The 11th Festival of Education: Deborah Annetts' speech Jump to main content

The 11th Festival of Education: Deborah Annetts' speech

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) is the UK's professional body for musicians and a nationally recognised subject association for music. Since 1882, we have been dedicated to promoting the importance of music and supporting those who work in the music profession. We support almost 9,500 members across the UK and Ireland with legal advice and representation, comprehensive insurance and specialist services. We took our first steps in early 1900 when we tried to get a private members bill passed in the House of Lords to protect music education. Rather worryingly we seem to have gone back to 1900 in terms of the direction of travel of education policy.

Who said this?

'High quality arts education should not be the preserve of the elite but the entitlement of every child. Music, art and design, drama and dance are included in the national curriculum and compulsory in all maintained schools from the age of 5 to 14'

Yes it was Nick Gibb in April 2018.

And yet as we will see what governments say and what they do are two entirely different things. A squeeze on funding, the pressure on the curriculum due to accountability measures and the rise of academies has led to the destruction of music in many of our maintained schools.

An important report from the APPG for Music Education, titled State of the Nation (published 4 February 2019 and jointly authored by Dr Alison Daubney (University of Sussex), Gary Spruce (Birmingham City University) and the ISM) examined the data.

We found that the pressure of accountability measures for maths and English results (especially in Year 6) had had a negative impact on curriculum music provision in primary schools, and in primary schools where music was part of the curriculum, more than 50% of the responding schools did not meet their curriculum obligations to Year 6, citing the pressure of statutory tests as a significant reason for this. The prevalence of singing in primary schools had also diminished.

Secondary schools

Significant research into secondary school music provision has highlighted the decline of music as a curriculum subject right across secondary and post-18 (tertiary) provision.

Music is no longer taught across Key Stage 3 in more than 50% of state-funded secondary schools. There is an increasing move towards music only being offered on a ‘carousel’ - where music is only offered for part of the year on rotation with other (usually arts) subjects. And the time allocated to music in the Key Stage 3 curriculum is reducing: curriculum time has been taken from music and given to EBacc subjects. Only 3.1% of curriculum time is now allocated to Key Stage 3 music.

As Nick Gibb is fond of saying, music is part of the national curriculum. However the national curriculum does not apply to academies. The National Audit Office reported that in January 2018, 72% of secondary schools and 27% of primary schools were academies or free schools and thus not obliged to follow the national curriculum.

In some schools there is no music provision or it is only taught on one day per year: recent findings from the University of Sussex highlight the marginalisation of music in the curriculum, indicating that some pupils have little or no music education during their entire secondary school career; it therefore becomes the preserve only of those that can afford to access it outside of the classroom.

Even the Department for Education (DfE) has said that the shortening of the Key Stage 3 curriculum is ‘problematic’.

So what is going on? The current version of the EBacc has been in place since 2015. The EBacc excludes creative, artistic and technical subjects such as Music, Drama and Design and Technology which means schools are less likely to offer these at GCSE. And yet it is precisely these subjects which fuel our incredibly successful creative industries worth over 100 billion pounds per annum.

As you all know the EBacc is a headline accountability measure for schools in England which has had a major impact on what pupils study in secondary schools. It was first introduced by then-Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2010 and was based on the Facilitating Subjects as determined by the Russell Group which is a group of universities. However the Russell Group has now dropped the concept of Facilitating Subjects. The Russell Group, which represents the most selective universities, announced in May this year that it will no longer list “facilitating subjects”, saying that it has been “misinterpreted” by people who believe these are the only subjects that top universities will consider. Instead the group will replace its guidance, first published eight years ago, with a new website that hopes to offer more personalised advice to students in a bid to widen access.

So if facilitating subjects has gone presumably the DfE will look again at the EBacc. But at the current time there is no indication they are doing this. Instead the DfE push on with this failing policy based on the 1904 Secondary Regulations.

