MPs discuss music education and the issues facing the sector Jump to main content

MPs discuss music education and the issues facing the sector

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Music Education held its first meeting of 2021 on Tuesday (25 May). The meeting chaired by Lord Black included a panel of esteemed speakers with over 100 attendees including MPs, Lords and sector organisations.

Vital and impassioned discussions took place throughout the afternoon on reversing the damage caused by COVID-19 to the delivery of music education, reflections on the Model Music Curriculum and ways to develop meaningful strategies to decolonise music education. As secretariat for the APPG, the ISM coordinates these meetings, which are crucial for initiating discussion between stakeholders and parliamentarians, and informing decision makers of the needs of the sector.

Ongoing impact of COVID-19

Dr Jodie Underhill, research associate at the ISM, opened the discussion by speaking about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on music provision in schools. Dr Underhill presented the findings of the recent ISM report, ‘The Heart of the School is missing’. The report, published at the end of 2020, revealed the worrying decline of music delivery in school settings since the pandemic, despite a willingness from the dedicated workforce to continue to deliver learning.

Most shocking was the discovery that almost 10% of primary and secondary schools are not teaching class music at all, even though it is a curriculum requirement. A further 68% of primary school and 39% of secondary school teachers stated that music provision is being reduced. Music teachers across the UK have been telling the ISM that more needs to be done to protect the delivery of music education in school settings to reverse the worrying trend we have witnessed over the last year. Dr Underhill concluded by highlighting the very real impact that the pandemic has had on the health and wellbeing of teachers and students alike, and the need to be aware of this issue as class teaching begins to resume in full.

The Model Music Curriculum and decolonising music education

Kevin Rogers, music education specialist, spoke to the recently published Model Music Curriculum within the context of the government’s music education framework and wider policies and initiatives. He noted that the provision of music education in schools has been adversely impacted by several policy issues such as the EBacc accountability measure and the rapid process of academisation in schools in England.

While the publication of the Model Music Curriculum has raised awareness of music education and generated important debate about curriculum design, Mr Rogers noted that music teachers need additional support if they are to deliver a well-resourced and balanced curriculum. He suggested that there is a need to provide a complete curriculum framework through a refreshed National Plan for Music Education and stressed that this should be designed by the wider music education community before publication. A refreshed National Plan for Music Education is something that music teachers in England have been calling for, alongside broad resources for its delivery.

David Ward, managing director of Technology in Music Education (TiME), gave a brief insight into the potential that music technology has in providing tools for the delivery of music education. He noted the merits of music technology for community groups, music hubs and music therapy.

Professor Nate Holder, music education consultant, author, and advocate for decolonising music education, spoke on the importance of critically engaging with the music curriculum and its colonial past. Professor Holder noted that on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, the idea that colonialism is a thing of the past runs counter to the ripple effects that are still felt today, and music education is not excluded from this.

Professor Holder spoke to the dominance of a white, Western European and American knowledge base and history in both the curriculum and outlook within music education. He went on to consider the need to challenge this dominance to address the issue of underrepresentation in both educational resources and music education spaces. Professor Holder emphasised the need to listen to the accounts of marginalised groups who remain unrepresented in large parts of music education. He suggested that to begin the process of decolonising music education, we need to ask questions about what we are teaching, who are we learning about, and how this music was made and created. By critically examining what is being taught, we can move towards a pedagogy that promotes social justice and representation.

Building for the future

Summing up, John Robinson, Head of Compliance and Legal at the ISM, reflected on the themes of the discussion, stressing the need to listen, reflect critically and act to achieve change the sector is calling for. Mr Robinson noted that opportunities to implement meaningful change must not be missed. Going forward, the ISM will continue to engage MPs and Lords in this way, as part of our efforts to promote, prioritise and protect music education in the future.