Yesterday, I attended a ‘consultation’ session on the UK government’s National Plan for Music (NPfM). 50 or so people were asked to give up a day to contribute to help government thinking – that’s a significant financial contribution from the Music Education sector (at consultancy rates, at least £20,000 plus expenses). So, you’d like to think that it was a genuine consultative process, wouldn’t you?
The specific focus for the consultation was the use of technology in music, though, as you’ll see, I want to broaden this out, so that we consider, not just music, or technology, but the nature of consultation.
Most people reading this blog will have voluntarily given up their time, somewhere along their career, to help government – or governmental agencies – formulate their ideas. I’m a freelancer, so I gave up a day’s pay today. Why? Because I like to think that the greater good – in this case, ensuring school becomes a relevant place to engage young people in two of their undoubted passions: music and technology – is bigger than my need to earn a day’s pay. And, let’s not kid ourselves on the urgency of this issue. The average 15 year-old has better access to social media, video learning, and cloud-based software, in his/her bedroom than the vast majority of high schools in the UK. So, if, as educators, we’re to have any chance of competing with the immediacy and excitement of music learning in the social world, we’d better get with the programme, and quick. It was heartening to hear of such innovative and creative uses of technology from the people in the room, and there was a pretty consensual view of what the obstacles are, and what would truly integrate pedagogy and technology.
The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) were hosting todays session, and it occurred to me that, at all levels, the mechanisms we have for ‘leading’ the teaching profession are struggling to keep up. Specifically:
- What is the value of ‘just-in-case’ training for the teaching profession – the predominant method of top-down staff training – when we have ‘just-in-time’ professional development available through Twitter and social media?
- How can agencies like TDA respond to professional development needs when user-generated, self-help, PD is flourishing through things like Teachmeet?
- What’s the point of local authorities developing ‘virtual learning environments’ (which cost a small fortune) when Google can provide the same for nothing?
- If Teacher Training Institutions don’t have the time to make trainee teachers IT competent (and I sympathise with their plight – they have to cram a ridiculous amount of curriculum in about 90 days), who else is going to ensure that music teachers develop the necessary skills – especially when the average classically trained musician gets no further than 19th century music techology in their performance studies?
So, assuming you hold to the view that government should be responsible for educational decision-making (and I don’t – it’s the constant political interference in this country’s education systems that’s meant we have fallen so far behind other professions, and other countries) you have to wonder how government is expected to lead on the use of technology in education. Or, indeed, how any subject-specific, government-led, ‘national plan’ is likely to gain any traction within the profession. The world has moved on, and we learn from each other so much more than we learn from those above us.
I speak as the person who led the Musical Futures project for 6 years. At the start of our initiative, we tried to work with the Department for Education, only to be told they didn’t endorse any ‘models’. This was patently untrue, since they soon led the profession through what was known as the Key Stage 3 strategy for music. I’m proud to say that, thanks to the steadfast support of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Musical Futures has not only outlived the ‘official’ government strategy for music education, but continues to grow, through a bottom-up approach, led by teachers, not local or national government.
In England we appear to have an Education Secretary of State who wants to face both ways at once: look left , and we trust the profession; look right, and we tell them what they need to do. Yesterday (although led by well-meaning, dedicated, professionals), was a case in point. I specifically asked for a show of hands on two really critical issues in the creative use of technology in education: the use of mobile technologies, and social media. Every single person in the room, (invited because of their expertise in technology), agreed that we should encourage the use of both for young people, in schools. Yet we know the Secretary of State wants to ban mobile phones in the classroom, and is no fan of social media either.
So, when the National Plan for Music emerges in a few weeks time, let’s see if there’s a positive reference to either mobile technologies or social media. If there is, then we know that this government believes in genuine consultation, and in trusting the profession. If there isn’t, then we know who’s really calling the shots around here.