Leading music exam board to reinstate its only Black composer after public outcry

21 January 2021, 15:51 | Updated: 21 January 2021, 16:24

Edexcel admits it was “wrong” to cut Courtney Pine’s work from syllabus
Edexcel admits it was “wrong” to cut Courtney Pine’s work from syllabus. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

British jazz artist Courtney Pine’s work will be restored to Edexcel’s A Level music syllabus following an outcry in the industry.

Leading music exam board, Edexcel, is to immediately reinstate British jazz artist Courtney Pine to A Level Music after admitting it was “wrong” to cut his work from the course.

Edexcel’s original decision, revealed by The Guardian this month, would have stripped its syllabus of its only Black composer.

The board said it had “fallen short” in its decision to remove Pine’s work from the course’s jazz and popular music category, which includes albums by Kate Bush and The Beatles.

“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,” Edexcel said in a statement on its parent publishing company Pearson’s website.

Edexcel initially defended the move, citing a trimming down of its course from 18 compositions to 12, to help students in pandemic times.

The Musicians’ Union had said it was “disappointed” by the decision and would “welcome a conversation about maintaining diversity in syllabi through COVID-19”.

Read more: Nicola Benedetti: ‘Music teaching is vital to a child’s education’ >

Courtney Pine’s album was cut in a move that removed jazz from Music A Level course
Courtney Pine’s album was cut in a move that removed jazz from Music A Level course. Picture: Getty

The music board has since said it will conduct a rapid review and revise the course for the next round of A Level students. “We hold ourselves to the highest standards and, on this occasion, we have fallen short,” it 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.”

Read more: ‘Classical 100’ music education resource is free for families in lockdown >

Edexcel, owned by the education publisher Pearson, also dropped Cuban ensemble La Familia Valera Miranda, and Emma composer Rachel Portman, the first woman to win an Academy Award for best musical or comedy score in 1996.

Pine album’s Back in the Day was cut in a wider move which removed jazz from the course completely. The category was temporarily renamed ‘popular music’.

Pine has responded to the reversal, saying: “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.”

The Ivors Academy has welcomed Edexcel’s U-turn, after describing the board’s original decision as “appalling”.

Composer and musician Robert Mitchell, chair of the academy’s educational publishing working group, said: “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.”

People on social media have also applauded the move, with caution.

“Progress,” music journalist Harriet Clifford tweeted. “The fact that people had to shout about this in the first place is ridiculous, but it’s a small step in the right direction.”

The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise teaching Black British history through the arts, tweeted it was “very pleased Edexcel have reversed their decision”.