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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!

Is Music Reading Outdated?

A recent article in the Guardian by Charlotte C Gill has raised some interesting questions around problems in music education, and caused a fair amount of controversy too.

In her March 27 column, Gill expresses concern over the problems in class music – uptake in music at A-Level and GCSE has dropped by 9% since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) in 2010, an issue, which we’ve previously covered under the ISM’s Bacc for the Future campaign.

The ISM has been supporting the inclusion of creative subjects in schools after researchers claimed that pressure on students to take subjects included in the EBacc meant that music was being squeezed out. According to a Sussex University study, nearly two thirds of 650 state schoolteachers surveyed said the EBacc meant fewer students were taking GCSE music.

[Image: Tiffany Bailey]

However, Gill asserts that she believes the best way to encourage more children to engage in music is to teach the subject in a ‘less academic’ way. Speaking from her own childhood experience, she says that the problem lies with the focus on notation:

This is a cryptic, tricky language – rather like Latin – that can only be read by a small number of people, most of whom have benefited from private education. Children who do not have the resources, or ability, to comprehend it, are written off. Even when they are capable performers.

This is the statement that has raised hackles – and unlike the other points in her article, Gill produces no statistics to back it up. Gill’s own experience of difficulty with music reading, and the fact she struggled to have her love of music recognised are clear, but do they speak for every other state school child, and can one person’s undeniably frustrating experience ever validate the undermining of an entire subject?

It’s undeniable that elitism and imbalance exist. Just 7% of the UK population attended private school. But Gill’s statement that music is only for the “white and the wealthy” does not add up. If her question is aimed at preferential provision in private schools, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC), 29% of its pupils are from a minority background – far higher than the 14% of BAME citizens in British society as a whole.

[Image: Frank R Snyder]

Meanwhile, children from a white background have been found to make significantly less progress in school than their BAME counterparts (Centre Forum). And according the World Literacy Foundation’s 2012 report, 20% of adults in the UK struggle with basic reading and writing, indicating deeper problems in the education system that no amount of soft-soaping will solve.

Gill makes no new points with her comments. Offsted’s 2011 report on music education devoted large sections to the importance of practical music making and performance, with Sistema Scotland reporting that 93% of participants were happier as a result of their involvement in the scheme.

But Ofsted’s report showed out of 300 music lessons observed, only 30 were deemed above average. A tiny 7% of schools in a survey of 90 qualified as ‘outstanding’ providers of effective music education, while 61% were deemed satisfactory or inadequate.

Given that of these 90 schools, 66% were considered to be providing an effective education overall, this figure underlines the desperate situation into which music education has fallen. The weakest year group was found to be Key Stage 3 (years 7 to 9), “A direct consequence of weak teaching and poor curriculum provision.”

The report opposes Gill’s claims that music is seen as too academic, stating that many students see academic music as a soft option. Only those children who have been exposed to culture from a young age, and who have developed proficiency as performers tend to be encouraged to take music at GCSE and A-level. The divide between those deemed suitable to take music is set almost as soon as a child joins the school.

This would seem to imply that in order for a child to progress in music at GCSE and A-level, more provision is needed in primary schools, and that children with parents who are interested in music are at an advantage.

In May 2015, world famous concert violinist and music education supporter Nicola Benedetti argued that:

…needing the child’s approval for what they do in school is just such an alien concept when you’re talking about maths, science, history or English…but suddenly, when you bring music into the mix, it’s: ‘Oh no, we can’t show them anything that they don’t instantly love because that would be like forcing children into something that they don’t want to do.’

Benedetti’s comments underline the tendency, exemplified by Gill’s remarks, to feel that because music is profoundly personal and accesses the emotions, it does not warrant ‘restrictive’ academic study.

Gill’s comments have engendered an angry response from musicologist Ian Pace, who says her claim that music can only be read by a small number of people,

…flies in the face of countless initiatives over two centuries making musical literacy available to those of many backgrounds.

He continues:

As with written language, musical notation enables effective and accurate communication, as well as critical access to huge amounts of knowledge. In many musical fields, those without it will be at a deep disadvantage and dependent upon others.

