Music is at risk of becoming the preserve of those who can afford it,” warns musicians' professional body

22:35 30th December 2017

The revelation that pupils in a West Yorkshire school are being charged to take GCSE music as an 'extra curricular activity' is the latest evidence that the subject is being pushed to extinction in UK schools.

In his keynote speech to the Westminster Media Forum, Henry Vann, Head of External Affairs with the Incorporated Society of Musicians bemoaned the attack on arts education. After mentioning a petition launched by pupils at Coopers School in London to protest against plans to remove music, drama and design and technology from the A-level curriculum from September 2018, Vann reported that “another school, which I'm not going to name because we're trying to get them to change their policy, is now charging pupils £5 a week to study GCSE music as an extracurricular activity.”

The ISM have now decided to name the school in question – Bingley Grammar in West Yorkshire – and Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, gave us this exclusive statement.

“With school budgets under pressure and the Government excluding music and other creative subjects from major school league tables known as the ‘EBacc’, we are seeing a year on year drop in the uptake of music in our schools.

“This new development is shocking and deeply troubling. Music is at risk of becoming the preserve of those who can afford it and the Government must act now to ensure it is available to all. We have also written to the school asking for them to reverse their policy which may be in breach of Government guidelines.”

Arts subjects and music in particular appear to have been targeted by the Conservative government's ongoing education policy, with a new emphasis being placed on maths and sciences. In addition, relentless cuts to school budgets, especially in urban areas, have seen provision of non-core academic subjects like music rapidly reduced as a matter of necessity rather than design.

Research carried out by Sussex University's School of Education and Social Work, which surveyed secondary music teachers at 657 state and 48 private schools across England over five years, reported that in the five years to 2016-17 the schools in the survey entered fewer students for music qualifications, with schools offering Music BTEC level 2 falling from 166 in 2012-13 to just 50 in 2016-17 and the number offering music GCSE falling by six percentage points - from 85% in 2012-13 to 79% in 2016-17.

Perhaps most shockingly, the research discovered that the number of schools where music was a compulsory subject for 13-14 year olds had fallen from 84% to 62% over the five year period.

This ideological crusade against apparently 'superfluous' arts subjects by Tory education chiefs goes against the logic of their own economic figures. A government report in 2016 states that the UK’s creative industries are now worth a record £84.1 billion to the UK economy, with an estimated £10 million created by the sector every hour of every day.

“British films, music, video games, crafts and publishing are taking a lead role in driving the UK's economic recovery,” the government report states.

It's certainly ironic that while Theresa May is happy to be seen rewarding working class music heroes like Ringo Starr, Barry Gibb, Marc Almond and Wiley in the New Years Honours list, she is simultaneously pulling up the ladder and preventing today's generation of being able to pursue and foster careers in the arts. This all comes within a general background of cuts to arts funding forced by stark decreases in funding being passed on to local authorities, the traditional funding source for arts venues, across the UK.

Beyond the pure economic argument, one that holds a lot of weight given the UK's role as a undisputed and long standing centre of excellence within the global music industry, the role of music in schools as a healthy and constructive focal point for less academically minded pupils should not be downplayed either. Tim Smith, the music teacher who taught Wiley and who Dizzee Rascal paid tribute to in the liner notes to his Mercury Music Prize winning debut album 'Boy In Da Corner', noted in a recent interview that when Dizzee aka Dylan Jones, arrived at Langdon Park school he had already been expelled from his two previous schools. By the time he left he was helping to teach younger students.

“So these 11-year-olds got very, very good tuition on how to do Cubase from Dizzee Rascal,” Smith recalls, “who was also simultaneously creating the sounds that would lead on to 'Boy In Da Corner..'”

* Find out more about the ISM's Bacc for the Future campaign to save creative subjects in schools visit
Words: Ben Willmott
Photo: Shutterstock