Only 38% of students in state-funded schools are entering the EBacc. This is against the Government’s target figure of 75% by 2022 (90% by 2025). In 2017/2018 only 16.7% of students attained it, a fall of over 4% from 2016/2017. The EBacc policy is failing on its own terms and yet as we have seen it is having a disastrous impact on music and creative education in our secondary schools.

The DfE’s own statistics show a fall of 17% in GCSE music (cohort adjusted) since 2014/2015 (which contradicts the DfE’s often quoted statement that take up of GCSE music is broadly stable). A similar picture is within primary schools where SATs are driving out creative subjects, including music.

The APPG report 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.

The DfE's teacher workforce data shows that at Key Stage 3, there has been a music teacher workforce drop of 26.7%. The overall percentage of music teachers within the workforce declined at a greater rate than across the total workforce, whilst the overall percentage of those teaching EBacc subjects rose. This reflects the encroachment of the EBacc into Key Stage 3. And because of the shift in timetabling to focus on EBacc subjects, music departments are shrinking therefore reducing the opportunity for extra-curricular music provision.

A Level music has the distinction of being the fastest disappearing A level, suffering a 38.9% decline in music entries in England since 2011.

The data shows that there has been a 17.98% fall since 2014/15 in the numbers taking creative subjects as a proportion of the overall GCSE cohort. And yet these are exactly the subjects which we should be investing in engage with the opportunities available to us via the Fourth Industrial revolution. The EBacc threatens the skills pipeline for the creative industries in the UK which as a nation we should be investing in. The music industry is worth nearly £5 billion and the creative industries are worth over £100 billion, the same amount as construction or banking. And it is the creative industries which are the industries of the future.

And parents know this is not right. Recent research by Ofsted showed that 68% of parents felt music was not covered enough by schools.

Data published in May 2019 by Ofqual shows entries in EBacc subjects increased by 4% and entries in non-EBacc subjects dropped by 9% this summer compared with 2018. Ofqual said the figures show that schools are focusing more on EBacc subjects than those that do not count towards the performance measure.

Glimmers of Hope

The recent DCMS Committee’s report entitled ‘Live Music’ called for music and arts subjects to be included in the list of approved EBacc subjects. The predecessor Committee recommended in its 2013 report on ‘Supporting the creative economy’ that arts be included in the list of approved EBacc subjects. According to the Committee, the concerns heard during this inquiry ‘suggest the need is no less pressing now’. This was followed by the recent DCMS Select committee report Changing Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport which revealed concerns about the downgrading of arts subjects in schools, with all the consequent implications for children’s development, well-being, experiences, careers and life chances.

In its recommendations, the Committee wrote: ‘It is not enough for the DCMS and DfE to simply expect schools to provide a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’: they need to take action to ensure that this is actually happening. The report stated that the Select Committee remained 'deeply concerned about the gap between the Government’s reassuring rhetoric and the evidence presented to us of the decline in music provision in state schools, for which the EBacc is blamed and which affects students from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds disproportionately.’

The Committee also commended the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education in pursuing these issues further, stating they would ‘welcome sight of the Government’s response to each of the 18 recommendations in its recent report ‘Music Education: State of the Nation’.


The ISM welcomed the Quality of Education judgement in the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework.

However, we are disappointed that the EBacc is still included in the Education Inspection Framework as the academic core at Key Stage 4, especially given that the inclusion of the EBacc was a ‘commonly raised concern’. Whilst it is reassuring that inspectors ‘will not make a judgement about the quality of education based solely or primarily on its progress towards the EBacc ambition’, it is disappointing that inspectors will take schools’ preparations for the EBacc into consideration when evaluating the intent of the school’s curriculum. And the concern is that what does not count towards the accountability measures will not be inspected by Ofsted. And so far there is no indication that Ofsted will move to the position of not rating schools as outstanding if they do not have a high quality music offer.

