Music as Education

Presentation that I gave on Tuesday 20th March 2018, at:


Westminster Education Forum: Assessing the Impact of A-level Reform – issues for schools and colleges, the future position of the AS level and preparation for HE and work.


In 2014, Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford said:

An education bereft of either music or maths would rob children of a lifetime of learning, cultural and creative opportunities.

 Since this time, an education bereft of music has begun to seem less remote that it once did. The educational landscape in the UK remains a challenging one for arts education and the position of musical learning at Key Stage 5 is no less precarious than in Early Years learning, for instance.

For example, in an article entitled Total Eclipse of the Arts, published at the beginning of March, the Economist drew attention to the declining state of play that Music is occupying in our schools and colleges. It stated:

the share who . . . sat the music GCSE rose every year this century until 2007, since when it has fallen in most years, from 8% in 2008 to 5.5% last year. Meanwhile, fewer pupils are studying music at A-level.

Music could increasingly become the preserve of the rich.

 Support for music education for all has been challenged by Wrexham Council in Wales where a public consultation recently took place in a bid to deliver 13 million pounds of savings across all of its services. This included almost entirely ceasing to fund the music service. Wrexham Council approved its budget proposals on 21st February. In response, Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians stated:

Without music services augmenting and supporting what should be going on in every school, music education will become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay. This is unacceptable.

Music therefore continues to be under pressure in the curriculum and this includes the post-16 sector, where young people taking A-level Music courses has witnessed a dramatic decrease. A-level Music candidates have declined by 37% since 2010. Although A-level reform and the decoupling of AS level from A2 has undoubtedly had a major impact on the AS Music qualification, the figures here are even more stark with a decline from around ten thousand candidates in 2010 to around three and a half thousand in 2017 – a fall of 67%. (See DfE statistics)

There no doubt multiple causes for the examples I have cited, and I have no wish to oversimplify complex issues, but it would seem that there has been little shift from when Keith Swanwick, retired Professor of the Institute of Education wrote to the then Secretary of State for Education, Kenneth Clarke in 1992 and stated that:

Music is a subject already restricted to a small corner of time in the school curriculum.

Despite, and perhaps because of, this educational climate and the pressures which exist in Key Stage 5 study, Music should remain an essential part of mainstream classroom education in the UK. Music from Early Years through to Key Stage 5 is an entitlement as a pathway for young people and is of critical significance in our diverse society. Music education should not be reduced to an extra-curricular annex, in which those who chose, opt in. Rather, Music should be conceptually understood to occur as education and not only in education. Music is about far more than a transfer of summative knowledge statements.

The musical model is far more complex, far more significant and far more enriching. Music in the curriculum does not need to be justified by secondary benefits. Music as education speaks for itself and its voice is a distinctive and transformative one.

Music as education model

Our curriculum field is too narrow. The curriculum is more than a set of validated subjects, more than a way of measuring standards and more than an approach to institutional timetabling. Curriculum is an interactive and dynamic process as well as a conceptual structure. John Finney, retired Senior Lecturer from the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge has offered the following definition:

The music curriculum can be defined as a dynamic set of musical processes and practices framed within historical and contemporary cultural discourse and dialogue that comprise the material musical encounters of pupils and teachers.

 I can think of no better preparation for higher education and work than opening up the pathway for young people to think and create, and Music as education is at the heart of such a dynamic.




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