Was Monday Such A Great Day For Music?

On Monday of this week the UK Secretary of State for Education, in responding to the Henley Review of Music Education , declared it a great day for music and that everyone involved in music in the UK should be pleased with the government’s response. Well, perhaps now that the sound of party-poppers and backs being slapped has died down, it might be an appropriate time for a more objective consideration.

My concerns around the Henley report are three-fold:

1. That it was largely discussing the stuff around the edges, and didn’t focus enough on the core of music education. What goes on in primary and secondary schools, as part of the ‘core’ curriculum, is where the bulk of music in this country is made – from kids aged 5 to 14, and, thanks to Musical Futures, there’s been a big increase in numbers of students still making music, beyond that stage. I lost count of the number of times that I read in the papers this week that  music education receives £82m  per year. No, I’m sorry, music education receives a heck of a lot more than that – think of every classroom music teacher’s salary, for a start. The whole debate pre and post the publication of Darren Henley’s report has placed the extra-curricular work of music services’ instrumental tuition services, above the core provision in every primary and secondary. There was more space spent discussing the much-heralded In Harmony projects (which currently run in a handful of schools at an unsustainable cost) than there was on the quality of the core entitlement in the curriculum. Which brings me to…


2. That it was almost entirely uncritical of the quality of current provision and structures – how is it possible to do a comprehensive review of music education, and not refer to the most recent OFSTED review of music provision in school? Could it be because OFSTED assessed music provision in primary and secondary schools as less than ‘good’ in half of schools inspected, over a 3 year period? When does a review become a piece of advocacy? I suspect it’s when the myriad number of representative groups bombard you with pleas to mention their project/provision and you produce a report which, as this one does, praises everyone and therefore upsets no-one. Why did the report, for instance, not mention that the notion of coordinated local provision  (‘hubs’) was first mentioned in the Music Manifesto report six years ago? If it was approved then as a good idea – and it was – and we have had  music services charged with creating Local Area Music Partnership Plans for the past four years, why is it still necessary to say we need better local music coordination, and recommend that the same music services be responsible for it? The unpalatable truth is that many music service ‘plans’ haven’t been’t worthy of the name, and yet making the same call seems to be the new ‘big idea’ of the review.

Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not having a pop at music services. Some of them do coordinate activities very well indeed, but for most of them it’s simply not what they are good at, nor does their lack of external connections make it possible. Their core business is providing small group instrumental tuition, and why shouldn’t they be left alone to do that? The report is essentially asking them to do what the school sports trust does for sports in local communities, but with no recommendations as to how to re-structure themselves. Well, here’s a radical idea,   one I would have liked to have seen in the review: nationalise the music service. A National Music Service with a single, centralised, (and cost effective) back-office function would not only save a ton of money, it would also ensure that priorities are common across regions, best practice shared quickly, and would prevent the patchy quality of provision so frequently referred to in reports.

3. The lasting impression is that our organisations are effective and the quality of provision is excellent. Why, therefore, would anyone feel the need to follow Henley’s urging for a single national body speaking for music? Fragmentation alone is not a good enough reason – if it’s working in its own slightly chaotic way, why the panic to fix it? The net result of the report, and the government’s response to it, is a huge collective sigh of relief, and, frankly, there’ll be little sense of urgency on this issue. There was some classic political posturing before the report got published: everyone expected the worst in terms of funding, so that when music service jobs, and a few projects, were financially saved for another year (and it’s only another year) we were all meant to be grateful.


If the music community had attended the Whole Education event this week there may have been a new sense of urgency instilled. For they would have heard Mick Waters (former head of curriculum at QCA and a man well used to reading the political runes) strongly suggest that music, and other arts subjects, will be taken out of the compulsory core curriculum when the National Curriculum Review concludes in two years time.  We’ve already seen large numbers of schools taking steps to remove their music options post-14, so as to funnel students into the new English Baccalaureate subjects, and the Guardian carried a report this week of similar fates befalling other arts subjects. So, it’s entirely possible that we could lose music at all stages of the curriculum in most of our schools, by 2013. We know that the government is determined to reduce the number of subjects within the core curriculum: cue subject pitted against subject in an unseemly scramble to make it into the pen before the gate closes (which is why having a single voice for music education is so pressing).

I’m not a conspiracist by nature, but I believe there’s a very real possibility that the hidden agenda behind the government’s support for the review is to get it off the political hook when such a scenario occurs.  Having supported all the stuff which goes on outside school hours, it can claim that kids are still getting a ‘rich cultural experience’ – it’s just that second period on a Thursday is reserved for ‘real’ academic subjects, not mucking about on guitars.

But that’s the problem. Fewer than 10% of kids access music instrumental tuition. If you add up all the kids who take part in all the other stuff – projects in the community, playing in their local orchestras, etc – you might get that figure up to 25-30%. Music in the primary and secondary curriculum is the only place where every young person gets exposure to music education – and, please take note, media outlets and politicians: there is much more to music education than learning to play a musical instrument!

So, will we still look back on last Monday as a great day for music if, in a couple of year’s time, it’s been preserved for the minority, but lost as a universal entitlement for everyone?



