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Exams endorsed

In the first-ever government recognition of graded music exams, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music has been accredited in the new National Qualifications Framework (NQF). Only qualifications that meet national, defined criteria are being admitted to the framework, which is aimed at simplifying and unifying the classification of qualficatons.

The Associated Board examines more than 570,000 candidates in more than 30 different musical instruments, singing and theory of music annually; 350,000 of those are in the United Kingdom. Instrumental teachers believe that taking graded music exams not only fosters progress towards technical mastery, it also motivates students: the so-called ladder effect.

Until now, for all who undertook the intensive process of preparing for grade exams, the relative status of qualifications was an area of confusion. Now the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and ACCAC (Wales) and CCEA (Northern Ireland) have agreed a national equivalency. Qualifications in the NQF are arranged in six levels, from entry-level (pre-GCSE) to professional qualifications at level 5. The Associated Board's grades have been placed in this way: Grades 6-8 are A-level passes at NQF level 3; Grades 4 and 5 are GCSE A*-C at NQF level 2; Grades 1-3 are GCSE grades D-G and NQF level 1.

Associated Board examiners are a body of 550 highly trained musicians whose work is rigorously moderated. Theirs is the first external examination system to be placed within the framework but others, such as youth-appeal music organisation Rockschool, are set to follow. It is widely thought that this autumn Education Secretary David Blunkett will approve accredited qualificaions for use on publicly funded courses of study. Currently, such courses do not include provision for graded music exams.

Soon, applicants to universities may be placing their Grade 8 in violin alongside their A-level grade A in music. It is a move widely welcomed by those in the arts world and those promoting educational and social inclusion. Richard Morris, chief exective of the Asociated Board, says:

"This accreditation gives long-overdue official recognition to the major contribution to music education of our examinations."

For many pupils and schools, the cost of running an instrument can be prohibitive yet they may be unaware of the finanical help avilable from charities. The Trustees of the Music Sound Foundation meets twice yearly to give small financial awards (maximum pound;5,000) in three categories: schools to fund music education, music students to fund instrument purchase, and music teachers to fund training. This September, 64 applicants received a total of pound;50,000 for a range of musical endeavours, from funds for a final year's training as a music teacher to a world music ensemble for a secondary school to violas, tympani, clarinets and flutes.

The Music Sound Foundation, whose board includes Colin Southgate, chairman of the Royal Opera House and Richard Hall, chairman of Boosey and Hawkes, was set up in 1997 by EMI to celebrate 100 years of EMI records. It also funds bursary schemes for students in selected UK colleges and sponsors specialist arts colleges.

Applications for the small awards scheme can be obtained from Music Sound Foundation, 4 Tenterden Street, Hanover Square, London W1A 2AY. Tel: 020 7355 4848. Web: www.emigroup.commsf

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