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Cutting music from the school curriculum

Mike Hodgkiss
Mike Hodgkiss 22 August, 2017

Cutting music from the curriculum.

It is becoming clear that increasingly more and more children and young people are being deprived of their entitlement to access educational opportunities provided by subjects such as art, music and drama.

What are the pressures that are leading Headteachers to make these difficult decisions?

The ability of schools to determine their own curriculum, combined with certain subjects being prioritised as the ones against which schools will be judged, has led to a narrowing of the curriculum and to the reduction, or in some cases the complete removal, of creative and arts subjects.

The evidence is mounting that more and more schools are reducing their commitment to, and provision for, music in and out of the curriculum because of huge downward pressures such as Ebacc, budgets, external scrutiny on ‘core subjects’. There is a depressing feeling of educational ‘reduction’ – schools vastly reducing their curriculum and their provision in music and the arts.


One school in Essex took the decision to remove music from the timetable for KS3 pupils and replace it with ‘drop-down days’ when outside groups would be brought in to deliver music workshops. It was a difficult decision, one the headteacher says “I didn’t want to take” but funding and teacher recruitment issues made it necessary. “I don’t think we want to reduce any subject provision. Unfortunately in this situation I have a music teacher who left, so that has made me have to review the situation.”


A special school faced similar issues:

“We don’t teach music as a stand alone subject. Sadly, it’s squeezed out. But as we are a special school we are able to weave it into many lessons so the children don’t miss out. Twice a year we also produce a musical concert, which means that for 2 weeks running up to the concerts music is taught almost as super learning days. We also take part in a music festival for special schools in the area.

So, even though we don’t teach it as such any longer I actually believe our children have more music than when it was timetabled.”


We’ve heard many warnings over the last year about the effects that giving less emphasis on creative subjects will have on schools and students, and eventually the creative industries in the UK. Teachtalks featured this issue in a blog last month.


The Essex school is a perfect example of how it is becoming increasingly difficult for educational organisations to balance their budgets to keep creative subjects in the curriculum. But there are those out there who are trying to create ways to help provide resources to schools that are struggling.

Birmingham singing teacher Sarah Baker recently scooped an award for the creation of a music piece aimed at primary schools in the city who may not have the resources to offer music education to their pupils.

“Any form of musical expression is so important for children and I encourage everyone to explore something new,” said Baker.

“We are seeing more and more cuts to school funding, especially within the music sector, so I wanted to create a piece that is financially accessible for all schools.”

As part of the win, Baker is expected to donate half the prize money to her chosen charity, which is Services for Education. The money will help the charity continue to provide vocal resources to primary schools across Birmingham and the West Midlands.


All of this news of cuts to the creative curriculum appears to confirm what the likes of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and its ‘Bacc For the Future’ campaign has been warning the government about.

The school’s music lesson axe comes just two weeks after statistics revealed that EBacc subjects are at an all-time high as fewer pupils are taking creative subjects.

In 2017, there were 3.85 million entries for the EBacc subjects, compared to 3.54 million last year, a rise of 9 per cent. As a result of this shift, the number of non-EBacc subjects has fallen, including creative subjects like music, art and drama. The number of pupils taking music at GCSE level saw a drop, from 41,850 to 38,750 between 2016 and 2017.
A spokesperson from ‘Bacc for the Future’ said: “These new figures confirm that the EBacc is having a devastating effect on the uptake of creative subjects at GCSE and A Level. This evidence, on top of research published by the University of Sussex identifying the negative impact the EBacc is specifically as having on the provision of and uptake of music in schools, needs urgent attention from the Government. The Secretary of State must listen to the evidence and the teachers on the front line and scrap the EBacc in its current form before any more damage is done.”

ISM says the cuts to school budgets has thrown the harmful impact of the EBacc into sharp focus.

In response to music cuts Deborah Annetts, chief executive of ISM and founder of the ‘Bacc for the Future’ campaign said: “The news that a school has felt under pressure to remove music from the timetable for Year 7 and 8 to balance their budget is becoming common, as revealed in research and also personal testimony from teachers at the Telegraph Festival of Education.

“Although the headmaster at this Essex Academy is trying hard to keep GCSE music as an option in the school with the introduction of a few music days, the removal of music from the timetable is severely limiting the opportunities open to children at this important stage of their education.”

Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Ofsted, has said, “We have a full and coherent national curriculum and it seems to me a huge waste not to use it properly. The idea that children will not, for example, hear or play the great works of classical musicians or learn about the intricacies of ancient civilisations – all because they are busy preparing for a different set of GCSEs – would be a terrible shame. All children should study a broad and rich curriculum. Curtailing key stage 3 means prematurely cutting this off for children who may never have an opportunity to study some of these subjects again.”