Does music education have a future in England? Kevin Rogers Jump to main content

Does music education have a future in England? Kevin Rogers

Music educator and former inspector Kevin Rogers 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.

I think the most obvious response to the question is: 'There must be a future for music education’. The harder bit is how we make that happen. For what it’s worth, I’d like to suggest three key principles: How we define music education to inform teaching, the impact of government policies on schools, and the importance of training and research for teachers.

Firstly, we must agree what a full and effective music education is:

  • Is it opportunities to participate in music making – bands, choirs, workshops and concerts?
  • Is it studying an instrument for a sustained period?
  • Is it musical learning through curriculum provision eg classroom music?

Of course, I’d argue that each of these aspects should be integral parts of music education for all students – but also that we need to be much clearer with policy makers and leaders about just what each of these areas is trying to achieve, and how they relate to each other. The ISM’s resource A broad and balanced music education offers a simple framework for this and clarifies the implications for both teaching and learning in all three of those areas.

To give a simple example of why this is so important: An ISM survey in 2018 found that more primary schools were offering instrumental lessons (which are non-statutory) than were delivering National Curriculum (NC) music in the classroom. What’s more, 20% of those who were teaching the NC said that their plans did not articulate the progression in learning expected for music. So was that teaching just offering musical activities in the classroom or genuine musical learning?

And that leads to the obvious comment that effective learning in music, and the teaching that leads to it, has been consistently articulated in the past. So while there’s never has been a ‘golden age’ for music education that we somehow need to re-discover, previous initiatives have given us a coherent view, especially about effective music teaching in the classroom – this debate is not new! The ISM’s resources on musical understanding provide access to many of the relevant documents, and I think they offer us effective solutions to many of the questions we are facing now.

Secondly, we must ensure Government accepts that recent policies have almost destroyed music education in many schools – even though the policies are often not explicitly about or for music. Many are to do with accountability – we’re all aware about the impact of SATs in primary schools (especially in Year 6), and of English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and Progress 8 in secondary schools.

But the problems are wider than this – the policy, for instance, of greater subject content in the NC and GCSE exams, has created real pressure on timetabling, and music has suffered as a result. Inconsistent COVID guidance has only made matters worse. In the 2020 ISM report The heart of the school is missing, we found that in primary schools alone during the pandemic there was a 66% reduction in classroom music, that in 33% of primary schools there was no face-to-face instrumental learning, and that in 75% of primaries, there was no extra-curricular music at all.

So we must continue the campaigns to remove policies which have created negative impacts, but we also need new, positive policies introduced. In a typical secondary school, music currently contributes just 1% of the school’s Progress 8 measures. What positive incentives could now be provided for a headteacher to improve music education?

Thirdly, we must ensure there is a well-trained workforce. That means proper engagement with music in teacher training and long-term, subject-specific CPD. As the ISM’s Music Education: State of the Nation report recommended in 2019: ‘The Government must ensure that primary teachers have access to high-quality... subject-specific learning opportunities relating to... music... through their training, NQT period and beyond.’

Clearly, that applies to all phases – and to give some idea of what it might mean, I can offer this example: after six or seven years of secondary teaching, I was offered the chance to join a two-year course of music-specific CPD involving three blocks of four-day residential courses each year. I’m not saying we should go back and copy that model, but it gives a sense of the scope and intensity of what is needed.

And a critical part of that CPD was our own, classroom-based research – so I’d make a final, related plea: whatever new ideas emerge, they must be roadtested in schools from a wide range of different contexts for at least a year before they are launched.