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Survey Returns Bleak Picture of Music Education in Schools

A recent University of Sussex survey of 500 schools in England shows a worrying picture for music in schools. The findings, released at the beginning of October, show that staffing levels in music departments have fallen in nearly 36% of schools, with 70% of surviving music specialists required to teach outside their subject to fill gaps.

The report, by Senior Teaching Fellow in Education (Education), Duncan Mackrill, also highlighted a 10% fall in the number of students taking a GCSE music course since 2016, fewer schools providing GCSE music as an option, and only some schools offering the subject out of school hours. Of the schools surveyed, 18% do not offer GCSE music at all.

[Image: Tiffany Bailey via Wikimedia Commons]

The picture is worse for A-level music. The report reveals that the number of schools offering A-level music has fallen by more than 15% in the past two years, while the number of schools teaching music technology has dropped by 32%.

Younger students are also being impacted. Only 47.5% of schools say music is compulsory for 13 to 14-year-olds and many schools only teaching music as part of an “enrichment day” once a year.

[Image: Wordbuilder via Wikimedia Commons]

Nearly 60% of the schools that completed the survey say the promotion of the EBacc and focus on academic subjects by the government was having a negative impact on music provision in their establishment.

In an interview in The Guardian, the report’s author, Duncan Mackrill, says:

Music’s place in the secondary curriculum continues to be precariously balanced or disappearing in a significant number of schools. Without a change to require a balanced curriculum in all schools, we are in danger of music education becoming, in many cases, the preserve of those who can pay.

And music provision is potentially under further threat in the coming months as the Government announced earlier this year that it will not fund the pay rise for centrally employed teachers, the majority of whom are music specialists. This means that any pay rise offered to teachers employed directly by the council, such as instrumental teachers, will need to be funded by local authorities.

The (Local Government Association) LGA estimates that this would cost councils £5.5m, an extremely large amount for local authorities that are already struggling financially. In its report on the LGA website it states:

If councils, which face a £3.9 billion funding black hole in 2019/20, are left to pick up the cost then some would have little choice but to reduce CET services such as music tuition.

There are around 5,000 centrally employed teachers who provide a range of services including those who teach children and those who play key roles in supporting education professionals. It is believed that at least half of these are teaching music. It’s also pertinent that many of the local authority music teaching schemes often waive or lower fees so children of low-income families can take part.

In an interview in the Independent Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, says:

The UK has a proud history of musical excellence and many of the most well-known artists in the world over time would have benefited from music lessons. For many young people, it is a vital part of their education and future life opportunities, but this could be at risk unless the government commits to fully funding the pay increase for all classroom teachers, including music teachers.

Ever since the introduction of the EBacc, high profile musicians have spoken out against the threat to music in schools. Also talking to the Independent, singer Ed Sheeran says,

If you keep cutting the funding for arts you’re going to be damaging one of Britain’s best and most lucrative exports.

Sheeran’s comments underline the fact that as well as being of significant value for individual children on a personal and educational level, music is a thriving industry in the UK. His remarks are backed up by a ukmusic.org report which shows continual growth in the UK music industry. Between 2016 and 2017 the industry generated £2.5bn in export revenue and saw a 6% increase in total gross value.

There are concerns about class privilege too, and the widening of the opportunities gap between rich and poor. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the Independent:

The last thing that we need is any more pressure on the provision of music in schools … Local authorities clearly cannot afford additional costs on strained budgets and this will inevitably mean cuts. We are in danger of music becoming the preserve of only those families who can afford private tuition.

The Independent also spoke to the General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union, Horace Trubridge, who attributes his own career to the free music provision he enjoyed as a child.

It seems to me that we are now entering into an era in our profession when only a very narrow social stream of young people will make up the musicians of tomorrow. How will the tradition of fantastic bands and artists rising up from the housing estates and low-to-no income families continue?

Bands like Madness, Pulp, Manic Street Preachers and so many others with great stories and real, honest social messages to sing about. How will the UK’s wonderful orchestras fulfil the demands of the funding bodies to increase diversity within their ranks, when the very people that they want to attract are denied access to music education.

With the Government seemingly turning a blind eye to the destruction of music education in the UK, what is the future for aspiring young musicians and for the music industry? In a political climate where there is already a threatened skills gap forming, isn’t it time for those in power to face the music?


The Music Workshop Company would love to hear from you. If you’re interested in asking us about any aspect of music education, would like to feature in our guest blog or to book one of our interactive workshops, contact us today!

Ages 11 to 14: The Barren Years

img_0029The profile of classical music in schools is complex, with provision, inclusion and expectations differing wildly between primary and secondary age groups. Professional cellist and secondary school classroom teacher Sarah Evans describes her experiences of teacher attitudes, her frustration that classical music continues to be viewed as too challenging, and her determination to let her students make up their own minds.

