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MU calls for government music education review following BBC schools survey

By | Published on Wednesday 31 January 2018

Musicians' Union

The Musicians’ Union has called on the government to review its education policies. This follows a BBC survey confirming that the vast majority of schools in England are cutting back lesson time, staff and/or facilities in at least one creative arts subject.

The new survey seems to confirm a trend that many have blamed on the slightly confusingly named English Baccalaureate (or EBacc) system, which is the way the academic performance of English schools has been assessed since 2010. Creative subjects like music are excluded from the EBacc, meaning schools are less likely to prioritise them, because achievements in those subject areas don’t have a positive impact on their perceived success.

In the BBC survey of 1200 primary and secondary schools, 90% said there had been cutbacks of some kind in at least one creative arts subject. 40% said they were spending less money on facilities for these subjects, while 30% had reduced the hours in the timetable dedicated to the creative arts. Most blamed a combination of EBacc criteria and funding cuts for these changes.

Responding to the survey, Amanda Spielman of schools regulator Ofsted defended the shift to prioritising more traditional academic subjects, especially at a GCSE level. Although she added that schools were still expected to offer students a broad education. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department For Education insisted that the government was investing in music and other creative art subjects in schools.

However, the General Secretary of the MU, Horace Trubridge, reckons that the new BBC survey is further proof that the government needs to review its education policies. He said yesterday: “This new research from the BBC has confirmed the MU’s findings that far too many young people are unable to access music as part of a broad and balanced school curriculum”.

He went on: “Government policy, in particular the EBacc, is the driving force behind this situation, with the result that increasing numbers of children can have music lessons only if their parents are able to pay for them. This will do nothing to increase diversity and opportunity in the music industry. The MU therefore calls on the government to review its education policy in order to ensure that music is a skill that everyone gets a chance to learn”.

The Union’s National Organiser For Education & Training, Diane Widdison, noted that the organisation’s own education report had stated that the EBacc “has had an extremely damaging effect on school music departments”.

She added: “This is because the EBacc forces schools to prioritise entering pupils for seven GCSEs in so-called core subjects, not including the arts. The result of this has been that school music departments are rapidly closing down, our members are losing their jobs as music teachers, and GCSE entries are plummeting”.

She concluded: “We are therefore pleased to see this new piece of research from the BBC which strongly supports our own observations. We call on the government to review the EBacc to ensure that music and the arts don’t disappear from the curriculum completely”.

Given how much certain government departments love to bang on about how important the UK music industry has become, how it repeatedly punches above its weight globally, and how British music will be a calling card around the world post-Brexit, it’s sort of ironic that education ministers continue to downgrade music in English schools.

Though that might be partly because there is often a disconnect between music education and the music industry, and the music curriculum too often lacks any focus at all on pursuing a career in music, building a business around your creativity, and understanding the basics of intellectual property.

This means that music lessons are more about making music as a pastime than pursuing it as a career. Of course, making music for the fun is – in itself – an important and brilliant thing, but a closer alignment with the business of music would make a stronger economic case for the state investing in music education in schools and beyond.

These are all things that will be discussed, dissected and debated at the CMU Insights Education Conference as part of The Great Escape in Brighton this May, with the education-focused programme taking place on Wednesday 16 May. More information here.