It’s around this time of year that I receive the exciting news of which students have accepted the music scholarships they were offered. It’s a nail-biting time as I naturally hope that the students I believe to show promise will choose to study at Ipswich High School. The significance of students accepting our offer of a scholarship and joining the school really struck me at our recent classical music evening, where our remarkable music scholars performed.
The concert featured performances from some of the school’s most advanced musicians, including A Level and GCSE students as well as music scholars from Year 7 upwards. The performances by the Year 7 and 8 scholars were particularly exciting; these are talented students who display commitment, courage and passion and every one of them reminded me of what I found exciting about their playing and singing when I first heard them in the scholarship process. By the end of the evening, I was thinking about our prospective scholars and what their music education might look like if they were to choose another school.
Whilst music is a thriving department here at Ipswich High, the same cannot be said for all schools across the UK. Music provision and the lack of funding for the subject is a national issue, which is drastically affecting the number of students who can choose it as a subject. According to a recent ISM report, official figures show that ‘in 2018, 35,531 pupils completed GCSE music in England, compared to 46,045 pupils in 2010 – a 23% decline. Between 2011 and 2018, A-level entries dropped by 38%.’[i]
Although much of the research into the decline is for state schools, a lack of support can be found in grammar and private schools too,[ii] with investments in music being overlooked in favour of other subjects that are deemed more ‘academic’. The danger here is that the right teaching provision isn’t in place to support students with musical promise throughout the entirety of their school career, especially as they advance onto A Levels.
When it comes down to choosing a school for your son or daughter, there are a whole host of variables to consider, with music provision possibly quite far down a long list. However, for a budding musician, perhaps the music offering should be given more consideration.
It can be hard for the offer of a scholarship not to sway your decision and as a parent myself, I understand the appeal and have been faced with these hard choices for my own children who were showing musical flair. When I was faced with this decision I weighed up how much the scholarship would actually be worth to someone who was determined to make a career as a musician, rather than as a financial incentive. I decided that spending the next five years with a teacher who commanded respect, who was qualified to teach to A level, who could talk about music with real understanding and who understood the difficulties and joys of becoming a musician was far more important than discounted fees. In my own experience, I found that schools that offer large scholarships often neglect to give you the full picture, hoping that you will look no further than the ££ signs.
Bucking the Trend
At a time when everything we hear about music education seems to be negative, we appear to be bucking the trend here. Numbers for GCSE music are rising; we have more than twice the national average of A Level students; every student from Year 2 to 5 is learning an instrument and around two thirds of the current Year 7 students also play an instrument. As the Director of Music at Ipswich High School, this is something I am very proud of and would say to any parent whose child is showing an interest in music to ensure that when looking for a school, not to underestimate the importance of a strong music offering.
[i] ISM (December 2018) Consultation on the future of music education: Results of the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ (ISM) surveys conducted over summer 2018. https://www.ism.org/images/images/Future-of-Music-Education-ISM-report-December-2018.pdf (accessed: 10/04/19)
[ii] BBC (January 2018) Bingley Grammar School’s music GCSE charge criticised. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-42579394 (accessed: 10/04/19)
By Angela Chillingworth, Head of Music, Seniors
24 April 2019