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ABRSM Takes Action to Diversify their Syllabi

ABRSM have updated their Diversity and Inclusion programme to commit to a number of actions, including transforming their syllabus and commissioning new composers – following an open letter from the MU calling for action.

Published: 28 October 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:31 PM
Photograph of a flute resting on a score, yellow lighting is shining down on everything.
The update does not address everything we asked for, however this has been an ongoing issue for some time, so measurable commitment is a good result. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Lincoln Abbotts, Chief Executive at ABRSM, met with the MU's Diane Widdison (National Organiser for Education and Training) and John Shortell (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Official) to discuss diversifying their syllabi after we sent a letter on behalf of over 70 organisations, musicians, music teachers and academics to ABRSM, demanding they take meaningful and measurable action.

The letter to the ABRSM was drafted by members and activists and underlined key concerns that the syllabi’s lack of diversity is contributing to the erasure of Black, Brown, Indigenous and Asian People of Colour (BBIAPOC) from Western European musical history. The letter then went on to set out the key actions that the ABRSM must undertake.

ABRSM's updated Diversity and Inclusion programme commits to:

  • Introducing a minimum of 20 new compositions or arrangements from composers from underrepresented backgrounds every year through an active commissioning programme. The programme will start this year by commissioning 15 composers from underrepresented backgrounds to write for ABRSM's forthcoming woodwind syllabus.
  • Transforming ABRSM’s syllabuses by making sure that 50% of all syllabus update commissions, and 20% of all syllabus content, including new commissions, arrangements, and existing works, come from composers who are Black, Brown, and Indigenous People of Colour (BBIPOC).
  • Creating new career opportunities every year for 15-20 composers from underrepresented backgrounds by helping them write for music education. The new mentoring and development programme gets underway in January 2021.
  • Build new strategic relationships between us and our sector partners with specific diversity expertise, with the Ivors Academy and Musicians Union now working with ABRSM.
  • Ultimately transform the organisation itself through a Diversity and Inclusion Group already set up to lead change across everything from staff training and recruitment to governance and examination panels.

You can read more on the ABRSM’s website.

The update does not address everything we asked for, however this has been an ongoing issue for some time, so measurable commitment is a good result and ABRSM are moving in the right direction. This result is a testament to how collective action and members working together can make a difference.

The creation of diverse syllabuses is essential

Musicians Union General Secretary Horace Trubridge said:

“It’s fantastic to see ABRSM listen to our members and implement some of the changes we have asked for. Creating syllabuses as diverse as the students who study them is essential and something that the MU has worked on for a long time.

“The MU will always push for greater diversity and we look forward to working with ABRSM to see the impact their diversity and inclusion programme achieves.”

There is much more work to be done on this issue, and the MU will have regular meetings with ABRSM to discuss their progress.

Taking further action

If you haven't taken our Diversity Monitoring Survey, please use this opportunity to do so – the information you supply helps make the MU better by allowing us to develop services at the right people. And, as always, it won’t come back to you personally.

Take our Diversity Monitoring Survey.

You may also be interested in joining one of our Equality networks. Members' opinions on equality and diversity issues are vital to the way the MU shapes its services, policies and campaigns.

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