UK Music Warns Results Expose “Alarming Drop” in A-level Music Students

UK Music Director of Education and Skills Dr Oliver Morris has warned of a crisis facing music in schools after exam results revealed an “alarming drop” in A-level music students in England.

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13/08/2020: UK Music Director of Education and Skills Dr Oliver Morris has warned of a crisis facing music in schools after exam results revealed an “alarming drop” in A-level music students in England.

The number of students taking A-level music fell from 5,125 in 2019 to 5,030 this year – a drop of 1.85%, according to examinations regulator OFQUAL. Overall, A-level entrants in England fell by 2.48% over the same period.

However, over the past six years the number of people studying A-level music has declined sharply by an alarming 32% from 7,355 in 2014 to 5,030 in 2020. That is five times the 6.3% drop in the total number of people studying A-levels over the same period.

The fall is a further blow to music teaching in schools which has already been badly hit this year by the impact of Covid-19. The decline this year comes after a sharp 5.8% drop last year in the number of pupils taking the subject in England.

The fall is a significant blow to efforts to continue to generate our world-leading array of professional musicians and teachers and seriously threatens the music industry’s talent pipeline.

It also jeopardises the economic success story of the music industry which contributed £5.2 billion to the UK economy in 2018 – before the impact of Covid-19 forced an industry-wide lockdown in March 2020.

Commenting, UK Music Director of Education and Skills Dr Oliver Morris said:

“Congratulations to everyone on their A-level music results, particularly in such a challenging year for students and music teachers.

“This year’s A-level entry numbers does show a slow-down in the decline in the number of students taking A-level music. But there has been an alarming drop of 32% over the past six years.

“It makes it hard to continue to nurture and produce talented and highly skilled professionals that truly reflect our society and who often go on to play in our world-leading orchestras or teach the next generation of musical stars.

“It is vital that children and young people from all walks of life should have access to music and there is strong evidence to suggest that students who are engaged in their education through music fare better at maths and English.

“Music contributes a huge amount to our economy and the cultural fabric of all of our lives. We need to do more to encourage young people to study music in schools, ensure that all have equal opportunities to pursue this as a career and make sure they can make a living by playing music.”

Oliver Morris also highlighted concerns over the controversial decision to lower the grades of many students and signs that schools in poorer areas had fared worse. In England, 36% of entries had a lower grade than teachers predicted and 3% were down two grades, in results for exams cancelled by the pandemic.

He said: “The results shared today reveal an inequity that demands our attention if we hope to level the playing field and ensure anyone no matter their background has an opportunity to develop to the best of their ability.

“Barriers to involvement that stifle diversity in music threaten the talent pipeline which is so vital to the UK music industry.

Diane Widdison, National Organiser for Education and Training at the Musicians‘ Union and Chair of the UK Music Education and Skills Committee said:

“Our many members who work across the whole of the education sector have worked hard to ensure their students have been able to continue their music education through this very difficult time.

“We have real concerns about what the situation will be for music in schools in the next academic year as schools are under tremendous pressure to comply with the challenges of pupils returning and music as a subject is sometimes easier to sideline than it is to try and accommodate.

The debacle around the A-level results and downgrading of predicted grades, which has disproportionately affected pupils from less affluent backgrounds needs to be addressed immediately to ensure that these pupils who have already had to cope with leaving school prematurely are not disadvantaged further by flawed processes.”

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