Music provision needs to hit the right note

Music is being overlooked in favour of subjects deemed more academic, research has revealed. Ipswich High School’s Angela Chillingworth says the trend needs to be reversed

Around this time of year 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 promising students will choose to study at Ipswich High School, in Woolverstone. The significance of them accepting our offer of a scholarship and joining the school really struck me at our recent classical music evening, where our remarkable scholars performed.

The concert featured performances from some of the school’s most advanced musicians, including A Level and GCSE students, as well as scholars from Year 7 upwards. Performances by the Year 7 and 8 scholars were particularly exciting; these talented students display commitment, courage and passion, and every one of them reminded me of what I found exciting when I first heard them in the scholarship process. By the end of the evening, I was thinking about what their music education might look like if they chose another school.

“Whilst music is a thriving department here at Ipswich High, the same cannot be said for all schools across the UK”

Patchy provision

Whilst music is a thriving department here at Ipswich High, the same cannot be said for all schools across the UK. Music provision and its lack of funding is a national issue drastically affecting the number of students who can choose it. According to a recent Incorporated Society of Musicians report, 35,531 pupils completed GCSE music in England in 2018, compared to 46,045 pupils in 2010 – a 23% decline. Between 2011 and 2018, A-level entries dropped by 38%.

Although much of the research into the decline focused on state schools, a lack of support can be found in grammar and private schools, too, with investment in music being overlooked in favour of other subjects deemed more academic. The danger is that proper 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.

From the archive: As this blog by Hilary Moriarty highlights, Angela Chillingworth is not alone in lamenting schools’ inadequate music provision
“I never understood why there could not be a course entitled History of Music or Music Appreciation that is accessible to anyone with a listening ear – not even necessarily finely tuned – and an interest in music.”
Click here to read the full article


When it comes 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; 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.

I weighed up how much the scholarship would actually be worth to someone determined to make a career as a musician, rather than as a financial incentive. Ultimately, I decided that spending the next five years with a teacher who commanded respect, was qualified to teach to A level, could talk about music with real understanding, and understood the difficulties and joys of becoming a musician, was far more important than discounted fees. I found that schools offering large scholarships often neglect to give you the full picture, hoping that you will look no further than the pound signs.

Angela Chillingworth

Bucking the trend

At a time when everything we hear about music education seems to be negative, Ipswich High appears to be bucking the trend. 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 play an instrument. As director of music, 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, do not underestimate the importance of a strong music offering.

Angela Chillingworth is director of music at Ipswich High School

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