RCM research reveals inequality in access to A Level Music

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New research commissioned by the Royal College of Music (RCM) has revealed year-on-year declines in the study of A Level Music across the UK and a correlation between lack of provision and social deprivation.

Undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education, the research shows that the most deprived areas in the UK face significant difficulties as A Level Music provision continues to shrink, while there is no provision at all across a number of regions. 

RCM research and POLAR data

The researchers used POLAR* data to find out how likely young people are to participate in A Level Music and how this varies by geographical area.

Between 2013/14 and 2017/18, at least 60% of A Level Music entries came from schools in postcodes with POLAR ratings of 4 or 5 (5 showing the highest rate participation). Those from geographical areas with historic access to higher education were therefore much more likely to engage in a Music A Level.

Areas of lower levels of A Level Music entry correlated with lower POLAR ratings and greater levels of deprivation. This has implications for equitable access to music education, especially at advanced levels.

The most deprived local authorities in the UK

Three local authorities which didn’t enter any students for A Level Music in 2017/18, Knowsley, Tower Hamlets and Middlesbrough, are also among the most deprived local authorities in the UK (based on data found in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation).

Localities with only a single entry centre for A Level Music and similarly high ratings for social deprivation include Blackpool, Tameside, Barnsley, Slough, Hartlepool, Bury and Redcar & Cleveland.

Over 20% of A Level Music entries found in fewer than 50 schools

According to the research, over 20% of A Level Music entries were clustered so as to be found in fewer than 50 schools (just 4% of entry centres),  highlighting a trend of stability in centres of large entry across the country and possibly accounting for a relative lack of diversity in conservatoire applications nationwide.

Areas which offer sustained provision able to support students through A Level Music were London, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Hampshire and Manchester. This points to the relative stability of A Level Music provision in these localities, including in the state-funded sector.

Independent schools accounted for a disproportionately high number of A Level Music entries when compared with national entry statistics. Trends observed show that the proportion of entry centres from the independent sector has actually increased slightly over the last five years.

‘Inequality in provision is deep within the schools system’

Professor Colin Lawson, Director of the Royal College of Music, said:

‘Large geographical areas are completely without music provision at A Level standard and this is especially alarming when research tells us that these are areas of the greatest social deprivation.

‘We know there is a crisis in music education. The inequality in provision is now deep within the schools system and has been for years. The conservatoire sector cannot recruit from the greatest pool of talent and, ultimately, the music profession will lose out.’

‘High-quality music education must be available to all’

Lord Black of Brentwood, Chairman of the Royal College of Music, said:

‘High-quality music education must be available to all, regardless of means or background. Many of the most talented children are being denied the chance of a proper music education at school, which is now in a state of crisis.

‘The long-term impact on the UK’s cultural life and our creative industries – as well as the profound impact on the well-being of children – is incalculable.’

The full report is available to read at RCM’s open access research respository here.

*The Office for Students defines POLAR as the participation of local areas (POLAR) across the UK based on the proportion of the population that participates in higher education. It looks at how likely young people are to participate in higher education across the UK and shows how this varies by area. POLAR classifies local areas into five groups – or quintiles – based on the proportion of 18- and 19-year-olds who enter higher education. Quintile one shows the lowest rate of participation. Quintile five shows the highest rate of participation.

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