Focus on DERA (Digital Education Research Archive): Music Education.

The IOE Library has always collected documents published by government and other relevant bodies in the areas of education, training, children, and families. Today, the Official Publications Collection here at the Library is the largest of our special collections and is highly valued by our users.

In some ways official publications are no different to other areas of publishing and we have witnessed a rapid transition towards a “digital by default” approach. You may already have read our recent blog post about DERA – our online repository founded on the traditions of our printed Official Publications Collection, dedicated to preserving the digital output of government in relation to education – where we highlighted content on the subject of school meals. This month, we are highlighting DERA resources focused on music education.

Music has a power of forming the character and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young (Aristotle): this is an idea which is still relevant today as evidenced by Susan Hallam’s 2015 book The power of music: a research synthesis of the impact of actively making music on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people.

Documents about music education in England that can be found in DERA include The Importance of Music. A National Plan for Music Education (2011) (NPME). The NPME was produced by The Department for Education and The Department for Culture, Media and Sport in response to the findings of Darren Henley’s Review of Music Education in England (2011) which is also in DERA.

Henley had found that

“…..many children in England benefit from excellent music teaching from excellent teachers. In some parts of the country, the opportunities for children to take part in musical activities are immense. However, some children in England do not currently receive an adequate, let alone good, Music Education.”

In the NPME the government states that

Our vision is to enable children from all backgrounds and every part of England to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; to make music with others; to learn to sing; and to have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence.

The NPME covers what The Importance of Music means to schools; local authorities/local authority music services; national, regional and local music/arts organisations; private music teachers and other music educators. It acknowledges that schools, due to staffing and financial restrictions, could not be expected to cover all aspects of music education themselves. One of the major innovations implemented as a result of the NMEP was the formation of music education hubs from September 2012. The 120 Music Hubs would

‘….augment and support music teaching in schools so that more children experience a combination of classroom teaching, instrumental and vocal tuition and input from professional musicians’

The hubs would be able to draw on the expertise of a range of education and arts partners, such as local orchestras and choirs and charities.

The government was keen to encourage local innovation but did set core roles for the hubs to ensure national consistency and equality of purpose. The core roles included ensuring that every child aged 5-18 had a chance to learn a musical instrument (other than voice) through whole –class ensemble teaching; providing opportunities to play in ensembles and perform, ensure that clear progression routes were available and affordable for all and to develop a singing strategy .

The NPME initially allocated funding to cover the period April 2012 TO 31 March 2015. It was planned that this would help to remove the historical imbalance in funding between areas. The music education hubs continue to receive government funding and an annual review of their work is provided by Arts Council England.

The government’s continuing support for good quality and inclusive music education is emphasised in another document in DERA. It is a 2016 speech given by the then Schools Minister Nick Gibb entitled. Why good –quality music education matters. One innovation that is highlighted is the Classical 100 music app which was launched by the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal School of Music) in collaboration with Classic FM and Decca. This digital resource is freely available to all primary schools and includes recordings of 100 classic pieces of music composed over 10 centuries. The recordings are supplemented by digital teaching resources. Nick Gibb is also keen to refute the accusation that the status of arts in schools has been damaged by the government’s focus on the uptake of EBaac (English Baccalaureate) subjects at GCSE.

Recent reports The State of Play A Review of Music Education in England (2019) and Music Education: State of the Nation (2019) reflect the experiences and thoughts of members from organisations as diverse as the Musicians’ Union (MU) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education. These include the instrument teachers, classroom teachers and music managers responsible for the delivery of the NPME in England. They believe strongly in the positive impact of music education on a child’s development both in terms of academic achievement and general well-being. As with many aspects of education recently there are worries about the availability of funds.

The professionals’ concerns are echoed in popular news articles such as the BBC’s Music lessons being stripped out of schools in England by Mark Savage (2019) and The Economist’s Total eclipse of the arts (2018). Also, earlier this year the BPI (British Performing Industry) published the results of a survey of 2,200 music teachers which reveal a growing disparity between the provision of music in state and independent schools. The BPI welcomed the DfE’s (Department for Education) proposed Model Music Curriculum

as an important step in addressing this inequality, but stresses the need for the Government to get its delivery right by ensuring that non-music teachers in primary schools are just as equipped to teach it successfully as those teachers with a greater depth of knowledge.

However in October 2019 the DfE announced that it had delayed publishing the Model Music Curriculum because of concerns over ‘quality’. When the DfE’s Model Music Curriculum is finally published it will be added to the other documents on music education that can be found in DERA.

It is to be hoped that improvements are made to the provision of music education in England because it is recognised that the music industry in the UK adds significantly to the economy and to the prestige of the country worldwide. Musicians are needed to form the orchestras that accompany opera, ballet or musical theatre, or play the organ in churches, or sing in choirs or make and perform popular music. Recent successful musicians such as Adele and Sheku Kanneh-Mason began their musical education whilst at school and it’s important that future generations are given the same opportunities to flourish in music.


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