New research commissioned and released today [26 May, 2019] by the Royal College of Music has revealed dramatic year-on-year declines in the study of A-Level Music and a correlation between lack of provision and social deprivation. The most deprived areas in the country face significant difficulties as A-Level music provision continues to shrink, whilst across a number of large regions there is no provision at all. The study was undertaken by researchers at the Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education at Birmingham City University.

The researchers used POLAR* data to find out how likely young people are to participate in music A-Level across the UK and how this varies by geographical area. The number of students taking A-Level music is a good measure of the health of music provision at sixth-form level in secondary schools. Between 2013/14 and 2017/18 at least 60% of A-Level music entries came from schools in postcodes with POLAR ratings of 4 or 5 (5 showing the highest rate participation). Those from geographical areas with historic access to Higher Education are therefore much more likely to engage in a music A-Level. Areas of lower levels of A-Level music entry correlated with lower POLAR ratings and greater levels of deprivation. This is a significant finding that has profound implications for equitable access to music education, especially at advanced levels.

Knowsley, Tower Hamlets and Middlesbrough are three local authorities that didn’t enter any students for A-Level music in 2017/18 and are also amongst the most deprived local authorities in the country (based on data found in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation). Blackpool, Tameside, Barnsley, Slough, Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland and Bury were amongst the localities with only a single entry centre for A-Level music and similarly high ratings for social deprivation.

Many students in the UK who learn a musical instrument to a high level also study A-Level Music. Nearly all applicants to music conservatoires therefore have an A-level in Music. There is no POLAR data available for learning an instrument, so A-Level data is the closest it is possible to get to understanding the social background of the pool of potential UK conservatoire applicants.

Professor Colin Lawson, Director of the Royal College of Music, comments; “Large geographical areas are completely without music provision at A-Level standard and this is especially alarming when research tells us that these are areas of the greatest social deprivation. We know there is a crisis in music education. The inequality in provision is now deep within the schools system and has been for years. The conservatoire sector cannot recruit from the greatest pool of talent and, ultimately, the music profession will lose out.”

Lord Black of Brentwood, Chairman of the Royal College of Music comments; "High-quality music education must be available to all, regardless of means or background. Many of the most talented children are being denied the chance of a proper music education at school, which is now in a state of crisis. The long-term impact on the UK's cultural life and our creative industries - as well as the profound impact on the well-being of children - is incalculable."

Over 20% of A-Level music entries are clustered so as to be found in fewer than 50 schools (just 4% of entry centres), with the makeup of this group changing little across the five years under consideration here. This highlights a trend of stability in centres of large entry across the country, and may go some way to account for a relative lack of diversity in conservatoire applications nationwide.

There are only a few areas which offer sustained provision that is able to support students through A-Level music, with London and the South East showing the highest number of entries for music A-Level. Hertfordshire, Surrey, Hampshire, Manchester are four local authorities which also have high numbers of A-Level entrants. This status was maintained across multiple years and points to the relative stability of A-Level music provision in these localities, including in the state-funded sector.

Independent schools account for a disproportionately high number of A-Level music entries when compared with national entry statistics. Trends observed in this analysis show that the proportion of entry centres from the independent sector has actually increased slightly over the last five years.

Recent research shows that music provision in many schools, especially those in poorer areas, is under threat as part of a broader diminishing of creative subjects in these areas (All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, Incorporated Society of Musicians, & University of Sussex, 2019). One factor is the introduction of the EBacc which has resulted in many secondary schools cutting provision for non-core subjects, and music has been a significant casualty.


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