6 Responses to Was Monday Such A Great Day For Music?

  1. jpjsavage says:

    Thanks for your analysis David. As always, it is insightful, purposeful and challenging. I share many of your observations and concerns. I was also beginning to wonder whether I was the only one not celebrating when the review was unveiled on Monday. I am desperately worried about the fate of school based music education and your comments on what Mick Waters has been saying only confirm my own view about the current National Curriculum Review. As I’ve said on several occasions, many organisations in the UK are fighting to protect their own little piece of music education, they are self-congratulatory and introspective. They are busy rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but – guess what everyone – the boat is sinking! This will happen unless there is a massive concerted effort to pull together, recognise what is at stake and communicate this clearly to the wider public. In my view, Gove et al just aren’t listening at the moment. In that vein, it was good to see Mark Elder’s letter in The Guardian this week. We need more of our feted musicians to come out in support of school based music education. Why don’t you try and get Sting on the case? I seem to remember in my youth that he liked the odd bit of political campaigning?

  2. David Price says:

    (Smites forehead) D’oh… why didn’t I think of that? As ever, it’ll be a question of timing, but I’ll get started on this one. Thanks for the suggestion, Jon!

  3. Katherine Zeserson says:

    Trenchant analysis, as ever. Your point about the review not actually being of Music Education but of instrumental (and a little vocal) teaching is well made, and the apparently narrow frame of reference in the Reivew about what music actually IS was really surprising. However, these moments can create the conditions for radical ideas- whilst the Reivew and the Govt response might not immediately signal that, I am sure that the next year unfolds- and taking account of the smoke that seems to be coming from the Curriculum Review chimney – we will experience much more seismic change. So long as we have classrooms, and so long as children and young people are required to spend time in them, then we need them to be vibrant hubs for rich, inclusive, insiprational music-making. If the Henley Review doesn’t help us to achieve that then we will have to find other ways.

  4. DavidAshworth16 says:

    This is an impressive collection of reflections, Dave – easily the most coherent analysis I have read concerning the review, and I’ve read quite a few! It seems that we have very few in the music education community who are willing to speak out and ask the tough questions. The impression I’m getting is that everyone is being very guarded prior to what will be an undignified scramble to climb aboard the National Plan for Music Education bandwagon…My own disappointment is to do with the Vision – I just can’t see one! With a vision statement, I would expect to see a clear picture stretching into the future. Instead there are some blurry images projecting forward a few months. Some of the key suggestions are vague – some of the government responses vaguer. No clear messages on what curriculum music might look like, how hubs might work, provision for SEN, developing the use of ICT. Much uncertainty on how we train the future workforce. No guidance as to how the music education organisations can work to produce a coordinated response for the sector. And you are absolutely right – far too much stuff about the frills around the edges and very little on teachers and students in classroom music making. I fear that many primary and secondary teachers reading this will feel distinctly marginalised and therefore unlikely to engage with the development of policy in the months ahead. Mind, I’m not blaming Darren Henley for all this. I’m still not convinced that the consultation document was asking the right questions….

  5. anita holford says:

    I’m pitching into the debate nervously as I’m not a music practitioner or educationalist, just someone who is passionate about music education and professionally involved from time to time in the area of communications. Please treat me gently! I really hope the govt will search out and take into account the experiences of existing (or failed) hubs in developing the ‘system’ it mentions in relation to these groups. Quite soon after the Music Manifesto hub recommendations were made, I was involved with a fledgling music education hub (as a researcher/comms advisor). The music service gained some extra money from the local authority for some research/networking, and following this it was successful in gaining a tiny amount of funding from another part of the local authority – the money was used for grassroots catalystic work. But despite small successes and some useful work, it has really struggled. It still exists, although in a much lower key form. I’m sure there will be many who’ll disagree – and I’m not usually known to support centralisation – but hubs do need some form of centralised and strategic support, encouragement and monitoring – perhaps just at the start – to ensure they’re accountable, are involving a suitable range of practitioners, can share good practice and most importantly find ways to ensure they become indispensible, not just a ‘good thing to do if we have the time’. They also need to find ways to engage in different ways with a wide range of practitioners/providers in their area – from online database/listings/networking to events that people will really ‘get something’ from – meetings aren’t for everyone. They should be ‘light touch and unbureaucratic’, but without support and encouragement at a strategic level they’ll each end up repeating similar mistakes.

  6. David Price says:

    Anita, Jon, Katherine, David,Thanks for such a thoughtful collection of comments. It’s really gratifying to see that, amidst the gratitude we’re supposed to feel at being given another year’s grace, we can still voice legitimate concerns.Anita, I share your experience with hubs. I’ve personally been involved with a few, and they didn’t amount to much. They all struggled to make alliances with informal organisations. And I’ve yet to be involved in a hub which had any real connections with music in the secondary curriculum, which is absolutely critical in any hub. Learning from our mistakes? There’s a novel concept! Darren’s recommendation that music services should become the de facto heads of hubs goes against the coalition’s desire for people to find their own local solutions. But I also agree that simply leaving hubs to sort themselves out is a recipe for a complete dog’s breakfast. This was why I was putting forward the radical proposition that music services are ‘nationalised’, with a central administration and central leadership. It seems to me to be the only way to ensure that the hubs don’t perpetuate the ‘provision patchiness’ that everyone deplores…..But what we currently have is a central recommendation to repeat what’s already been tried (and generally not worked) without doing anything different. I think Einstein had something to say about that……

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