Pace goes on to say that he agrees that “aural and other skills are equally important as those in notation,” but puts her comments about illiteracy down to “romanticisation,” warning that Gill’s position “could serve to make literate musical education even more exclusive through being marginalised in state schools yet further.”

Another article, also from the Guardian in 2015, actually highlights the fact that instrumental music tuition in the UK is more often than not excellent, but that children and parents are not always made aware of what provision is available to them. Author Sarah Derbyshire states:

We need to focus less on the ‘best’ way to learn and more on the fundamentals of engaging children and young people in excellent music of all kinds – in all settings. The starting point is to define clearly the building blocks of musical learning, which are, to my mind: singing; reading music; access to instrumental tuition (both formal and informal); digital technology; attending live performance; creative involvement in composition; improvisation and performance of their own work.

To look at the genuine problems of music reading, a blog from dyslexia experts Brightstar Learning explains that learning notation may be more difficult for dyslexic students.

Reading music may be more difficult than reading text. For one thing, the written language of music contains signs that are multifunctional, for instance, the line. Lines in music can be vertical or horizontal; they may be long or short: straight or curved; mean something on their own; or need to be combined with other symbols to make sense. There’s no doubt that someone who has a problem with visual discrimination is going to have trouble reading music.

But the blog offers a range of imaginative solutions, concluding simply that:

The main factor in teaching the dyslexic student seems to be pacing the lessons so that the student doesn’t go into overload. It will take the dyslexic student a bit longer to process the information in lessons.

As explained by USA teaching business, Musika, learning to read music is one of the hardest things a beginning instrumentalist will do, but no instrument is mastered overnight, and music reading flows in stages alongside technique. Various programmes have been devised, such as the Colourstrings Method and Suzuki Method, which have structured and specific ways of integrating music reading and musicianship into instrument learning in an holistic way, and every beginner tutor book carries careful instruction in notation.

[Image: Grunpfnul]

Looking at these facts as a whole, notation is not the main issue locking children out of genuine engagement in music education. The separate issue of sight reading which is lumped in to Gill’s complaint about the inaccessibility of notation is a red herring.

Success in sight reading is predominantly a mater of concerted practice: Since when a player is sight-reading the muscles are required to react instantly to what the eye sees, and the eye to read several beats ahead of what the hands are playing, the more the player practises this specific skill, the better and easier sight-reading will become. If sight-reading is only approached in a handful of lessons leading up to a grade exam, the child is likely to endure an embarrassing experience causing them to echo Gill’s sentiment, “I can’t sight-read.”

Gill’s article ends with the assertion that,

Diversity breeds diversity, and teaching is where this needs to start.

Again this is not quantified in her previous comments, nor does it follow from her arguments. She sites relevant issues with the wider music curriculum, which are legitimate and ongoing. But she goes on to imply that predominantly white children enjoy a private education and that those at state schools can’t be expected to learn to read music. Both of these comments are naïve and in turn elitist, and wrongly put the onus on the class teacher who is working within a strict curriculum and often with limited resources.

To follow on from Benedetti’s remarks, if a child is interested in creative writing, it does not stifle that child’s expression to teach vocabulary and grammar – expression is enhanced when the student has the tools. A budding artist will remain frustrated if he or she is not taught some of the technique of drawing. To look at Picasso’s later work, one might surmise that figurative technique and study of drawing are unnecessary to make art, but his work was informed by an immense, learned skill in draughtsmanship. Failure to teach the basics actually damages progression and ignorance never aids confidence.

[Image: The Harker School]

Ultimately, while it has less day-to-day application than general literacy, learning to read music is no more difficult than learning to read. While it is not necessary for performers of every genre to learn notation, it is enormously helpful and inclusive to be able to converse in a universal musical language that crosses other language barriers. The sticking point for some may be that music reading is best learned during one-one instrumental or singing lessons, and these are not always available or even desired.

By failing to teach notation, children who want to progress as musicians will become locked out. By pandering to the idea that music is something that everyone can naturally do, generations of knowledge and technique become unavailable. By ignoring the international nature of notation, an inclusive, wholly egalitarian means of creative communication is lost.

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.

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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).

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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.

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