Maggie Jones on giving all school age children the opportunity to enjoy music, whether performing or watching
When the Chief Executive of Classic FM, Darren Henley was tasked by the government with looking at music education in schools, his findings were patchy. Some schools were lucky to have inspiring music teachers who organised choirs, orchestras and individual tuition; others simply didn’t regard the subject as a priority. And when it came to music GSCE, the top performing schools were overwhelmingly in the independent sector.
The Henley Report, and the subsequent National Plan for Music, were a bold attempt to provide more consistent quality in provision and address disparities in access. It also aspired – quite rightly – to give every child the opportunity to learn an instrument, make music with others, learn to sing and progress to a level of excellence. Music Hubs were proposed, and subsequently created, to replace local authority music services. Directly funded from Whitehall and overseen by the Arts Council, their mission was to deliver consistent quality in and out of schools.
Four years, a postcode lottery sadly still characterises provision and children from disadvantaged families continue to have less access to quality music education. The most recent Arts Council figures show just 12% of primary and 0.4% of secondary school children receiving whole class ensemble teaching. While DCMS figures suggest a decline in those at primary schools learning an instrument from 19.6% to 17.7%. These challenges and the steps needed to put music education back at the heart of school life will be considered in the Lords tonight.
So what went wrong? Fundamentally, Ministers have been guilty of massive inconsistency in their approach to music education. At the same time as Michael Gove was signing off the National Plan, he was devising a curriculum review that excluded music from the Ebac at GCSE. This was later amended to widen the core curriculum subjects but music must now fight for space in the curriculum. It has been widely, and unfairly, portrayed as a creative, ‘soft’ subject not truly based on academic rigour. As a result, the Hubs have struggled to get all of their schools to promote the subject and the numbers taking music GCSE have fallen.
The inconsistency is further illustrated in the funding of the Hubs, with a decline in central funding from £82million to £58million in the three years to 2014 compounded by the DfE also advising councils that they should no longer contribute to music education. That cutting off of a vital extra source has been partially offset by an announcement this summer of an extra £18 million, but such fluctuations make it difficult for the Hubs to plan or invest in staff and equipment.
Another unforeseen impact is that music teaching has been casualised – with less full time teachers employed by schools, and more employed by the Hubs on unpredictable zero hours contracts. The result is that the profession is being deskilled, with less professional development and promotion possibilities. And all of that iss bound to adversely affect the quality of teaching.
There is still some great music teaching taking place around the UK, and teachers continue to inspire the next generation of performers, players and singers. In some areas, the Hubs are providing welcome coordination and leadership. But they lack the authority to intervene when schools do not want to participate so the quality of music in any school remains the prerogative of the school Head.
We should not still be arguing the case for universal access to music in schools. There are so many examples of its capacity to raise the sights of children and transform lives. Labour understands this and is developing policies to counter the post-code lottery in children participating in music and watching great performances. We will also insist that no school can be rated ‘outstanding’ unless it delivers a broad and balanced curriculum for its students, and one which that included the arts. Let’s hope that the Coalition are now prepared to learn from their mistakes and roll out a model of music education that can deliver a similar vision.
Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Education Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl
Published 28th October 2014