Fitting in or standing out? An enquiry into the varied social cultures of UK music conservatoire students

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Culture Media and Creative Industries


There are currently nine music conservatoires in the UK (see
Perkins & Mills, 2009). The first UK conservatoire, the Royal
Academy of Music (RAM) opened its doors in 1822 and since
then, the RAM claims to have successfully trained some of
the world's most influential musicians (see RAM, 2018). A
report conducted by Polifonia (2007) states that
conservatoires were originally founded to educate and train
elite musicians for a classical music performing career and
many of these institutions still share these values. This
suggestion is problematic for two reasons. First, it implies
that the conservatoires are only for elite musicians.
Secondly, it suggests that those entering the conservatoire
do so with the understanding that they have to fit into this
model of elite. Whilst data from UCAS annual reports show a
steady rise in applicants throughout the past 10 years, the
reports also show a clear correlation between student
background and audition success (See CUKAS, 2006, 2013;
UCAS Conservatoires, 2016, 2017). For example, students
auditioning for entry from advantaged backgrounds into the
at all 9 UK conservatoires were four times more likely to have
applied than those from disadvantaged backgrounds (UCAS
Conservatoires, 2015). Furthermore, the way conservatoires
seek to recruit students can be seen to reflect their elite
status (see Coughlan, 2017). Although conservatoires have
usually been seen as "highly selective" (see Parakilas, 2002)
there has been no empirical research done to date within
these elite institutions which has analysed the sociocultural
practises to help understand the phenomenon of
conservatoire culture. Conservatoires, just like other elite
institutions, questionably allow the elites to seamlessly move
through these spaces and extend their privilege in ways not
open to students from less advantaged backgrounds (see
discussions in Gumport, 2007; Stevens, 2008). This project
7 / 11
will be the first of its kind to explore the access issues
conservatoires are currently facing and to problematise
these through a Bourdieusian lens to generate a wealth of
new forms of practises within higher music education
In my PhD at Kings College London, I propose to carry out an
ethnographic study on the London conservatoires, all of
which have failed to meet their government benchmark for
the recruitment of state schooled students. Furthermore, the
top three conservatoires also admitted less UK state
schooled students out of any other UK HE institution,
including Oxbridge (see data in Arts Professionals, 2018).
This makes this research more needed than ever before.
Therefore, it is important to make sense of the kinds of social
spaces within these institutions if conservatoires are
committed to continue to improve access to them.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2285046 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2019 30/03/2023 Scott Caizley