What a Few Canny Parents Know about A-level Music Courses

What a Few Canny Parents Know about A-level Music Courses

As a (very average) piano player myself, but coming from a family of excellent musicians I was disappointed to read that the average A-level Music class now has just three students, according to a recent study commissioned by the Royal College of Music (RCM) and the Royal Academy of Music (RAM).

I’d suggest that this may be due to the cash constraints most state schools find themselves under; less funds equate to less peripatetic music teachers to support learning, practice & performance.

Without regular practice along with opportunities for performance, those young musicians will never develop their skills to the level they require if they wish to excel in their endeavours.

Most private schools offer music scholarships

It’s unfortunate also that the vast majority of parents aren’t aware that private schools provide music scholarships for gifted players, at all ages, and so some early time spent developing their child’s music skills could result in an offer of a place at a private school.

Once a music scholarship place has been offered there is also the possibility of a bursary being available to reduce the termly fees due, in some cases to zero.

Just 3 pupils per A-level music class

The average A-level music class now has only three students.

Bearing in mind the practical, performance-based nature of this course, unlike maths or science , for example, class-sizes as small as this have a clearly detrimental influence upon how the students can develop their group playing skills.

One in five entries for the subject are from fewer than 50 schools, according to a recent research study that was commissioned jointly by the RCM and the RAM and recently reported in The Telegraph by Camilla Turner, education editor.

The research was carried out via Birmingham City University who analysed patterns of entry for A-level qualifications in Music over the past five years and identified that the number of pupils taking this particular course had reduced from 8,369 to 5,440 a fall of 35 per cent.

The study also found that independent schools account for a disproportionately high number of A-level music entries.

“It seems significant that the average class size for many of the entry centres in these local authorities does not exceed the national average of 3.3 students,” the report said, adding that the subject is “disappearing” altogether from schools in deprived areas.

Researchers identified ten parts of the country – including Blackpool, Slough, Bury and Hartlepool – where there were less than five entries for A-level music for the entire area. 

Dr Adam Whittaker, a research fellow at Birmingham City University and the report’s lead author, said that the decline in A-level music is “extremely alarming”.

He added: “It is deeply worrying that students in the most deprived local authorities are not able to study A-level music, while other more affluent areas see high numbers of entry.  

“The threat of small class sizes is also a concern. In a tough financial climate, it can be hard for schools to justify the expense of offering a qualification and having a specialist teacher if the uptake is low, further limiting pupils access to studying music and even pursuing a career in music.”

Dr Adam Whittaker, research fellow at Birmingham City University

The discipline faces an “existential crisis” as it increasingly drops off the syllabus, according to Lord Black of Brentwood who warned during a debate in the House of Lords last year that music is “literally disappearing from our schools”.

“Rather than it being the fundamental right of all children, it is rapidly becoming the preserve of the privileged few at independent schools, as it dies out in the state sector,” he said. 

“Music in this country is now facing an existential crisis which only urgent radical action from government will be able to reverse.”

Private school scholarships and bursaries are always available

It seems to us at The Scholarship Hunt that many parents are unaware of the benefits accruing to their children from studying music.

We’ve worked with parents who have been able to secure places at private independent schools on the basis of their child’s musical performance.

In addition, for those who might be interested in securing a sixth-form place at a private school (who have separate entry criteria for this year-group), a music A-level, supported by strong musical skills, could unlock the door to a superb opportunity.

Is your son or daughter considering A-level music?

Is this a course they’re interested in? Will they move schools if their present establishment doesn’t provide the course for them next year?

Comment below and let’s see how other parents are finding this issue affects their children’s education.