Only Black Composer on A-Level Syllabus Music Dropped

The Voice Online reported Only Black composer on A-Level music syllabus dropped on 11th January 2021. The syllabus provider is Pearson EdExcel.

Courtney Pine has now been reinstated following pressure by organisations like the Ivors Academy, teachers and students. Robert Mitchell, Chair of The Ivors Academy Educational Publishing Working Group, composer, musician and Piano Professor, said when Pearson reversed it’s decision:

“I welcome the statement, but we didn’t need to be here. The reinstatement of Jazz and Courtney Pine should be immediate. We are very keen to contribute to broadening the music A-level syllabus for Edexcel. The same goes for other exam boards who are thinking about reducing or changing their curriculum. Now is the time for a way more inclusive, bold and creative syllabus that will inspire, educate and broaden young minds in an ever-smaller world.”

The Ivors Academy welcomes Edexcel’s admission they “got this decision wrong” when removing Courtney Pine from their A-level curriculum Ivors Academy 21 January 2021

Similarly Jazz Wise and the Guardian have reported on the reversal of this decision.

The first thing is why was the only black composer scrapped rather than one of the white composers? After all, it is widely accepted that much of the modern music in America and the UK is strongly rooted in African American music and many of the musicians and composers are from African descent. The Pearson omission was slipshod.

Reported in the Guardian on 4th January 2021, Exam board drops only black composer from music A-level syllabus said:

In contrast to Pearson, AQA opted to shrink the amount of performance and composition required from students, without reducing its set works.

The works in AQA’s pop music category include Stevie Wonder and Beyoncé as well as the black British composer Labrinth. Its jazz option includes the work of the Welsh pianist Gwilym Simcock, alongside Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

Looking deeper into this travesty

Firstly for the uninitiated, the awarding bodies that set the curriculum for schools are:

  • Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), a charity
  • Oxford, Cambridge and RSA (OCR), not for profit
  • Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC), charity
  • Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), non-departmental public body in Northern Ireland
  • EdExcel, for profit

We know that the education is imperfect, we want it decolonised and to root out racist bullying and systemic racism in schools and within our education system. It could be argued that the problem is with the curriculum setters. According to the article in The Day on 12th June 2020, in Pressure Mounts to Decolonise Curriculum – rip up the curriculum and start again:

No, say some. The National Curriculum already has non-statutory suggestions for teaching British colonial history. Exam boards OCR and AQA already offer GCSE History modules on Migration and Empire. The real problem is that very few schools choose them. The most urgent issue is to make sure that this changes, and to train teachers to tackle these topics confidently.

That’s not enough, argue others. This history is too important to be left to individual school decisions. We must educate a nation of young people aware – and unafraid – of the legacy of the British Empire and how it perpetuates structural racism. Without a statutory requirement in the National Curriculum, we can never hope to create the mass awareness needed to change society for the better.

The National Education Union (NEU) addressed the issue at their inaugural decolonising education national conference held in December 2019 attended by 200 educators Anti-racism in Education.

Daniel Kebede, senior vice president of the NEU in his article in the Independent on 9th June 2020 Toppling Edward Colston’s statue taught people more about slavery than UK schools ever will – unless we decolonise education said:

Let’s be honest, many people had to do a Wikipedia search after viewing the images of the statue of Edward Colston being toppled and plunged into Bristol’s harbour.

…. the crimes of Colston, the horrors of his Royal Africa Company, the lives of the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who had their chests branded with ‘RAC’ should mean something to us all. We should know how many human beings perished and were thrown into the Atlantic during the perilous crossing from Africa to The Americas.

….. In our schools there is little or no mention of colonialism, of slavery, of man-made famines in Bengal, of the Amritsar Massacre, the Mau Mau Uprising or concentration camps in South Africa.

So indeed teachers have already started to address the issue and so have some awarding bodies. The NEU followed up their conference with a letter to the Government and also included a resources package Our Migration Story.

The Disadvantaged

The Covid pandemic has already exposed the inequalities in our society, especially around schools. Initially it was the food crisis, and now exposed is that if children don’t have a laptop and access to broadband, they don’t get an education.

This has been a growing issue. Laura Partridge Associate Director, Creative Learning and Education at the Royal Society for the Arts in her research article on 6th August 2019 School exclusions are a social justice issue, new data shows says in summary for academic year 2017/18:

…..rates of exclusion are still rising, and most concerning is the disproportionate number of children living in poverty, with special educational needs, and from certain ethnic minority groups who are excluded.

….. Pupils are 1.5 times more likely to be permanently excluded from a sponsored secondary academy than a maintained secondary school, and twice as likely to be fixed-term excluded.

Racism is deep-rooted. The Government’s own data in January 2020 state:

Gypsy and Roma, and Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils had the highest school exclusion rates (both permanent and temporary) in the 2017 to 2018 school year

Mixed White and Black Caribbean, and Black Caribbean pupils also had high exclusion rates, and were both nearly 3 times as likely to be permanently excluded as White British pupils

Pupils from the Chinese and Indian ethnic groups had the lowest exclusion rates

The Guardian reported on 31th August 2018, Dozens of secondary schools exclude at least 20% of pupils.

So, you might ask, what has this got to do with who sets the curriculum, what’s it got to do with Pearson EdExcel?

