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Music education at significant risk of disappearing, new University of Sussex research reveals

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  • Research by the University of Sussex shows an increasing number of schools have reduced or completely removed music in the curriculum for lower secondary school students in years 7 to 9
  • 70% of music teachers reported often teaching outside their subject area to ‘fill gaps’ in ‘core subjects’
  • The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) specifically as having a negative impact on the provision and uptake of music in schools

New research into Secondary Music Curriculum Provision between 2016-18/19 by the University of Sussex has revealed that music in schools is at significant risk of disappearing as schools offering music a subject, staffing levels and teaching hours in music decline.

In particular, the EBacc, other performance measures and a squeeze on funding are cited as the main factors contributing to this continued decline.

Dr Ally Daubney, Senior Teaching Fellow in Education at the University of Sussex, said: “Having warned in 2016 that performance measures and funding cuts risk making music education in school extinct, our recent research highlights that the situation is now at crisis point in many secondary schools. We need to act now in order to reverse this decline and find ways to support schools to offer a sustained music education for all.”

Duncan Mackrill, Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Sussex, said: “Music’s place in the secondary Curriculum continues to be precariously balanced or disappearing in a significant number of schools. Without a change to require a balanced curriculum in all schools we are in danger of music education becoming in many cases the preserve of those who can pay.”

Academics from the University’s School of Education and Social Work surveyed almost 500 schools this summer. The research discovered:

  • An increasing number of schools reducing or completely removing music in the curriculum for year 7, 8 and 9 students, resulting in some schools now not offering music as a curriculum subject and in others taught only on an ‘enrichment day’ once a year.

  • The EBacc specifically as having a negative impact on the provision and uptake of music in schools (within and beyond the curriculum) with some schools discouraging top set students from taking music at KS4 because of the EBacc, whilst in others lower ability students were prevented from taking music so they could concentrate on core subjects.

  • A decline in the number of schools offering GCSE music and other Key Stage 4 qualifications with some schools only offering it outside of school hours if at all.

  • 15.4% fewer centres offering A Level music in 2018 compared to 2016, and a reduction of 31.7% in A Level music technology. This is likely to be reflected in the decreasing number of candidates sitting these qualifications in 2019 and 2020.
  • An increase in music teachers teaching outside their subject area – over 70% cited often doing so since 2016, and a potential rise in redundancies for music teachers in the next academic year, with some responses noting that music teachers were not being replaced when leaving or retiring.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, said: 'This vital research by the University of Sussex makes for troubling reading and only adds to the growing body of evidence that EBacc proposals are having a negative impact on music in our schools. Schools are under pressure to focus their curriculum through the narrow lense of the EBacc and as a result – as shown by this research and by the Government’s own figures – provision and uptake of music is suffering and at risk of disappearing completely from our schools. Music is central to our cultural life, a key driver of economic growth, and gives our children the tools to navigate a fast changing digital world. We urge the Government to reverse its EBacc policy altogether to keep music in our schools.”

Notes to editors

The research was undertaken between June and September 2018 and follows on from research undertaken for the period 2012-16.

Of the 464 schools in England which responded to the survey, 423 were state schools and 41 were independent schools. Responses were from Academies, Local Authority, Free and Independent schools. As with the previous study, 80% have an Ofsted grading of ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’.

The study’s findings will be presented to an invitee-only event organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education at 5pm on Wednesday October 10, in Room M of Portcullis House on the Parliamentary estate.