Geographical and social demographic trends of A-level music students

Birmingham City University was commissioned by the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music to undertake research into A Level music, which led to one of the researchers, Martin Fautley, discussing the project on BBC's Sunday Politics

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Research background

The decline in many areas of school-based music education has been widely reported, and is a central theme of our research. Decreases in the availability of provision and the numbers of students pursuing music are particularly pronounced at the upper end of school-based music examinations. BMERG was commissioned by the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music to undertake research into A Level music to better understand the demographics of A Level music students and equality of access across the country.

Research aims

The research aimed to identify regional contrasts in A-level music provision, and to understand the contexts within which the downturn in entries is taking place. This forms part of a first step to understanding the targeted interventions and actions that need to be taken, and in identifying systemic challenges which present obstacles to musical progression for some young people.

How was the research carried out?

This was an entirely desk-based study looking at 5 years of publicly available data. The research combined the national POLAR database (Participation of Local Areas) which indicates the likelihood of young people in specific postcodes continuing on to higher education, with subject-level qualification data available on the Department for Education performance monitoring website.




The research found that A Level music had declined by some 35 percent over the last five years, and that over 20 percent of the total entries were clustered around fewer than 50 schools. It also identified a number of local authorities which had seen very low levels of A Level entry over a number of years, and observed correlations between the most deprived areas of the country and lower levels of A Level uptake. We also observed that independent schools are over-represented in A Level music entries. This all points to unequal access to A Level music across the country, and represents an important point around social justice if young musicians are able to realise musical ambitions.

Martin Fautley recently appeared on flagship BBC programme Sunday Politics to discuss the research. You can view this on BBC iPlayer (interview at 06:32).

We also have an updated briefing paper on Music A Level which can be downloaded.