Firstly, it’s Government policy that determines how our children are educated. The introduction of Academy Schools by the Labour Government and then expanded by the Conservative Government in the last 20 years has means that schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum. Some say this is creeping privatisation, and certainly these schools now ‘cherry pick’ as Sarah Cassidy and Richard Garner ay in their 3rd January 2016 article in the Independent, Academies turn away children with special needs to ‘cherry-pick’ pupils, charity warns. Also as we’ve seen as Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU says:

This is happening because of a toxic mix of league tables, inspection regimes and lack of funding. The majority of schools do their best. The problem is, some don’t.

Special needs pupils ‘spend years out of school’ by Helen Clifton & Alys Harte 18th September 2018 BBC

This is all as a result of Government policy, and that is where Pearson is muscling in.

Pearson EdExcel Has Form

Pearson is the world’s largest education provider, it’s based in London and has a global reach. By nature are driven to make profits as can be seen in Pearson’s Financial results and Annual Reports and Accounts. Their new CEO received £7.2 million on joining the company. Shareholders weren’t happy about this and his annual salary as reported:

Under the new directors’ remuneration policy, Andy Bird will receive a salary of at least $1.25m fixed until 2023, with the opportunity to double it if he meets certain performance targets.

Third of Pearson’s shareholders vote against CEO’s £7.2m pay package Guardian 18th September 2020

The most disturbing thing is that it determines course content and we’ve seen it deteriorate when the only Black Composer, Courtney Pine, in the music A Level is dropped. The company has form, five years ago a student complained that of the 63 male composers in the syllabus for A level music, there were no women:

Seventeen-year-old Jessy McCabe noticed the lack of female representation on the exam board’s music syllabus

… and contacted Edexcel to make it aware of the situation, but despite the board’s insistence that the music course aims to let students “engage in and extend the appreciation of the diverse and dynamic heritage of music”, its head of music seemed reluctant to implement any changes.

In response to an email from McCabe, the head of music wrote: “Given that female composers were not prominent in the western classical tradition (or others for that matter), there would be very few female composers that could be included.”

Student demands female composers on A-level music syllabus 18th August 2015 Guardian

A cursory look at Companies House show that in Britain their is Pearson PLC and presumably the subsidiary, Pearson Education Limited, both based in London at 80 Strand and with the same Peason logo. The website shows that the company operates in Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East & Africa, North America and South America. A cursory look through the regions.

For Africa there is a shoddy write-up for secondary and primary education where the text is much the same, they both say:

Pearson Africa understands the needs of the developing child. We create tools that help young minds to grow without compromising the childhood experience. Our selection of early childhood and preschool resources are proven to equip young learners with the cognitive skills they need to thrive at primary level.

On 16th July 2012 the Guardian identified the concern in Should Pearson, a giant multinational, be influencing our education policy? Parents in New York protested about, “the excessive power and influence the billion-dollar, for-profit company, Pearson, has over [New York City’s] education department.”

Pearson’s involvement at the heart of what goes on in English secondary schools, in particular, through its ownership of the Edexcel exam board (purchased in 2003), is widely known. Edexcel is the largest UK exam body by the volume of its sales, with a turnover of £317m in the 14 months to February 2011. It remains the only one of England’s big three school boards to be run for profit.

But it is Pearson’s foray into new areas of policymaking and school improvement that is provoking questions about its influence, and about the interaction between the state and the corporate world.

In the policy field, the company is currently – with the Royal Society of Arts – running and funding an inquiry (see above in The Disadvantaged section) into the success or failure of the coalition’s signature education policy: the academies scheme.

Since then the NEU published In Whose Interest?, which:

The report, titled In Whose Interest? The UK’s role in privatising education around the world, lays out the UK Department for International Development’s policies and programmes that are contributing to a privatisation agenda. In Whose Interest? highlights how Official Development Assistance (ODA) has been supporting privatisation through grants to education businesses, support for pro-private research, and consultancy contracts with UK-based businesses, among other methods. The latter includes the Girls’ Education Challenge (II), which alone will see a £32.7 million consultancy fee paid to PWC.

In Whose Interest? also illustrates how privatisation is problematic in terms of equality, quality, and accountability in education, and how it is undermining public education systems. Fees, non-inclusive providers who don’t provide for children with additional needs, and unqualified teachers all contribute to a poorer and less equal learning experience for children relying on low-fee private schools.

Both internationally and in England, accountability has been problematised through privatisation of education. In England, academies have found ways to circumvent the Government’s no-profit policy through so-called “related-party transactions”, where an academy enters into a commercial relationship with an organisation that is related through common directors or family members. A total of £134m was paid out by academy trusts on related-party transactions in 2017-18, up from £122m in 2015-16. This is just one of the many issues related to academisation in England that is mirrored in privatising education internationally.

Launch of new report ‘In whose interest? The UK’s role in privatising education around the world’ 16th April 2019

The NEU protested against Pearson AGM and the highlights here from protest against Pearson support of Bridge International Academies at their AGM on 26th April 2019. Pearson has contributed to some of the reports, vying for business.

A reminder of Simukai Chigudu’s experience learning English but not his first language of Shona at school – see blog My Life in the Shadow of Cecil Rhodes. Worse, in the case of Pearson as the education might be sub-standard, white-washed and Westernised.

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