Written by Ian Axtell, Subject Leader for Music Education, Secondary Partnership Coordinator.
The emphasis on Music Education for All is crucial. Music is powerful, unique and a fundamental right for everyone.
The provision of music education for everyone throughout their compulsory education, promoting “participation, inclusion and diversity” through “democratic engagement and social justice” (Spruce in Harrison & Mullen, 2013: 23), is a shared passion but the politicised discourse surrounding music education has created confusion and uncertainty. The result is a model of “Progression in Music Education” shared in the NPME (DfE/DCMS, 2011: 18) which is more about achieving excellence for some in the context of instrumental skills rather than providing a rich and inclusive music education for all.
English education had a very strong vision of music/arts for all developed by The Arts in Schools Project in the 1980’s. This vision was reflected in the “2000-2010 renaissance in music education” (Spruce in Harrison & Mullen, 2013: 26). This renaissance focused on the child as an agent in their own musical learning, not devoid of knowledge but active and engaged in music making in terms of performing, composing, listening and evaluating/appraising.
There needs to be a clear articulation of music for all IN ADDITION TO progression routes for those who are particularly talented. There also needs to be a recognition that “excellence” can be achieved in a rich variety of ways, not just through traditional instrumental routes. The model shared by Ben Sandbrook (2012: 4) provides an appropriate vision of excellence that includes:
“an array of musical progression journeys”.
However, can everyone achieve the same level of excellence, even if their routes and end points are different? A utopian glass ceiling perhaps? I would argue for an open ended vision of music for all. Not predetermined and limited by closed notions of what “should be” but which provides the potential for what “might be”.
Current politicised education discourse focuses on the acquisition of knowledge. The argument is to enable social mobility but at what price? There is a real danger that thinking is closed. The teacher simply has to transmit a hegemony of predetermined, formalised knowledge. Learner agency and engagement are neglected or even ignored. In music education this has resulted in an emphasis on the acquisition of instrumental skills and the formalised theoretical knowledge associated with reading music. This knowledge is important, particularly when developing excellence in particular areas of music, but a focus on acquiring this knowledge does not recognise that music is also an open, living art form with the potential to build on what has gone before, look forwards and challenge our perceptions.
Music education makes us think. It has the potential to be transformative.
I would like to see the music education sector value its rich diversity and reclaim the lost ground in terms of music education for all in the context of compulsory education. Funding to support instrumental teaching is crucial but not the beginning or the end of an inclusive and diverse music education for everyone.
DfE/DCMS, (2011), the Importance of Music: A National Plan for Music Education. London: Crown Copyright.
Harrison, C. & Mullen, P. (2013) (eds.) Reaching Out: music education with ‘hard to reach’ children and young people. Salisbury: Music Mark/Addison Design Ltd.
Sandbrook, B. (2012): http://www.bensandbrook.com/sites/default/files/A%20skeleton%20strategy%20for%20progression%20v4.pdf Accessed: 18/08/2015.