Figures published today (August 18) by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) have revealed that the number of students taking music A-level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose from 5,686 in 2021 to 5,916 this year – an increase of 4%.
The latest figures follow a decrease in 2021 when the number of A-level music students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland fell slightly by 0.23% from 5,699 in 2020.
In Scotland, the results (published on August 9) for Highers, the Scottish equivalent of A-Levels, showed a fall in the numbers studying music from 5,215 in 2021 to 4,935 in 2022.
Since 2014, there has been an overall fall over the past eight years of 29.4% in A-level music entries from 8,375 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
UK Music chief executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin urged the government to implement its manifesto commitment to introduce a £90 million Arts Premium for secondary school pupils in England.
He said: “Congratulations to all the hard-working music students on their results after a couple of tough years for students and teachers. We saw just how important music was to millions of people during the pandemic. Live music was one of the things we missed most during lockdown, while listening to recorded music was one of the things that kept us all going.
“Protecting and strengthening the talent pipeline that sustains our world-leading industry is therefore mission critical, and we should have music and creativity at the heart of our education system.
“So, it’s welcome to see, for the first time in eight years, an increase in the numbers of students studying music at school. This underlines the increasing recognition among students and parents of the importance of a musical education, and the fantastic career opportunities that it can offer.
“It’s good that alongside A-levels and GCSEs, there is a fantastic range of other options for students looking to get involved in music, such as vocational technical qualifications and graded music exams which make up an important part of the skills landscape for music. But the long-term trend is deeply worrying. Since 2014, the numbers taking music A-level has dropped by almost a third.
“We need government action to support and grow our world-leading industry, particularly after the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on our sector, which provided work for almost 200,000 people pre-pandemic. Political leaders across the UK must get behind the different national plans for music education to encourage more young people to study and enjoy music by making sure music is at the very heart of our education system.
We need government action to support and grow our world-leading industry, particularly after the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on our sector
"One key way of doing that is to ensure the delivery of the government's commitment to introduce the Arts Premium for secondary school pupils in England. It is crucial that we continue to support music students on the huge range of courses available to help ensure children from every background get access to music and the prospect of making a decent living from something they enjoy doing.
“At a time when it’s never been more important to grow our economy, music can play a vital role in boosting our economy and exports potential, as well as enriching our culture and society. Our music industry, which contributed £5.8 billion to the UK economy pre-pandemic, relies on the talent pipeline of outstanding students produced by our schools, colleges and universities. We should invest in them, cherish them and support them in every way we can to produce the highly accomplished professionals of the future and help them enjoy the brilliant range of careers the UK music industry has to offer.”
UK music director of Education and Skills, Dr Oliver Morris, added: “Having a varied education and skills landscape for people interested in music is absolutely vital if we are to continue to encourage and nurture diversity and future success in the music industry.
“Qualifications such as Pearson UK’s BTECs, UAL Awarding Body’s Awards and Diplomas, and RSL Awards’ Vocational Qualifications offer some fantastic alternative routes that have a positive impact on the many young people who study them.
“It is a positive that there is now a broad range of quality qualifications on offer when looking at the landscape as a whole. I want to see a strong all-round offer for students and for me it is most important that all young people no matter their situation nor geographical location can access a variety of options to study music.
“There is justified concern that T-levels don’t fulfil this need in music and whilst of course their introduction is supported by many I would hate to see other established level 3 qualifications that work so well in music lost as they are proven to really open up opportunities in further study, employment and training for so many young people.”