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Government’s music education review – has the time come?

I greeted the announcement of the Westminster goverment’s music education review* with excitement initially, and then concern. But as Mark Jaffrey so succinctly put it on Twitter last night, there’s much to win and much to lose – and it’s the job of everyone who cares about music education to make sure Darren Henley does the right thing.


I worked for Sound Sense for many years – from 1997 to 2002 – and it was a fantastic time for community music, and, I’d say, for music education as a whole. We seemed to be inching closer and closer to a situation that we (at least in the community music sector) all dreamed of, where people from music services, youth services, arts development and children’s services; community musicians, peripatetic music teachers, and music animateurs were working together to create the best, the most fair and equal, and the most relevant experiences, opportunities, and progression routes for young people in music.

Soon after, there was the Music Manifesto campaign to improve music education for young people in England … followed later by developments on the ground like Wider Opportunities, Musical Futures, and more recently In Harmony and Sing Up … some fantastic developments by individual music services and community music organisations … and some interesting technological advances ranging from Charanga to numu. All the while Sound Sense, Youth Music, National Federation for Music Services were continuing to advocate, lobby, encourage, support and develop the workforce.

So far so fantastic. But the two words that are still being bandied around, seven years after we felt we were so close (see articles below) are ‘patchy‘ (so many areas in the UK have experienced none of these developments and opportunities) and ‘missing out‘ (thousands of children and young people who are turned off music by what’s on offer and more importantly, what isn’t, and hundreds of musicians/music leaders, without access to suitable development opportunities).

* Wales is a prime example, although out of the remit of this particular review (which many people may not realise or even consider) and most of the initiatives I’ve mentioned – but that’s for another post (Wales has had its own music education review which seems to have become buried in an Assembly Member’s in-tray for the time-being).

So when I heard about the review, my first thought was ‘the time has finally come’ – perhaps now someone will bring all this work together to make sure we never have to use those words again to describe music education.


Then I re-read the press release and the consultation document, saw the timescales, and read Jonathan Savage’s ‘review of the review‘, and I started to become concerned.

It’s not that I share Jonathan’s fears – although I agree with some of his points (perhaps Michael Gove just needed a good music comms pracitioner to help him with some of his wording ;-)). But it made me realise just how many ‘vested interests’ there are, understandably – we all fear change to a certain extent, and even more so when we’re seeing bad news all around us about jobs and funding.

I also began to think about how little time they’ve given people to provide responses (5 weeks!?) – let alone really clear, persuasive and impactful ones.


So I really hope that somehow, people will find the time to respond to the review, and won’t feel that it’s a fait accompli, or that their voice doesn’t count – and that includes parents (I’ll also be really interested to see also how Darren Henley will consult with young people, the most important group in all this but not very present in the information put out about how you can give your views).

The short space of time doesn’t allow for much sharing and debating of responses, but I’d love to see some of the major organisations sharing their responses (perhaps even early drafts) somewhere online – which may help towards strengthening some areas of common ground in people’s responses. Please comment here to share links to any publicly available responses.

I also hope that in responding, we’ll all be able to leave behind our own fears and prejudices and think really broadly, creatively, in the spirit of collaboration and with young people’s interests at heart. And finally, as John Witchell has said in his editorial on the ‘Teaching Music’ website, that people are able to tell the stories of what they: both what they do really well, and what they could do even better.

You can read a couple of the articles I wrote for Sound Sense about community music and music education here:
Making the connections

The concept is almost frustratingly simple. Help community musicians and people who work in youth services and music services to understand and share in each other’s training and you’ll create better informed and more capable music leaders…
Common purpose

Community music grew up as the rebellious sister of formal music education. Now both sides are growing up – negotiating territories and learning to value their differences…

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