Business News Education & Events The Great Escape 2018

The Education Conference: In The Classroom

By | Published on Thursday 24 May 2018

Book stack with headphones

Over the coming weeks, we will be summarising all the key conversations that occurred during the CMU Insights conferences at The Great Escape this year. We are currently focusing on The Education Conference and today music teaching in schools.

When it comes to music in schools, training for teachers, access to instruments and technology, and the actual definition of music itself are all key, according to the first panel at the CMU Insights Education Conference at The Great Escape. And all three of those factors are interlinked.

Discussing music education in schools were Dan Francis of exam board RSL, Robert Wells from Urban Development and Vanessa Wilson from Value Added Kids, all of whom have a wide-range of experience in music and music education, including in the classroom.

“There is a national curriculum for music”, Francis said when asked about what is required of schools – and specifically primary schools – when it comes to teaching music. “It is about two paragraphs long and it covers everything. And you can pretty much sum it up in one sentence: it says children should learn how to appreciate and engage in music”.

Quite what that means in real terms, Francis added, depends on “the attitude of the school leadership team, what the head teacher goes for, and the school’s relationship with external organisations”. The latter is particularly important in primary schools because, Francis noted, “we know that training in music for primary teachers is essentially non-existent, so you are relying on outsourcing”.

“There are increasing number of schools who are bring in specialists”, Wells said. “And it is really key that those people have the right training”. Which means ensuring that people have both teaching and musical skills, of course. But also that, across the different specialists a school employs, that there is an appreciation for and knowledge of the many different kinds of music making.

That variety is important, Wilson concurred. “Primary school kids are hungry and bored. They are running radio stations, they are using Garageband, they are editing, they are using Macs”, all of which can be capitalised on when teaching music in schools. Though doing so brings up the issue of access to the right instruments and technology, and sometimes simply spaces where children can use that kit. Which is something Wilson says often requires her to beg and borrow off her contacts in the music industry.

Ensuring diversity in music teaching requires teachers to teach beyond their own passions and experience, and possibly to look for external specialists who can bring in another perspective. “It often feels like there is a bias towards classical music”, Francis said of the music taught in schools. “I think that’s partly because it’s seen as the most difficult one, so therefore there needs to be more focus on it, and it’s the one children aren’t already engaged with, so people think we need to try and enthuse them in it”.

But the curriculum isn’t forcing that bias, Francis added, so it’s about encouraging teachers to bring more variety into the classroom. And that’s true whatever the teacher’s own background. “It’s just as bad if you’re a producer and your trying to get everyone to make only dance music as it is if you’re from a classical background and you want everyone to be a virtuoso violinist”, Francis reckoned.

“Creating music is creating music”, Wilson went on. “It’s sad that there is sometimes a ‘them and us’ culture between the different genres. We need a model that embraces music in all its forms”.

Obviously, as a child works their way through the education system from primary to secondary, music teaching will become slightly more formal, especially if they choose to study the subject at GCSE or A-Level. At that point, Francis explained, “the Department of Education decides what should be in the courses and then OfQual oversees them. And then the exam boards put in as much flexibility as they can”.

However, all three panellists were keen to stress that while the more formal qualifications – GCSEs, A-Levels and the exam routes also available in specific instruments – remain important for some students, they are just part of the bigger picture.

For those interested in pursuing a career in music other more vocational courses and programmes may be of more value. And there is also a less measurable objective. As Wells put it: “The whole point of what we should be doing is to give people the skills they need to comment and create upon what it means to be a human being and a person in our culture at our time”.