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DfE has resurrected the long-delayed plan as industry and researchers warn music A-levels could disappear from some regions by 2033.

Work on a National Plan for Music Education has resumed after a year long delay during the pandemic.

The Department for Education (DfE) has assembled an expert advisory panel to produce the new plan early next year, although a date has not been set.

Its revival comes amid warnings about the state of music education: industry bodies say the new plan alone is not enough to remedy the damage done by the EBacc, including falling music A-levels.


This week's A-level results show entries for music have dropped 44% in the past decade. The decline has plateaued a little since 2017, but there was still a 0.2% fall in candidates this year.

A consultation on the national plan conducted pre-pandemic found some young people wanted to study a music qualification but their school didn't offer the subject as a GCSE or A-level.

Research by Birmingham City University has warned there could be zero A-level music entries in some regions by 2033 if the current decline continues.

"This trajectory is a cause for concern, not least because the children who would take A-level music in 2033 are already in primary schools now," the research says.

Priorities for the national plan include expanding opportunities for all pupils to sing, learn an instrument and make music with others at school.

Panel member Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, CEO of UK Music, hoped the plan “will give pupils from every background the best possible opportunities”.

Chair Veronica Wadley said the panel "will make a great contribution" to shaping the future of music education.

Unequal provision

The current plan, established a decade ago, created the music education hubs that currently facilitate delivery in schools across England.

Many respondents to the consultation praised the hubs system while highlighting its limitations: provision is inconsistent, with hubs in some regions offering more opportunities for local schools and some schools unaware of the services they provide.

More than a third felt the current national plan was ineffective. 21% said it was "fairly effective" and 40% had no clear opinion.

"Whilst it is positive that around half of respondents said that music education is being delivered in line with the government’s vision, half of respondents did not, indicating that there is still progress to be made," the DfE's report said.

Cost too is a barrier. Among parents whose children has quit music, almost two thirds said it was too expensive.

Nearly one in five said there were no music activities available in their area.

Birmingham City University calculated about 1% of students in the Midlands study A-level music - roughly in line with uptake nationally - although there is significant variation across local authorities.

Birmingham and Sandwell, for example, have proportionally fewer music A-level entries, but higher attainment rates, a pattern that can perhaps be attributed to concentrated provision of the subject in small clusters.

Researcher Dr Adam Whittaker said A-level uptake is at "a very concerning level", jeopardising the talent pipeline.

While the research only pertains to the Midlands, it says "similar patterns are likely to be discerned throughout the country".

"We are now in a position where there are parts of the country with very limited access to A-level music or, in some cases, no access at all," Whittaker said.

"Children can't choose a qualification that isn't offered to them. What is the child who wants to take A-level music to do if the nearest school offering it is 30 miles away?"

Ebacc effect

Five out of 15 members on the new panel also advised on the recently-published Model Music Curriculum, which DfE says will inform the new plan: Manchester music education hub lead Carolyn Baxendale, David Ross Education Trust Executive Director of Music Simon Toyne, West London Free School Music Director Ed Watkins, Feversham Primary Academy Head Teacher Naveed Idrees, and the Chair, Veronica Wadley.

The sudden strides in England's music education policy follow the introduction of free instrumental tuition in Scotland and a new National Music Service in Wales.

While the progress has been welcomed, there is sceptism as to whether the new plan is enough to fix a long decline in the subject in England.

"Sadly, what remains clear is that the EBacc is devastating music education and creative subjects, which is demonstrable by the continuing decline in the number of students taking A-level music," ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts commented.

Others say the success of the next National Plan for Music Education depends on the funding attached to it.

Musicians' Union National Organiser for Education Chris Walters said there is currently insufficient funding to ensure children's access to music lessons.

The consultation highlighted the value of teacher training and professional development provided by music education hubs.

"Limited funding has led to precarious teaching contracts, often with no pay for breaks, travel between schools or preparation, and with rates that are frequently too low for the level of skill needed to teach effectively," Walters said.

Proper support for the workforce must be part of the next national plan, he added.

Drake Music Programme Delivery Manager Tom McGrath noted the consultation illustrated gaps in access for disabled musicians, and called for a more diverse music education workforce.

The new plan must target resources strategically, harness technology and boost the profile of music in schools if it is to succeed in supporting "real, meaningful and informed inclusion for all", McGrath said.