“As a professional musician, I have spent much of my career teaching and promoting classical music. Yet as classical audiences diminish, I feel we are fighting to try and keep our business alive and our careers worth pursuing. When I chose to train as a secondary school music teacher, I was very much conscious of the diminishing returns on my own educational investments and keen to discover why classical music is a dying art.

[image: Tiffany Bailey Flickr]

[image: Tiffany Bailey Flickr]

As a musician, I have many hours giving workshops to children around the country. I have seen the impact these have had both short and long term. Classical musicians are confident taking their skills and enthusiasm to primary schools where students have usually be primed and are almost exclusively enthusiastic and will take part in any activities on offer.

As a teacher I cannot tell you how many year 7 students have shown me what they have learnt at a Royal Opera House Schools’ Matinee, an Opera North singing project, or the Gamelan visits they participated in, sung the songs taught to them by professional singers, or enthused about the instruments they have seen and heard when specialists arrived at their school for a day. Despite the lack of funding for specialist music teachers in primary schools, these students arrive at secondary school pre-enthused, malleable, happy to sing, open minded and in some cases, well educated in a variety of musical genres. As musicians, we feel we have been educating the next generation of audience members.

However, as students reach secondary school, this musical confidence and excitement often wanes. The funding and opportunities for musicians to take part in professionally offered musical projects stops, the time and energy to discover new genres and musical paths by students stops as exam pressure kicks in, and as teenage hormones kick in, we as teachers often resort to the path of least resistance – giving them the music they are already familiar with.

800px-Boxwood_PS_Music_room

In my 17 years of giving workshops to schools and communities, I only once had the opportunity to visit a secondary school, and that was to play briefly to GCSE students – scary enough in my pre-teacher days. As a musician, the thought of trying to engage 32, 11-14 year olds filled me with dread. As a teacher, KS3 lessons can at times be a fight: Students know they can drop music at the end of year 8 or 9, so bad grades will have no impact on their future. And yet this is the age that we need to be targeting. Students start forming staunch opinions about what they do and don’t like at this stage and without giving them options, they cannot make informed choices.

There is too little support for secondary school teachers in the realms of classical music. Many schemes and projects have been recently formed to ‘gee-up’ music in the secondary school classroom, but almost all of it leaves classical music (and other equally exciting genres) as the poor cousin to rock and pop, and non-classically trained musicians somewhat in the dark.

I recently attended a secondary music teachers course and also taught in a secondary school, where my admission that I taught western notation to Year 7 and that we studied classical music in a positive way was met with shock and distain. Why was I bothering?

Teachers asked if anyone had ideas as to what classical music they could teach KS3 (years 7-9) which might be engaging as they now have to prepare their students for the new (classically inclusive) GCSE. The only responses from other music teachers? Pachelbel’s Canon, “as they can write pop songs from it,” and, “The Alton Towers Theme Tune, because they all know it.”

[image: Tiffany Bailey Flickr]

[image: Tiffany Bailey Flickr]

If classical music appears inaccessible to music teachers and musicians cannot access funding to offer support, how are we to engage the next generation of classical audience? The BBC 10 Pieces scheme is accessible, pre-planned, full of resources, engaging and challenging – it is frankly, brilliant – but teachers are still wary of starting it as the vicious circle of classical music being ‘boring’ still exists. As we all know, boring is a term used frequently by teenagers. It mostly hides a fear from lack of understanding. As teachers we are shattered and yes and if we are lucky, our departments will be given enough money in the year to rub a ukulele and a drum stick together. But we have a responsibility to challenge students, to introduce them to things that they may not otherwise come across, to break down barriers, to try new ideas and to do this without prejudice.

Listening is free, a highly underused resource in music classrooms and this is often where professional workshops succeed. Regularly offering up examples of all styles of classical music, telling the stories behind the music, the dirty details of the composers and making it interesting is so invaluable to producing students confident to engage with the genre. Now, I am not saying that classical music is in anyway the purest art form, that students will all instantly adore Beethoven, nor that it should be taught exclusively in schools. Our lives need balance and we should be opening our students’ eyes to as many musical genres as we can. But as teachers and musicians, we should be doing our research, challenging our own fears and preferences and offering up the full smorgesbord of experiences that music has to offer. As an industry, classical music could be doing so much more here to support schools, in the same way it does at primary school level. I feel exceptionally lucky to have taught in a school where all musical genres were promoted and encouraged in and out of the classroom from day one. As a result, students who set up their own Renaissance choral group and Indian classical group sat alongside those who set up their own funk band, those in the school musical and those who DJ’d.

