In August, thousands of GCSE students received their grades. For the media coverage, there were the usual pictures of leaping students and child prodigies.
There were also lots of statistics based on the results. One slightly worrying report was of a 7.7% fall in the number of students who took GCSE music. I realise that we shouldn’t start panicking. Students not taking the GCSE may still be involved in making music.
However, there are concerns that the fall in popularity of GCSE music is because the education system doesn’t see the subject as a priority.
Traditionally, music has been classed as a branch of the arts, rather than an academic subject, such as maths and the sciences. I understand that the core areas of the curriculum, like english, maths and science are important. The emphasis on academic subjects increased with the introduction of the English Baccalaureate in 2010, which is made up of a selection of different subjects, and music is not one of them.
It’s common for there to be a divide between academic and artistic fields, particularly over funding. When schools have their budgets cut, the arts will often be pushed to the fringes. This leads to a frequent argument that seems to pit academic subjects against the arts.
Aside from the English Baccalaureate, the government have put an emphasis on subjects that are seen to be helpful to the economy, such as maths. I am not denying that academic options are useful for employment in important sectors, but the arts are beneficial to the economy as well. For example, according to The Open College of The Arts, 1.9 million people in the UK are employed in creative sectors. Therefore, training students in arts subjects will help the economy.
It could be pointed out that the creative industries are sometimes difficult to break into. Yet, if students are being encouraged to take the same type of academic subjects, it will generate more competition between those pupils when they start working. Certain academic subjects are important for some very vital careers, such as the medical profession, so I understand why students are being pushed towards those qualifications. Still, not everyone can work in medicine and I think this is the problem.
If there was a campaign to get most pupils to be Grade 8 on an instrument by the age of sixteen, it would be seen as unfair. As music is not a core subject, it’s not viewed as an area where all students can gain success. Just because a subject is considered to be important, as valid as that may be, it doesn’t mean that aptitude in that area will become more common amongst students. Here is where I think the battle between the arts and core subjects has become distracting. There is much value in taking academic subjects, but there is also value in studying the arts too. When students pick arts subjects, that doesn’t take away from the importance of academic choices.
Arts subjects are deemed less important because they involve entertainment. Entertainment has a reputation for being frivolous, ignoring the fact that it’s possible for a subject to be entertaining and worthwhile.
Not all school students are the same; they have different skills and ambitions. It would be more constructive to cater for those differences and allow for varied subject choices. I’m not saying all students should take GCSE music, but those that have an interest should not be discouraged from doing so.