RMA Statement as part of Public Consultation on the National Plan for Music Education

In Spring 2020, the RMA’s Music Education Working Group participated in the public consultation on the National Plan for Music Education. The following statement was submitted by the RMA to the Department for Education as part of the consultation.

The Royal Musical Association (RMA) is a longstanding, scholarly learned society, founded in 1874, which supports high-quality research in all fields of music across Higher Education within the United Kingdom. It comprises a membership of well over 1,000 professional academics, researchers, performers, composers, music teachers and graduate students. As a result of the Association’s deep concern over the future of Music Education, it has recently set up its own educational initiative to foster better connections between music in schools and HE. The RMA is presenting its collective view here in response to the current consultation by the Department for Education over proposals for refreshing the National Plan for Music Education.

Dramatic decline and deep crisis in Music Education

The RMA strongly endorses the setting out of an updated National Plan for Music Education, superseding that of 2012. However, it also acknowledges that in the interim period music education, especially across primary and secondary sectors, has suffered a dramatic decline, which has serious implications for the wellbeing of the whole discipline of Music, set within the wider context of the Arts. We observe an increasing social divide in relation to access to Music education, which is increasingly available only to those children whose parents have the means to pay for lessons. Moreover, the evidence is there that, even where the National Plan is working well, it is difficult to sustain any form of onward progression.  

In particular, this crisis has emerged from unintended consequences of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and Progress 8, especially around headline accountability measures, with a resulting decline in Music through Key Stage 3. Across KS3 and KS4, schools are focusing on EBacc subjects to the exclusion of non-EBacc subjects such as Music, so causing a heavy, ongoing decline in the take-up of GCSE Music, and even more so A-Level Music. ‘According to official figures, in 2018, 35,531 pupils completed GCSE music in England, compared to 46,045 pupils in 2010 – a 23% decline. Between 2011 and 2018, A-Level entries dropped by 38%’ (data source: Incorporated Society of Musicians Consultation on the Future of Music Education, December 2018: https://www.ism.org/images/images/Future-of-Music-Education-ISM-report-December-2018.pdf). Put another way, recent figures (also 2018) suggest that, of children studying at Key Stage 3, only about 6% are now continuing through to GCSE and less than 1% are progressing to A-Level Music. Furthermore, ‘Recent research by the University of Sussex […] showed an increasing number of secondary 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’ (data: ISM Consultation on the Future of Music Education, December 2018).

Additionally, the end of 2019 saw the announcement that the Cambridge Pre-U, introduced in 2008 as an A-Level alternative that sought to provide a better preparation for university study is to be withdrawn. Due to the rather inadequate nature of the A-Level offerings, uptake for Music Pre-U was one of the strongest among the subjects offered and was actually snowballing in recent years. As a much more rigorous qualification, it challenged the most able students, whilst providing space for them to pursue their own musical passions via a personal-study component. Its removal really does leave sixth-form Music education much the poorer, especially in terms of preparing students for further study in Music.

In turn, this catastrophic decline is having a direct, detrimental impact on the take-up of Music at a tertiary level in universities, colleges and music conservatoires, including upon the future supply of Music teachers. It will soon also impact profoundly upon high-quality doctoral, postdoctoral and professional scholarly research in Music: the business and lifeblood of the RMA, the second oldest association of its kind in the world.

Multiple values of Music Education and urgent recommendations

The RMA urges the Government, in the strongest terms, to adopt and act on the positive recommendations put forward by the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, together with those of MusicHE, before it is too late. While we have a Music provision in the UK that is still the envy of many, it is currently subsisting on an increasingly fragile footing. For young people and adults alike, Music enables such a rich mix of creative experience, intellectual, historical, critical, compositional and performance enquiry, as well as being a means of amassing multiple, crucial musical and non-musical skills, including both leadership and teamworking. This is a substantial part of what is at stake and what must be safeguarded as a matter of urgency.

Music also plays a vital role in associated creative industries, bringing really substantial economic benefits: the Music Industry in the UK is worth some £4.4bn each year to the economy (data source: ISM Consultation on the Future of Music Education, December 2018). In addition, Music and music-making deliver crucial socioeconomic and cultural impacts, contributing massively to the wellbeing and long-term mental health of every one of us – not just those in the Music profession – as well as to society much more broadly. The foundations for this need to be laid early on and to be available to everyone.

In short, Music education is simply far too valuable to lose. Urgent action is now needed.

Professor Simon McVeigh, RMA President
Professor Barbara L. Kelly, RMA President-Elect
Professor Deborah Mawer, RMA Music Education Lead

9 March 2020

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