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Working towards more representative syllabuses

3 years ago

The rise of the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement has thrown a spotlight on the lack of diversity across the entire cultural infrastructure and it is right that ABRSM is, above many others, part of that debate.

As a leading education charity, awarding organisation, and a significant commissioner of music operating in over 90 countries, ABRSM has a disproportionate influence over the music that is taught to, and played by, a global audience who take our exams and use our resources every year.

Recent events have made us redouble our efforts on diversity and inclusion, and we are grateful for the feedback we’ve received about our syllabuses. We are fully aware of our responsibility to ensure our syllabuses are culturally responsive, representative and respectful, and we are also aware that we have not reached that goal yet.

We have not been entirely complacent on the issue of diversity. The new piano syllabus will reflect the music of far more women composers and many more countries and cultures than before because of our belated but concerted efforts to address underrepresentation in gender and world culture.

Whatever we were doing in terms of other aspects of diversity, it was not addressing the specific fundamental issues around the lack of pieces by Black composers on our classical syllabuses and that is why we have announced a thorough review of all our syllabuses, working with partners in the sector, to find opportunities to increase the representation of composers of colour in future syllabuses, books and other resources we produce.

ABRSM’s response to these issues is to provide programmes of support that seek to increase the opportunity for people of all backgrounds to progress in the learning of music. The London Music Fund, the National Youth Orchestra Inspire programme and ABRSM’s International Sponsorship Fund and UK Elevate Fund are examples of our support for national and local initiatives to enable and sustain the progress of a diverse range of young musicians.

We need to continue to work with others to increase opportunity, and to offer targeted support for emerging talent. Further, the targeted action we announced in June is to partner with leading composers, musicians, and music education groups, to develop a mentoring scheme for emerging composers of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse descent, specifically to write for education purposes and increase the pool of published music we can draw on in the future.

Partnership is critical if we are to tackle properly the issue of systemic prejudice that the Black Lives Matter movement has reminded the world exists. The mentoring scheme would not be possible without partnership. That is not to ignore ABRSM’s individual responsibility. On the contrary, it is about recognising our position as a sector leader to convene the agents and agencies that need to work together to help transform the sector.

We must also look inward at ABRSM itself, and examine how our processes, practices and behaviour impact on the inclusive, informed and inspiring culture to which we aspire. We need to take the necessary steps to ensure we represent the interests of, and give equal opportunity to, everyone working in and engaged by our organisation.

We are committed to making these changes and we will be held to account for them - but we recognise it will take time as well as meaningful action to achieve the change required. We must balance the urgency of these issues with the consideration and measured response that they merit. In the meantime I look forward to reporting in future pieces how we are taking steps in the right direction.

Michael Elliott

ABRSM Chief Executive

You can find out more about ABRSM’s support for young musicians through its partnerships, funds and individual scholarships, by clicking here.

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