The Importance of Music – A National Plan for Music Education

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The Department for Education and Department for Media, Culture and Sport released a joint venture, the National Plan for Music Education, on the 25th November 2011. This marks the end of a long wait for some clarity on the future of music education and, for many people, an indication of whether they will be made redundant amidst yet more cuts. The Plan is mixed bag in this respect, but there is plenty to be positive about – a lot more than some people feared.

About the Authors

I don’t think there has ever really been much doubt about Michael Gove’s and Ed Vaizey’s opinion on the importance of music and educating people from a young age to sing and play instruments. All their comments since the Coalition Government came in to power and (had) to start stripping back services and funds have been positive about music , its role in society and the positive influence it has on the community, both as a recreational pastime and a scholarly subject. However, talking the talk and actually committing funds can be very different things, especially in Government, and even more so when funds are short.

The National Plan’s 55 page report once again reiterates Michael Gove’s and Ed Vaizey’s beliefs on the subject of music education and is worth reading. They do really understand the grass-roots importance of music education and by flicking all the way to the end of the report (starting on page 44) you will find some notable case studies that they have used to build their plan. Throughout the plan they make references to worthy organisations such as Sing Up, In Harmony and National Youth Music Organisations, all of whom have brought fundamental changes to the landscape of music education, the way music is taught and changed people’s perceptions on the effect of music – especially on the youngest age groups. It is good that the Government has taken note of these activities and will continue to support or build on this work within the Nation Plan.

A Hub of Activity

The National Plan has built many of it recommendations around those made by Darren Henley in his review back in March 2011. Again, it is nice to see the Government listening AND acting to the suggestions feeding back from the ground/classroom. Central to the National Plan is the introduction of Music Education Hubs which will organise the local Schools and education organisations to provide a better service for everyone, share resources and a budgetary clout to purchasing in bulk.

The Hubs will be based on the existing services provided by the local authorities and music services but will pull the resources together to eliminate over-lapping and ensure steady and clear paths of progression are open to all children within their jurisdiction.

The Hubs will be created through an open application process which will be organised by the Arts Council England. Funds will also be allocated by the Art Council and they will be held accountable for the successful use of the funds. The Hubs, meanwhile, will be held to account from both ends by the Arts Council and the School, parents and carers.

Funding has already been set for the next three years, with £77m in April 2012, £65m in 2013 and £60m in 2014. Partial funding will be given to existing authorities in April 2012, but by August 2012 the Government expects the hubs to be in place and for funding to be awarded directly to them.

Equality and Opportunity

The funding will move towards a per-pupil basis with weighting to those students who receive free meals at school. The Government hopes to have eradicated the inequalities in funding by the third year through the improved funding structure of the Hubs. The Hubs are then tasked with the responsibility of evening out the patchy quality of music education in their areas, ensuring that every child in their area has equal access to “quality music education” and progression routes which allow them to develop their skills in whichever instrument they would like to learn to the level they would like to achieve.

Teacher support

The Hubs will support teachers and provide additional resources to ensure that children are receiving the education they require and that teacher’s are getting the training they need. Meanwhile, outside of school the Arts Council England will develop a series of independently assessed and accredited qualifications, including a music educator qualification, to help the music education workforce, such as peripatetic teachers, receive recognition for their skills and achievements. A new add-on module will be added to the primary Teacher Training course to ensure that new teachers are comfortable and adequately trained to teach music and work with the Hubs.

Music in School

The National Plan dictates that all schools will be “expected to provide high quality music education” and they will want to review how they achieve this in light of the National Plan and the forthcoming National Curriculum review in early 2012. Whilst this doesn’t go as far as saying it will be in the National Curriculum post the review, it possibly does hint at it being compulsory – which will be welcome news for a lot of people. The plan also expect the work of Sing-Up to be developed and implemented by the Hubs.

Children will also take part in whole-class ensemble teaching programme for at least a term (compulsory), but preferably a year (recommended), and will be given opportunities to play and perform in ensembles and will have affordable routes of progression open to them.

Summary

There’s a lot of blank spaces in the report that need filling in. The Hubs are barely more than a concept with the task of providing “quality music education” to “every child, regardless or gender, race, or social background”. Many have already voiced a concern that this is not enough, or an impossible task to achieve in little more than eight months. It is a short time, and a big ask, the lack of structure must be a positive thing. The Hubs will need to work to their strengths to fulfil the need of individuals – there cannot be a rigid structure in place. Music education needs to be more flexible and that is one argument for removing it from the curriculum. If the Hubs are given the task of making sure every child receives a quality music education then the National Curriculum will no longer need to fill this criteria – the Hubs will ensure schools are supplying quality music education instead.

It’s also a bit of a disappointment to so the work of Musical Futures go unmentioned and that there is a heavy proposed swing back to orchestral instruments and environments. That’s the bit I’m most unsure about. Offering opportunities and clear routes of progression to learning instruments that no-one wants to play will be a fairly easy thing to achieve…

To read the full report just click the link below:
The Importance of Music – A Nation Plan for Music Education (PDF, 340KB)

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About Author

Starting out as an IT student, Robin inadvertently found his way into the music scene in the mid 90’s when a friend asked for help getting a copy of Cubase for Window’s 3.1 to work. The blooming dance scene of the mid 90’s sparked a passion in DJing and production and he held many residencies at clubs around the country in the late 90’s. Since becoming too old to stay up all night partying, Robin has devoted his skills to teaching others DJing and Music Production and most recently to giving sound advice on how to get started in the world of making music and running our educational sales department. Email him on robinheyworth@digitalvillage.co.uk if you have anything you can contribute to our educational news section.

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