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Music teaching hits ‘crisis point’ as more UK secondary schools remove it from curriculum

Almost a fifth of schools surveyed by the University of Sussex failed to offer GCSE music. Photo: Shutterstock Almost a fifth of schools surveyed by the University of Sussex failed to offer GCSE music. Photo: Shutterstock
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The decline of music education in secondary schools has reached “crisis point” according to new research, with the subject at “significant risk” of disappearing from the curriculum.

A study by the University of Sussex claims that an increasing number of schools have cut their music offering or entirely removed the subject from the curriculum in years seven to nine.

The researchers surveyed almost 500 schools from June to September, 423 of which were state schools and 41 of which were independent schools.

Almost a fifth of schools failed to offer GCSE music, while between 2016 and 2018 there was a 10% decline in the number of students starting a GCSE music course.

The introduction of the controversial English Baccalaureate, which comprises a set of compulsory subjects to be taught in secondary schools but does not include any mandatory arts provision, was cited by 59% of respondents as one of the main factors in the decline in music teaching, as well as a squeeze on funding.

Additionally, the number of full-time music teachers has reduced year-on-year, with 36% of respondents reporting a drop in staff over the past two years.

A number of schools reportedly claimed that music teachers were not being replaced when retiring, and that they were also having to “fill gaps” to teach in other subjects where not enough staff had been recruited.

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 schools 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.”

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.”

She added: “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.”

The study’s findings will be presented to an event organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education in Parliament on October 10.

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