Our opinions are based on what we know. If we don’t regularly offer children as many choices as possible throughout their education, we are limiting their options. Doing this purely at primary school age and again at GCSE is not enough – we need more funding, more education and less fear of the existing preferences of students between 11 and 14. As classical musicians and as teachers, we need to consider these barren years of KS3 if we are to train up the audiences of tomorrow.”

Sarah Evans is a professional cellist who trained at The Royal Academy of Music and Trinity College of Music. She is a qualified secondary school classroom teacher originally working in schools in London and more recently, Yorkshire.  

New Resources for a New Term from AQA

sarah perrymanThis month the MWC team are excited to welcome back Sarah Perryman, Music Qualifications Developer at AQA. Sarah has lots of exciting news update on supporting resources, shares details about AQA’s Commit To Teach campaign and tells us all about which CPD courses are available to help you get ready for September. There are also links to free posters for your classroom.

“Happy Holidays!

I hope you’re all having a well-deserved break after the busy exam period. In my last blog post, I focused on the main changes across all exam boards and outlined the main features of AQA’s new Music specifications for you. Now, as our focus inevitably turns toward September and the first teaching of the brand new reformed Music qualifications, I want to make you aware of how AQA can support you as we head into first teaching

Commit To Teach

If you tell us you’re teaching with us we can make sure you and your students have everything you need for September. Let us know here and we’ll provide you with the right information at the right time.

This information will help in planning our support, where to hold events and our examiner staffing.

If you’re not teaching with AQA, you’re still welcome to use all our free GCSE and AS/A-level resources, and we’ll keep you up to date with developments to teaching and assessing our Music qualifications.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 17.22.08

An update on our free resources

We’ve been working to develop a range of brand new resources for the new GCSE, AS and A-level specifications.

Here are the resources so far available for the GCSE syllabus:

Here are the resources so far available for AS/A-level:

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 17.22.23

Look out for these GCSE resources coming soon:

July

  • resource list
  • schemes of work
  • teacher guide: Area of study 4
  • student guide: Area of study 4

August

  • teacher guide: Area of study 2
  • student guide: Area of study 2
  • performance piece: Area of study 2
  • teacher guide: Area of study 3
  • student guide: Area of study 3
  • performance piece: Area of study 3
  • performance piece: Area of study 4
  • additional set of Sample Assessment Materials (secure section of the AQA website)
  • non-exam assessment (NEA) exemplar materials (secure section of the AQA website)

September

  • listening library (interactive)

There are more AS/A-level resources on the way too:

August

  • schemes of work
  • teacher guide: Area of study 1
  • student guide: Area of study 1
  • non-exam assessment (NEA) exemplar materials (secure section of the AQA website)

September

  • listening library (interactive)

October

  • additional set of Sample Assessment Materials (secure section of the AQA website).

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 17.26.45

Free posters for your classroom

Inspire your students with these posters. We have them up in the Music office and we think they look great!

Add GCSE Music to your mix!

Add GCSE to your music collection

AS and A-level Music it’s your take

CPD courses

We have just finished our series of free Preparing to Teach events that took place across the UK. The events were very successful and we received very positive feedback from teachers.

Currently, we are running Getting Started meetings to help you to get ready for September. You can find out more about these, as well as the other professional development courses we offer here.

Music community

We’ve linked up with a growing list of music organisations that offer free teaching resources, including BBC Education, Royal Albert Hall, Southbank Centre and Museum of Liverpool. Access our community here. We hope you find it useful.

Thank you for reading. I hope you have a great summer!”

If you have any questions for Sarah and the Music Team at AQA you can contact them by emailing music@aqa.org.uk or calling 01483 43 7750.

A Focus on Listening

In a recent interview by The Scotsman, world-renowned violinist, Nicola Benedetti, passionately criticised the suggestion that children should not be exposed to classical music.

580px-Nicky_BenedettiBenedetti is a great advocate of music education. In 2010, she became Sistema Scotland’s official musical ‘Big Sister’ for the Big Noise project, as well as creating The Benedetti Sessions, giving hundreds of aspiring young string players the opportunity to rehearse, undertake and observe masterclasses, culminating in a performance with the violinist.

She is an also an ambassador for the BBC 10 Pieces project, an initiative for schools led by BBC Learning and the BBC Performing Groups, focusing on classical music and creativity. The project centres on 20 pieces; 10 for primary and 10 for secondary school ages; covering the spectrum of western classical music from the Baroque period to contemporary works, with a heavy weighting towards 20th Century music.

