We are listening, is anyone else?


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The comments and messages that came through after last week’s post were very encouraging, thank you to friends and colleagues that contributed to the debate.  Reading these messages, it is clear that musicians are passionate about music education in this country but past policies and practices have not always supported their aspirations.  Darren Henley in his reviews for the coalition government, Music Education in England and Cultural Education in England has looked at current provision and has offered recommendations for the future.

In their response, government have agreed to promote all the music recommendations in the report with collaboration being a key part of future provision.  The Music Hub concept came from this strategy and the call for bids and setting up of the hubs was rushed through last year, the funding for these has been given to the Arts Council England to administer.  The amount of money the government has set for the hubs is fixed and will decrease by 27% over the next three years.  The chair of one of my local hubs described this year as “business as usual but with data collection as the main priority” in preparation for the next round of bids. 

The Henley report also identifies that many music teachers work in isolation and he recommends in-post training and continuing professional development to a standards framework that has yet to be written.  The training given to primary school classroom teachers he describes as “inadequate to create a workforce that is confident in its own ability to teach the subject in the classroom” and new guidelines should be written to address this.  These ideas are very welcome but how will this be funded?  Will the hub be responsible for delivering this from its budget as well as instrumental lessons, ensembles, choirs and classroom support?

The one area that is only briefly considered in the report (one recommendation from thirty six) is technology.  The report is biased towards learning music through performance, with composition getting a passing mention.  This focus could progress a pupil to GCSE music, but is the syllabus fit for purpose with the technologies that most children can now access?  The GCSE is based on the Western Classical Tradition, Popular Music of the 20th and 21st Centuries and World Music.  Where is the development in using technology for the recording and manipulation of sound that is introduced in the curriculum at Key Stage 3?  This subject could appeal to a different type of music student, one that will use the recording studio rather than the concert hall in the future.

Is it time to look at the using technology in a more creative way in music lessons?  The established software now available for music has been developed for notation based/desktop publishing, recording or sequencing.  The amount of theoretical knowledge needed to produce acceptable results using these technologies varies greatly.  Some are easy to use and create instant results, the programming makes many decisions for the user whereas others need every action to be stipulated by the operator.

These differences may be one of the reasons that many schoolteachers have been reluctant to use technology in the classroom.  Another hindrance to the use of technology is education via a performance route concentrating on the Western Classical Tradition which many music teachers have taken.  The use of technology in performance is still regarded as specialised and not easily accessible and many teachers have a limited knowledge of what is available and what is possible.

Programmers and developers of software need to reflect on the use of their products.  There are some very interesting developments happening in this area at the moment.  Not the “one program does everything” or bundle of “many processes in one” approaches that has been followed in the past, but stand alone programs that have a limited number of functions for pupils to understand and use in a creative way.  An example of this has been developed by my colleague in Barnsley, Al McNichol, for Key Stage 3 music which he will be making available soon.  It has taken five years to get to this point and I hope he is not the only developer out there looking at how to best use technology in music education.  A database of programs with teacher reviews on ease of use, how stable is the program on school systems, what learning can be achieved… would help further in introducing more relevant technology into the classroom.

The Henley review has started a process of change in music education, the collaborations, discussions and creative solutions that could be made in the next few years will be significant in the development of musicians in the future.  This is a time when the whole music offer should be considered and strategies put in place that include as many pupils as possible, guiding them to appreciate many creative music making experiences.

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About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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