likely to end first for those children who are at a disadvantage, especially as we are seeing a decline in both the number of pupils being entered and the number of schools running the qualification’. 

If A Level Music was to be removed from state schools, the report states ‘there are significant knock-on implications on the wider landscape of musical activity in these school contexts.’ 

The impact of this dire prediction reflects the demise of music education more generally, with national figures stepping in to save music education in England throughout the 2020s[2][3].

My own experience as a music student and teacher reflects the above - beginning my music career playing 3rd cornet in the school band (conducted by the technology teacher), sitting A Level music alongside my music teacher, I was the only student candidate (we both passed). From this promising start Bretton Hall College of Education is where I trained. A fully inclusive college founded by Sir Alec Clegg in 1949 with a focus on the arts, and the development of the imagination[4], influencing the work of another former Bretton Hall student, Sir Ken Robinson. Ken’s TED Talk, ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity[5] is so relevant to the A Level music debate. 

“Creativity is essential to the success and fulfilment of young people, to the vitality of our communities and to the long-term health of the economy.”

The creative industries contribute £13 million to UK economy every hour – £111bn per year[6], musicians are needed!

With the demise of music (and arts) students a number of universities closed with Bretton Hall College of Education was closed by the University of Leeds in 2007[7], more recently the government reduced funding for graduate arts courses by 50%[8].

In brief, education providers across all phases in England have played a part in killing music education.

This could be so different. In 1981, I founded a fully inclusive music charity, three former members graduated this summer with first class honours in music (2 Oxford University, 1 Birmingham University), with three current members now en route to Newcastle and Southampton universities, and the Royal College of Music. Many former members are professional musicians, many perform for the sheer enjoyment of participating in music.  All have taken music grades, not all studied music at school to A level, indeed this was a minority. Why? The local schools were not in a position to teach music to A level, with a lack of specialist music teachers, and a lack of funding for the mainstream provision of music beyond Key Stage 3 (and other arts subjects).

The solution is simple – funded music lessons for all school-aged children. Coincidentally free music lessons will be available next year for all children in Scotland [9]

[Scottish] Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the chance for young people to have the best start in life "should never be limited by a child's ability to pay".

At a time when music has also been devasted by the pandemic[10] we need our education and political leaders from all backgrounds to prioritise music making in all schools in England. Now is the time to invest in music education for the sake of our wellbeing and the future wellbeing of our children. We all need to find our passion, for so many this is music. By investing in instrumental lessons, we will grow the number of A level students, changing the nature of music as a subject and participation in music making for all.

“The fact is that given the challenges we face; education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardise education, but to personalise it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”[11]

Sonia Blandford, Founder Achievement for All  Sonia.blandford@afaeducation.org

Achievement for All invites all composers aged 11 – 19 years to participate in a rewarding song writing competition www.afamusic.org

 

 

[1] https://www.musicteachermagazine.co.uk/features/article/a-level-music-going-going-gone

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/mar/08/simon-rattle-cant-save-music-education-alone //

[3] http://andrewlloydwebberfoundation.com/content/music-in-secondary-schools-trust

[4] https://www.bretton-hall.com/reunions/reunion-2007/sir-alec-clegg-memorial-lecture/

[5] https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_do_schools_kill_creativity?language=en

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uks-creative-industries-contributes-almost-13-million-to-the-uk-economy-every-hour

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2004/dec/15/highereducation.students

[8] https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/uk-government-sanctions-50-funding-cut-for-arts-and-design-courses

[9] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-57834581

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/dec/06/music-education-in-uk-schools-devastated-by-pandemic-survey-finds

[11] https://www.artisfoundation.org.uk/blog/blogposts/2020/08/sir-ken-robinson/