Benedetti argued that since, if children were given the option either to play a video game or study mathematics, the majority would choose the video game, deciding against teaching them to listen to classical symphonies because they don’t seem interested or it is considered difficult is a nonsense. MWC’s Maria Thomas explains why this is a subject close to her own heart.

Should we be encouraging young people to listen to whole symphonies or even whole operas? Interestingly, neither the primary nor the secondary 10 Pieces include a full symphony, concerto or other complete large-scale work. Individual movements are included, but not full works. Perhaps the chosen pieces are meant as an introduction to classical music, allowing listeners to explore the rest of the works themselves, or maybe, as the proposed lesson plans suggest, the individual movements are designed as a starting point for inspiration for creativity, I don’t know.

Learning to concentrate on listening to a whole symphony or opera is not an easy task, particularly when the work is new to you. I often enjoy listening to works I have studied more than those that I am discovering for the first time. I am more familiar with the themes, the structure, the instrumentation and how the material is developed.

HHCMF14s-37I was lucky enough to have been brought up as a regular concert and opera-goer, being encouraged to learn about the pieces before attending performances and having the chance to listen to recordings before hearing the live performance. Even so, when I hear a new piece, I can imagine how daunting or incomprehensible the idea of listening to a symphony must be, particularly for someone who has not had that opportunity. With no one to make recommendations of what to listen to or explain things about the music such as what to listen out for and the context that the composer was working in, where do you start?

So maybe the single movement decision by the BBC makes sense. Research suggests that with increasing access to new technology, young people are not able to concentrate for long periods, and the popularity of the single movement performance has been popularised by the huge success of Classic FM. However, when I worked at the Royal Opera House one of my favourite memories is of hearing the rapturous applause and cheering following a schools performance of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

I believe it comes down to what we feel is important. Getting the young to listen to any classical music will open their ears to music, art and experiences that are new to them, and will develop other skills such as listening, analytical thinking and concentration.

Research has shown that listening to music can help the brain, but that research also highlighted that familiarity with the music was important.

Another question worth considering is where the responsibility should lie in getting young people to listen to classical music. Should it be done in the home, at school or both?

For parents who have not experience of classical music, the idea of introducing their children to a symphony orchestra concert or recital is completely alien. Trying to research music can be challenging; programme notes, both online and in concert programmes can vary from excellent to incomprehensible, or be aimed at the very knowledgeable.

In schools it is increasingly difficult to introduce classical music into the classroom. Many primary schools do not have music specialists and both primary and secondary schools have music specialists who do not have a Classical music background. It was widely researched as long ago as 1997 that many primary school teachers feel negatively towards introducing classical music in their teaching as they lack confidence in their own knowledge of the subject.

800px-Boxwood_PS_Music_room

I don’t have the answers. I’m just glad that the BBC 10 Pieces is making access to Classical Music easier for young people, and that other fantastic outreach projects by organisations such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Warwick University and the Sage are reaching out to their local communities and offering them the chance to explore Classical Music both with families and schools.

It was wonderful to share this enthusiasm for introducing young people to Classical Music and the wider arts at the brilliant Ahead For Culture conference, run by the ROHBridge Project, on 12th June at the Royal Opera House. The morning was hosted by Kirsty Wark who shared her early experiences of the Arts, and featured many inspiring speakers. Sir Anthony Seldon stressed the importance of introducing young people to the Arts in ways that help them to understand and engage with their experiences, Nii Sackey highlighted the fact that young people have their own answers about how they want to engage with the Arts, and Susan Coles gave a motivational call to action encouraging us all to push for the Arts to continue to be a key part of every young person’s education.

The afternoon sessions of workshops got everyone talking and sharing their experiences, before a fabulous performance by Next Generation Youth Theatre. The day was rounded off with an emotional reminder from Camila Batmanghelidhj CBE, founder of Kids Company, (who MWC are proud to work with) of some of the challenges today’s young people bring to their Arts experiences, and how experiences need to adapt to the needs of each young person.

It was a truly inspiring day and will lead to some exciting new projects and partnerships for MWC. Watch this space for more news!

The Music Workshop Company is in the process of developing resource packs for schools, designed to introduce and expand on many aspects of music. We would value your input. If there is a specific topic or aspect of music that you would like us to cover, or if we can make our resources more helpful in any way, please contact us via the website with your ideas and requests, or email info@music-workshop.co.uk.

We also run tailor-made inset workshops, integrating music into teacher training. Meeting with professional musicians who can explain music in an approachable way will give you exciting ideas to develop, and can be a great boost in confidence in the classroom. There is no great mystery to music. Just as you can teach a child to look at a beautiful painting and appreciate it without yourself being able to either paint it or explain how it was painted, it is possible to learn how to introduce children to music and the skills needed to listen to it.

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