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Talent Drains and Unequal Opportunity: The State of Music Education in the UK

On the 19th March 2019, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) published their Live Music Report. Drawn together following interviews and reviews of material from the media and other sources, the report covers four key areas:

  • The Live Music success story
  • Problems in the ticketing market
  • Challenges facing music venues
  • Threats to the talent pipeline

This research comes hot on the heels of Music Education: State of the Nation, a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the University of Sussex, which was published in February 2019. 

Abandoned music classroom, image Tiffany Bailey

Image: Tiffany Bailey 

The fourth area of the new DCMSC report explores some of the challenges facing the music talent pipeline and makes some recommendations. It draws on a wide range of sources of information, from interviews with the Royal Albert Hall’s Artistic and Commercial Director and input from the Musicians’ Union to an interview with Noel Gallagher taken from the Daily Record.

It covers a number of key areas that are adversely affecting the talent pipeline, including music education in school, the music curriculum, the impact of the EBacc, the work of Music Hubs, sustainable income streams, and access to employment opportunities after Britain leaves the EU.

The discussion around music education highlights that not all professional musicians have studied music in a formal setting but agrees that for some disciplines, formal music education is necessary. The report states:

Music is compulsory in the national curriculum up to the age of 14; however, we have heard concerns about a ‘policy clash’ in music education, with the consequences of the English Baccalaureate, the rights of Academies to diverge from the national curriculum and local authority funding cuts leading to a ‘postcode lottery’ in the quality of music education.

Abandoned music classroom, image by Clay Gilliland

Image:Clay Gilliland

The fact that music lessons are not a compulsory part of the curriculum in all schools is contentious and has been debated for some time. This issue was highlighted in Music Education: State of the Nation:

The entitlement to school music education was recently reaffirmed by the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb:  

‘… 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.’

Here Nick Gibb specifically states that the national curriculum is only compulsory in maintained schools. In 2017, 77% of primary schools were local authority schools while only 31% of secondary schools counted as ‘maintained’ (Fullfact.org). These statistics do not include private schools. The reality is, 69% of local authority secondary schools do not have to teach music as part of the curriculum.

The DCMSC report raises a number of problems with this. For example, there is the real concern that students are not being made aware of the wide range of opportunities in music (e.g. sound engineer and tech careers), leading to a potential future ‘talent drain’ in all areas of the industry.

Discussion of the EBacc links to the findings of Music Education: State of the Nation highlighting that 59% of nearly 500 schools surveyed think that the EBacc has had a negative impact on the provision and uptake of music.

The State of the Nation report compares GCSE music entries from years since 2014/15, showing the drop in applicants:

Change in music uptake and exam entries between 2014 and 2018

This image clearly shows the change in cohort size and change in music entries. Compiled from Department for Education data. Taken from “Music Education: State of the Nation” report.

The DCMSC report also raises the challenge of Music Hub provision stating that although 700,000 children were taught to play a musical instrument through a Hub and 89% of schools benefited from Hub support, quality of Hub provision is not of a consistently high quality.

To address this, Darren Henley, CEO of Arts Council, England confirmed that investment will be made to “build quality measures” into the Hub system. The DSMSC recommends that, “as part of its review into the effectiveness of the existing National Plan for Music Education, the Government should conduct a thorough study of where provision by Hubs is good and where it could be improved.” It also highlights the importance of Hubs receiving sufficient financial resources and workplace expertise for evaluation of their work and impact.

In the final recommendations, the DCMSC report focuses on a few key suggestions for music education.

One recommendation states that it welcomes Government’s intention to review the music curriculum, recommending,

The Government’s independent expert panel should engage musicians from different genres, stakeholders from across the music industry, and young people to ensure the new model music curriculum reflects how people make and consume music in the modern age, as well as the industry’s skills-needs now and into the future.

Another focusses on the EBacc and states: “

We repeat the call for arts subjects to be added to the EBacc to ensure all students benefit from a creative education at GCSE

Sources

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/733/73302.htm

https://www.ism.org/images/images/FINAL-State-of-the-Nation-Music-Education-for-email-or-web-2.pdf

https://fullfact.org/education/academies-and-maintained-schools-what-do-we-know/

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