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Teachers blame EBacc for decline in Music student numbers

New University of Sussex research involving over 700 secondary schools in England reveals nearly 60 percent of teachers from state schools believe the controversial English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is having a negative impact on the numbers of students choosing to study Music.

Academics from the University’s School of Education and Social Work, who have surveyed 705 schools (657 state and 48 independent schools) in England, over a five-year period, have discovered that nearly 400 (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.

The University of Sussex research has discovered:

  • Only three percent of state school teachers surveyed report the EBacc has had a positive impact on Music within their school.
  • Of all the schools surveyed, this year (2016/17) Music was only compulsory for ‘all Year 9 students’ in 62 percent of schools, despite it being compulsory in the National Curriculum.
  • The number of schools included in the survey that offer young people the chance to study BTEC Music Level 2 at Key Stage 4 has declined from 166 in 2012/13 to just 50 schools this year (2016/17) – nearly a staggering 70 percent reduction.

The results of the University of Sussex’s longitudinal survey are in stark contrast to a recent report by the New Schools Network, which claims that over the last five years the introduction of the EBacc has had "no discernible impact on the popularity of the arts at GCSE".

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.”

In a November 2015 consultation, which is yet to be responded to by the Government, the Department for Education states the goal is for at least 90 percent of pupils in mainstream secondary school to be included within EBacc by 2020.

Dr Ally Daubney, from the University of Sussex, who co-authored the new research, said: “The results of this study support the figures released by the Joint Qualifications Council showing a worrying decline numbers of students entering arts qualifications at Key Stage 4. Furthermore, based on our study's uptake figures, the data demonstrates that examination entries for Music at Key Stage 4 will become significantly worse over the next two years.

“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."

The survey responses were from a range of different types of schools, 80 percent of which had an Ofsted grading of ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. 

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By: Lynsey Ford
Last updated: Thursday, 9 March 2017

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