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Music education ‘crisis’ laid bare in parliamentary report

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Music education in England is in crisis and is being destroyed by the English Baccalaureate, a parliamentary report has claimed.

The “devastating” effects of the EBacc on music education are exposed in the study, which challenges the government’s assertion that its flagship education policy is not impacting the take-up of arts GCSEs.

It has been published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, the University of Sussex and the Incorporated Society of Musicians.

The government “must act quickly to ensure music does not become the preserve of a privileged few”, the report claims and identifies a number of systemic challenges as a way of illustrating the scale of the crisis facing music education in England.

Significant declines can be seen in both the number of pupils taking music at GCSE level and the number of music teachers at the same level, with Department for Education data showing a 17% decline in music GCSE entries between 2014/15 and 2017/18.

This represents a drop of nearly 9,000 pupils.

Similarly, DfE figures display a decline in secondary school music teachers. There were 1,000 fewer music teachers in 2017 than there were in 2010, which is contrasted against an increase of 1,600 teachers for maths and 900 for English during the same period.

The report’s research also highlights the “serious failings” of EBacc policy, which it claims need urgently addressing.

It says: “To date, the target of 75% (90% by 2025) for EBacc take-up has failed to be met by a very long way. Currently the number of students studying the EBacc has plateaued at 38% in state-funded schools. Indeed the number of students passing the EBacc was 16.7% in 2017/2018. And yet this failing policy is causing untold damage to music and many other creative subjects in our schools. And for what?”

The report goes on to argue that the government and Ofsted should take on board a number of recommendations around music education, “in particular as a matter of urgency the EBacc must be reviewed and reformed, and creative subjects, including music, must regain their central role in a broad and balanced curriculum for all of our children”.

The recommendations also include calls that music should be taught by a specialist teacher as part of the curriculum in all state schools for at least one hour every week and that schools have at least one full-time staff member teaching only music.

It also calls for ring-fenced funding for music education hubs beyond 2020 and that secondary-school music should be treated as a “shortage subject”, meaning greater effort be applied to attract teachers.

Commenting on the findings, APPG co-chairs, MPs Diana Johnson and Andrew Percy, said: “This report shows the scale of the crisis facing music education in England. It shows how government policy around accountability measures and the curriculum has contributed to a sharp decline in opportunities for pupils to have access to a music education. Its recommendations show the breadth of the problem – but also how easily the government could act to address some of the most pressing issues, at little or no financial cost.”

Responding to the report, a spokeswoman for DfE said: “The EBacc was designed to be studied as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. This approach allows pupils to continue to study additional subjects, like the arts, that reflect their individual interests but also provides a strong academic foundation that keeps their options open. Music is compulsory in the National Curriculum up to the age of 14.

“More broadly, we are putting more money into arts education programmes than any subject other than PE – nearly half a billion pounds being used to fund a range of music and cultural programmes between 2016 and 2020. And since 2010, the percentage of time spent teaching music in secondary schools has remained broadly stable, as has the proportion of pupils in state-funded schools taking music GCSE.”

What is the EBacc?

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a performance measure for schools in England, implemented by the government.

It comprises a set of core subjects that are compulsory for all those taking the EBacc. These are English, maths, science (either double or triple award), a foreign language and either history or geography.

This means students will take a minimum of seven GCSEs.

It was introduced for schools in England in 2010, however under continued government encouragement has been increasing in prominence ever since.

At present, the government’s aim is to ensure that 90% of pupils sit the EBacc at GCSE by 2025.

Read our comprehensive guide to the EBacc here.

The EBacc: Everything you need to know

This article has been updated to include a response from the Department for Education.

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