UK Music warns of an “alarming drop” in students taking up A-level music

"It makes it hard to continue to produce talented and highly skilled professionals"

UK Music, the campaigning and lobbying group that represents the UK recorded and live music industry, has warned of a crisis facing music in schools after exam results revealed an “alarming drop” in A-level music students in England.

The number of students taking A-level music fell from 5,125 in 2019 to 5,030 this year – a drop of 1.85%, according to examinations regulator OFQUAL. Overall, A-level entrants in England also fell by 2.48% over the same period.

Over the past six years, the number of people studying A-level music has declined sharply by 32% from 7,355 in 2014 to 5,030 in 2020.


That is five times the 6.3% drop in the total number of people studying A-levels over the same period.

The decline this year comes after a sharp 5.8% drop last year in the number of pupils taking the subject in England.

A Level students
A Level students Credit: Getty

UK Music described the fall as “a significant blow to efforts to continue to generate our world-leading array of professional musicians and teachers and seriously threatens the music industry’s talent pipeline.”

The body also said it jeopardises the economic success story of the music industry which contributed £5.2 billion to the UK economy in 2018 – before the impact of the coronavirus forced an industry-wide lockdown in March 2020.

Commenting, UK Music Director of Education and Skills Dr. Oliver Morris said: “This year’s A-level entry numbers does show a slow-down in the decline in the number of students taking A-level music. But there has been an alarming drop of 32% over the past six years.


“It makes it hard to continue to nurture and produce talented and highly skilled professionals that truly reflect our society and who often go on to play in our world-leading orchestras or teach the next generation of musical stars.”

Morris also highlighted concerns over the controversial decision to lower the grades of many students and signs that schools in poorer areas had fared worse.

In England, 36% of entries had a lower grade than teachers predicted and 3% were down two grades, in results for exams cancelled by the pandemic.

He added: “The results shared today reveal an inequity that demands our attention if we hope to level the playing field and ensure anyone no matter their background has an opportunity to develop to the best of their ability. Barriers to involvement that stifle diversity in music threaten the talent pipeline which is so vital to the UK music industry.”

Meanwhile, figures from the music industry are adding more volume to the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign to demand that the government share arts funding to protect the future live crew, musicians and the individuals working behind the scenes.

Last month, more than 1,500 artists and industry figures came together to call on the government to stop “catastrophic damage” to live music amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the launch of the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign.

After months of campaigning from fans and the world of musicthe UK government revealed plans for an unprecedented cash injection of £1.57 billion to help the arts, culture and heritage industries survive the impact of closures brought on by coronavirus – providing music venues, independent cinemas, museums, galleries, theatres and heritage sites with emergency grants and loans.