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Research Shorts: Music Always Helps

15th May 2024

This week, which has seen a lot of discussion on music education twitter about the uptake of GCSE music (I got involved, there were graphs), I’m speaking with Dr Maruša Levstek about her research on KS4 music qualifications with Prof Robin Banarjee and Daniel Elliot, with the support of Emma Collins from Create Music.

a room full of chairs and tables

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

This journal article, with a title we can all get behind ‘Music always helps’, investigates the potential association between music subject choices and academic achievement in secondary education. Maruša explained ‘Analysing the Department of Education data for a secondary education cohort in England, we explore what factors make pupils more likely to select music qualifications for their GCSEs and how this correlates with their EBacc academic performance.’

The findings are important and reiterate how family background is still related to the ability to pursue music. Maruša told me that ‘Choosing music at KS4 was associated with higher GCSE EBacc grades, above and beyond other predictors, like strong KS2 grades. Music subject choice was predicted by selecting more KS4 subjects overall and/or living in an affluent neighbourhood.’

The research was done through secondary data analyses, which means ‘we did not collect the data ourselves but rather used the existing data. In collaboration with Brighton and Hove City Council, we analysed data from the Department of Education, focusing on one cohort in a specific city area, overall including 2257 pupils.’

Maruša told me that the research will be important for policy makers, educators and music organisations because ‘it highlights the positive link between music engagement and academic performance’ and ‘it further emphasises that underperforming students are less likely to choose music’. Maruša believes that ‘this information is crucial for recognising music as an integral part of a well-rounded education and could potentially drive systemic changes in the school curriculum.’

While the study shows that students from affluent areas are more likely to choose music and perform well academically, it also suggests that music education can boost academic performance for all students.

Maruša completed a PhD in music psychology and sociology, supervised by Professor Robin Banerjee and supported by the School of Psychology, University of Sussex, and Create Music (formerly Brighton & Hove Music and Arts). She now works as a research fellow in Technology and Culture at Royal Holloway University.

Read more by Maruša here and find the article in full here.

Interview by Dr Sarah K. Whitfield – Research Lead for Music Mark

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