Music exams: Why do we hear the work of so few female classical composers?

Writing in the Independent, Caroline Criado-Perez asks why exam boards are not  studying works of female composers in their music exams.

…Last week, a 17-year-old student called Jessy McCabe set up a petition on asking Edexcel to address the fact that out of the 63 set works included for its music A-level, not a single one was by a woman. This may seem shocking, but Edexcel is hardly alone in its bias. Out of the 27 composers listed in OCR’s current specification, there is a lone woman, who appears right at the end: Norah Jones. AQA’s A-level includes only two set works, both by men; the remainder of the specification only includes suggested composers. These are all men too…

Edexcel have so far given McCabe short shrift, telling her that not many female composers have been “prominent in the Western Classical tradition (or others for that matter)”. As a result, “there would be very few female composers that could be included [in the A- Level specification]”.

Edexcel’s first point is not entirely unreasonable. Indeed, when I speak to Claire Layton, producer of a concert series in Liverpool featuring only female composers, she says that while it does “seem awful that there are 63 composers on the A-level syllabus and no women”, if the point of the course is to teach students about the Western classical tradition, then it is true that women were never written into the canon. But, she cautions, this should not be left unremarked. Students should be taught about the women whose music we have been denied, because they in their turn were denied the opportunities they needed to succeed…

But where Edexcel’s defence of their all-male line-up truly, spectacularly falls down, is in its failure to account for the inclusion of artists as up to date as Carl Perkins, The Kinks and Oasis. The historic discrimination of female composers might account for some inequality when it comes to pre-20th century composers. But what is the reason behind their exclusion of Joni Mitchell? Where is Kate Bush? Where is Bjork? Do some of the most successful female songwriters of the past 50 years not merit study?…

More at: Why do we hear the work of so few female classical composers?


You can see Jessy McCabe’s petition at: Ensure the representation of women on the A-Level Music syllabus


Do you agree with the points being made here by Caroline Criado-Perez? 

Surely the lack of inclusion of any female composers amongst the contemporary works covered is, at the very least, a fail from Edexcel?

Please share your thoughts on this in the comments or via Twitter…


Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our daily email bulletin every morning (around 7 am) with all the latest schools news stories. Your details will never be given to anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any stage. Just follow this link

Why has the number of teenagers taking design and technology GCSE dropped?
Schools are 'too focused on exam results and don't prepare students for the workplace', survey finds
Categories: Secondary.


  1. WendyC116

    SchoolsImprove can’t we just have things on their merit?Why forfeit something of excellence b/c of gender issues? Ridiculous!

  2. acet2001

    SchoolsImprove Again the EBacc doesn’t encourage schools to promote Music or Drama, nor for pupils to use up one of their option choices.

Let us know what you think...