We are also disappointed that students’ learning at Key Stage 1 has been reduced to the ability to ‘read, write and use mathematical knowledge, ideas and operations so they are able to access a broad and balanced curriculum at Key Stage 2’. The requirement for a broad and balanced curriculum should also apply to Key Stage 1, especially given that music is part of the National Curriculum at Key Stage 1.

We therefore urge Ofsted to take note of the recommendations released by the DCMS Select Committee: namely, that the DfE and DCMS should “work alongside Ofsted to design an inspection regime for primary and secondary schools that measures the volume of cultural education; the integration of cultural education with other areas of the curriculum; and the universality of schools’ cultural offers in ensuring that all children have access to the benefits that cultural participation can bring”. We do not think the new inspection framework meets these recommendations.’

What should the Government do

Now that facilitating subjects has ceased to exist there is no justification for the EBacc. And yet it continues to drive all kinds of policy decision decisions within the DfE.

There is increasing concern at Parliamentary level in both Houses and across all parties that something needs to be done to support music education in our schools. The current Secretary of State for Education is developing the Five Foundations of Building Character. Part of this is based around creativity and performing. In order to ensure that this policy is as successful as possible, the EBacc needs to be abolished or reformed with music at the very least being added to the Humanities pillar or, as Darren Henley has called for in the past, for a sixth pillar for creative and artistic subjects to be added to the EBacc.

In the meantime to mitigate the adverse impact of the EBacc on the curriculum, the DfE should call for all maintained schools, whether they are an academy or not, to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum including music. And Ofsted must play an active role in this exposing schools which have no music or arts offer.

Schools should receive clear guidance that headline accountability measures must not erode the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum at Key Stage 3.

The DfE should also warn schools not to reduce Key Stage 3 to two years. Nick Gibb said in January this year that ‘All pupils at least up to the age of 14 should study music in school.’ However, research shows that schools are increasingly reducing the length of Key Stage 3 to just two years, rather than to age 14, in order to concentrate on GCSE preparation.

As recommended by the Music Education APPG report, each secondary school must have at least one dedicated full-time music teacher. Pupils have a right to be taught by a subject specialist, and the Government agrees this is preferable.

While the DfE’s continued commitment to secure funding for Music Education Hubs has been widely welcomed in the music sector, to ensure that schools are delivering a comprehensive classroom music education, the DfE must clarify the roles and responsibilities of schools and hubs as part of the new National Plan for Music Education. This is an important step to ensure schools continue to maintain their historic role providing classroom music teaching to students of all ages.

The DfE also needs to make sure they secure more than the current level of funding for the music education hubs to run alongside the refreshed National Plan for Music Education to cover the increased cost of pension contributions under the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. We appreciate that there is great uncertainty around the comprehensive spending review but Government needs to act otherwise 1000s of jobs will be at risk within the Hubs.

The DfE should take steps to encourage singing in schools. Singing is a vital part of any child’s music education in which almost all children can participate, and the DfE must ensure that there is a culture of singing, via classroom teaching, embedded in all primary schools and beyond.

Lastly, I would just like to touch on the evidence of Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the OECD on 26 February to the Education Select Committee

He said, ‘In the fourth industrial revolution, art may become more important than maths. We often talk about soft skills as being social and emotional skills, and hard skills as being science and maths, but it might be the opposite. The science and maths might become a lot softer in the future, where the relevance of knowledge evaporates very quickly, whereas the hard skills might be your curiosity, leadership, persistence and resilience.’

He talked about the strengths of British students, saying we were better at tasks that ‘are more associated with the past than the future. The kinds of things that are easy to teach and easy to test are precisely those things that are easy to digitise.’ In his view, the greatest weakness in UK schools is that we are teaching routine cognitive skills and not focusing on non-routine analytic skills, such as problem solving and making judgements.

The ISM supports the evidence presented by Schleicher and would agree that creative subjects must be placed at the heart of a child’s education if we are to make the most of the Fourth Industrial revolution and not become a victim of these technological changes.'