New research shows music ‘could face extinction’ in England’s secondary schools

New research from the University of Sussex reveals that nearly 60% of teachers from state schools in England believe the controversial English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is having a negative impact on the numbers of students choosing to study music, while just 3% believe it has benefitted the subject.

Academics from the University’s School of Education and Social Work surveyed 705 schools (657 state and 48 independent schools) in England, over a five-year period. They discovered that 393 state schools claim the EBacc is having a negative impact on the provision and uptake of music within their own school and on the wider curriculum.

The current EBacc school performance measure, introduced by the Government in 2013, is awarded to schools when students gain a grade C or above at GCSE level across five subjects: English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language. Other subjects such as music, drama and art are not included in the measure.

Findings include:

  • A decrease in schools providing music as part of the curriculum to year 9
    Music is a mandatory part of the curriculum up to and including year 9 – although academies are exempt from this. The number of schools providing music as part of the compulsory curriculum in year 9 is down from 84 per cent in 2012, to 62 per cent in 2016.
  • A decrease in schools offering music at GCSE level
    Down from 85 per cent in 2012 to 79 per cent in 2016.
  • A decrease in schools offering offering Music BTEC level 2
    Down from 166 in 2012-13 to just 50 in 2016-17
  • A decrease in music staff, more one-person departments
    39% of the teachers surveyed reported cuts to music staff numbers, while 17% reported increases. In 30% of secondary schools the music department consisted of just one teacher, up from 22% five years ago, the survey found.

Duncan Mackrill, a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Sussex, said: “Our research clearly shows the EBacc is having a detrimental effect on the uptake of music in state secondary schools. We also have evidence that the EBacc policy has resulted in a negative impact on the wider musical life of schools as well as curriculum provision.

“The future of music as an academic subject is precariously balanced with curriculum time having reduced significantly at Key Stage 3 in many state schools over the last five years. This Government needs to take appropriate action to prevent the further erosion of music in secondary schools – before we lose the subject in some schools for good.”

The results of the survey are in stark contrast to a recent report by the New Schools Network, which claimed that the EBacc has had “no discernible impact” on the popularity of the arts at GCSE. The New Schools Network research has been challenged by head teachers unions.

Dr Ally Daubney, from the University of Sussex, who co-authored the new research, said: “Already the threat of the Government implementing their policy of ‘at least 90 percent of pupils in mainstream secondary school to be included within EBacc by 2020’ is having a significantly negative impact across secondary school provision and means that music as a subject could be facing extinction.”

University of Sussex:


Analysis of DfE statistics by Dr Martin Fautley:
Fewer music teachers; reduced time for music on the timetable


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