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A future for music

9 years ago

  In the light of a recent change of UK government and subsequent policy reviews, Sue Hallam looks at what the future might hold and asks if music education in the UK is secure in the long term. In periods of austerity, there is a tendency for music education to be seen as an optional extra, something which can be easily cut without damaging pupils’ overall attainment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Making music in the early and primary years increases listening and concentration skills, and enhances a child’s ability to discriminate between sounds. In addition to the musical benefits, this improves phonetic awareness and helps to develop language and literacy skills. There is also a positive impact on spatial reasoning, which is linked to mathematical thinking, and on physical co-ordination, which supports handwriting skills. Music making in small groups promotes teamwork and the development of leadership skills, while pupils’ confidence can be enhanced if they are given opportunities to perform. In addition to these benefits, making music provides challenge, opportunities to succeed and is an enjoyable activity. In the UK, the inclusion of music in the National Curriculum has ensured that schools have a duty to provide music education, although some give music a greater priority than others. The Specialist School Programme led to a number of schools adopting music as a specialism, while at primary level the Wider Opportunities scheme ensured that every child was given the opportunity to learn to play an instrument free of charge for a limited period of time and Sing Up created a nation of ‘Singing schools’ and a bank of materials that they could use. Schools have had opportunities to work with a wide range of professional musicians on specific projects enriching children’s experiences and the three In Harmony projects in Norwich, Liverpool and Lambeth have demonstrated the benefits that can accrue when children in the most deprived areas are immersed in music making. The Musical Futures Programme has explored innovative approaches to music education at Key Stage 3, starting from the interests and existing knowledge of the students, enhancing motivation and encouraging independent learning, while Youth Music has funded Music Action Zones prioritising early years, singing, transition, young people at risk and workforce development. Overall, this is an impressive record. Concerns about the impact on music education of the change of government, to date, have been unfounded. The coalition is committed to every child receiving a strong, knowledge-based, cultural education and having the opportunity to learn and play a musical instrument and to sing. Darren Henley, Managing Director of Classic FM, has carried out a review of music education in England, which has celebrated its successes while indicating the need for greater consistency nationwide. To address inequity, a National Plan is to be developed to set out a way forward and outline expectations. The government has responded positively to the review. This might lead us to believe that music education is secure in the long term. However, this is not necessarily so. A review of the National Curriculum is taking place with the emphasis on slimming it down. There is no guarantee that music will be included. In addition, the government is committed to increasing the autonomy of schools, specifically through the creation of Academies and Free Schools. These will not have to follow the National Curriculum. The English Baccalaureate, against which school performance will be assessed, requires students to attain GCSE grades of A* to C in mathematics, English, science, a modern or ancient language and a humanity (history or geography). At time of writing, the arts are not included. There is already evidence that schools are changing options systems to ensure that more pupils take these subjects, reducing the numbers opting for music with a possible subsequent impact on music in Key Stage 3. The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation is to be tasked with ensuring that examination standards in the UK are comparable to the highest performing systems internationally. Such comparisons focus on a few core subjects, mathematics, the home language and science. The combination of these measures means that at secondary level, in particular, music is likely to become increasingly marginalised. Teacher education is to become school-based. In primary schools, this may mean that trainees have no opportunities to observe high quality music teaching, worsening the already far from satisfactory situation where time spent on training to teach music is inadequate. At secondary level, the announcement that in the academic year 2011–2012 there will be a 31% reduction in the number of secondary school music teachers to be trained and that no bursaries will be available for those studying music, reinforces the notion that music, along with a number of other arts and humanities subjects, is being marginalised. While schools will have more control over their funding, it is clear that in the longer term they are going to have less money. They will be required to make public how they are allocating their funding - the idea being that parents will hold head teachers to account for spending decisions. This could impact on music education, depending on the areas that parents perceive should be given priority. The inequality in funding for students attending school sixth forms or Further Education colleges has been removed, but this has been achieved by reducing school funding. This reduction is likely to mean that some schools will be unable to afford to offer music A level, unless large numbers of students wish to take it. State funding for the study of music in higher education has been removed completely. Music has the potential to develop a wide range of transferable skills in those who engage with it, including those which are particularly desired by employers, for instance, team work, independent working, leadership and creativity. Despite this, music is still perceived by many people as lacking relevance for future employment. If music is to to thrive, the musical community needs to take steps to change this perception and promote musical skills as useful preparation for a wide range of employment opportunities. Musicians need to raise and sustain awareness within their own communities of the considerable benefits that music participation offers throughout life - in respect of health and personal, social and emotional well-being - and be prepared to engage in advocacy activities to promote and protect music education and music making in the community. Music education in the UK is world leading. It is incumbent on those of us involved with it to make every effort to ensure that it remains so.


Professor Sue Hallam is Dean of the Faculty of Policy and Society at the Institute of Education, University of London. She is a former professional musician who has written extensively on music education. Her latest book (co-edited with Dr Andrea Creech), Music Education in the 21st Century in the United Kingdom: Achievements, analysis and aspirations, was published by the Institute of Education in July 2010.

This article was originally featured in the May 2011 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.

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