Music A-level exam board to reinstate its only black composer

Edexcel admits it was wrong to cut British jazz artist Courtney Pine from course

The work of the British jazz artist Courtney Pine is to be swiftly reinstated to A-level music, after an examination board admitted it had been wrong to drop his album from its course and leave its syllabus without any black composers.

The Guardian revealed this month that Edexcel had cut Pine’s compositions from the works in its jazz and popular music category for A-level, while retaining albums by Kate Bush and the Beatles.

The board, owned by the education publisher Pearson, had defended its decision as being part of a necessary slimming-down of the course to make it more manageable for students during the pandemic. But Edexcel now says it will conduct a rapid consultation and revise the course for the next cohort of A-level students.

“The first thing to say is that we got this decision wrong. As a learning company and qualifications provider, we agree entirely that pupils should study music by composers from diverse cultures and backgrounds. We hold ourselves to the highest standards and, on this occasion, we have fallen short,” Edexcel said.

“In order to fix this, we will work together with teachers, learners and a range of stakeholders to carry out a further review of the set works and the wider listening pieces. This will be completed in time for students starting their A-level music studies in September 2021.”

Pine said: “Having spoken to Pearson Edexcel today, it became apparent to all that the need to inspire students was the most important goal that we have in common. They have after much consideration decided to reinstate my contribution to the A-level music exam – a decision that I commend.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who care about music education that stood up, signed and made their voices count on such an important subject.”

Other artists dropped included the Cuban ensemble La Familia Valera Miranda and the British composer Rachel Portman, the first woman to win an Oscar for best original musical score, as the board cut the number of compositions to be studied from 18 to 12.

As well as removing Pine’s album Back in the Day from its list of works to be studied, Edexcel also axed jazz from its studied works, renaming the section popular music.

The Ivors Academy, the professional association for British composers and songwriters, had described Edexcel’s original decision as “appalling”.

“I welcome Edexcel’s statement, but we didn’t need to be here. The reinstatement of jazz and Courtney Pine should be immediate,” said Robert Mitchell, the pianist and composer who chairs the academy’s educational publishing working group.

“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 an inclusive, bold and creative syllabus that will inspire, educate and broaden young minds in an ever smaller world.”

One of the first to protest the exam changes was Eleanor Mountford, a sixth form student at Simon Langton grammar school in Kent. Having started a petition to have Pine’s work reinstated, Eleanor said she was “over the moon” about the U-turn: “It’s a win for diversity and hopefully the start of more equal representation in education.”


Richard Adams and Harriet Clifford

The GuardianTramp

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