Does music education have a future in England? Jenetta Hurst Jump to main content

Does music education have a future in England? Jenetta Hurst

Jenetta Hurst, Head of Music, delivered this speech during the 'Does music education have a future in England?' panel session at the ISM Trust's Where to next for music education? conference in November 2021.

The most pertinent consideration in schools right now is recovering from the impact of COVID-19. For teachers of music, our priority is to ensure the effective provision of music, whilst teaching in the heart of a pandemic.

As teachers, we’ve always considered the wellbeing of our pupils, and any great headteacher should certainly be considering the wellbeing of their staff. Teacher wellbeing sits against a backdrop of challenges, including stretched budgets, limited availability of rooms, pupil attendance, which has taken a battering during the pandemic and continues to be a huge issue, staffing and cover challenges, heavy timetables and additional cleaning costs.

We need to ensure that music is being made safely in schools, meaning that consideration must be given to sufficient ventilation and the additional cleaning of shared equipment. This has a direct impact upon the delivery of lessons and our classroom routines, such as the time that we allocate to each learning activity.

Children and young people want opportunities to play music, to create and to sing, and are increasingly becoming confident about ensemble music-making and attending clubs. Since returning to school in March 2021, the children have shown appreciation for the opportunity to make music once again, although there does seem to be a lull, coming out of the lockdowns last year, in relation to motivation for independent instrumental practice. When we consider the numbers of children who potentially did not have a space to practice at home, this is of no great surprise.

A positive outcome of the past year is that the children I teach have developed improved listening skills and are able to analyse music on a deeper level. Our students have had more exposure to key language for learning and that ‘knowledge-rich curriculum’ that we endeavour to deliver. However in our school we are also determined to continue to wholeheartedly push practical music-making, with the full support of our senior leadership team.

Music has always been of great importance in the schools that I have chosen to work in and amongst those who have chosen me to work with their community. I have continually reinvented myself in each of my schools to create a vision for music that is relevant to the children of the school that I’m in and that meets the needs of the community. I have no doubt that I will continue to do this as I go forwards.

One of the main challenges we face as teachers of music is keeping the quality of music provision high when resources are stretched and staffing, in many cases, is tight.

My solution here is for schools to continue to encourage live and recorded performance to motivate the children to engage fully with music and to have a goal to work towards. Schools should aim to connect with their local music education hub, with local music providers and community musicians to keep music alive.

We have to acknowledge that in many cases, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) has had a detrimental effect upon the uptake of music at key stage 4, which then in turn has impacted key stage 5 provision. In our school, we offer pathways that best suit the individual learner. Students make option choices of the subjects they enjoy and this motivates them to do well across the curriculum.

Also worth mentioning is the nature of the music GCSEs themselves, and the numbers of students who must feel excluded from continuing on with their musical studies, as they don’t feel it’s for them, or they simply may not be at the required level of performance for exam ‘success’. There are now some good tech options but to what extent are teachers of music prepared and equipped to deliver this?

Teachers really warmed to opportunities to network during the first year of the pandemic and we need to keep this momentum up. Some great places this already happens are Listen, Imagine, Compose, a collaboration between Birmingham City University, Sound and Music and The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and the recently launched Every Copy Counts campaign for PMLL (Printed Music License Ltd), where music teachers can engage in the Teacher Exchange, to share successes and areas that we need support. Music education hubs have a role to play here too, in connecting music teachers and arts practitioners.

Jenetta Hurst is a music specialist with 16 years’ experience working in secondary schools in a range of settings. Jenetta is currently Head of Department for Music in a large secondary school in East London, and is a former senior leader. Jenetta’s interests are staff development, CPDL, ITT and teacher induction and she graduated from UCL Institute of Education with the MA Leadership in 2019. Jenetta is also an Honorary Member of the Birmingham Conservatoire, sits on the Strategic Board of Lambeth Sounds Music Education Hub and is delighted to be leading the Teacher Studio for PMLL’s Every Copy Counts campaign, as an associate of Abigail D’Amore Associates.