Is there a future for music education?

Is there a future for music education?

Marie Bessant, OCR's Music and Performing Arts subject advisor, was invited to participate in a panel discussion at a Westminster Education Forum Keynote Seminar 'The future for music education in England - maintaining standards, music hubs and career pathways.' Marie spoke as follows (check against delivery) on 'The Provision, uptake and teaching at primary and secondary level'. 

Marie Bessant profile photoTo begin with, OCR believes that schools should offer a broad curriculum with an emphasis on key subjects including maths and English, but that beyond this core, students should be encouraged to choose from a range of subjects, including vocational ones, which reflect their own interests and aspirations. Furthermore, no subject or qualification type is better than another - choices must be well informed and tailored to individual needs and interests.

I can honestly say that OCR and Cambridge Assessment are about the whole student experience. And this makes me proud to work for and represent OCR. We want students to achieve. We want them to enjoy the process of achieving! We don’t advocate an emphasis on exam success to the point of it being detrimental to health and well-being. We recognise there is more to life than passing exams, and curriculum should develop skills and character attributes needed for future citizenship.

This leads into the issue about increasing pupil uptake. Regarding the OCR Music qualifications, the emphasis when designing them was to find as many ways as possible to make them accessible, relevant, practical, creative, and to encourage an immersion in music making. When I'm out and about training teachers or at networks, I always emphasise that musical teaching and learning must come first. Make it loud. Make it engaging. Make it broaden horizons. Students need to be performing, creating, DOING the music first - and considering their assessment afterwards. Our syllabuses reflect this. We know music teachers are professional, creative and enthusiastic and that this professional judgment is losing its trust.

As a former Head of Music I fully understand that we need to be reporting progress, setting and reaching targets, but this can happen alongside musical, creative and worthwhile teaching and learning.

An engaged and enthusiastic student who has had exposure to good music lessons (and by good, I mean many things, there is no single correct way!) at Key Stage 3 will be choosing music for the right reasons at Key Stage 4. If we’re immersing them in the music, if they’re really getting the opportunity to be involved musically, they’re going to accidentally be picking up the things that we have to assess them on as an exam board.

The big 'ifs' come into it here though...

IF they have had sufficient musical exposure in the classroom

IF the time tabling and planning for ks4 means they can chose their passions and interests outside the EBacc...

And this brings me to my third point: Stakeholders. Senior teachers, academy trust leaders, parents, and the pupils themselves. We all know that the perception of the arts can so often mean pupils are discouraged from choosing music. Or at the very least pushed towards other subjects instead. Or they have instrument lessons outside of school which they achieve well in so "what is the point" of a GCSE or a level in it? These are the perceptions we have always had to fight against, EBacc or not. And there are ways to open the eyes of the stakeholders!

My message is the same as it always is: Communication and Creativity.

We have many ways to pull together and steps we can take to improve uptake and provision. One way is teacher support. Teachers need to be encouraged to communicate - with each other, with the organisations out there that offer support.

Music services and hubs are excellent at this - many teachers still see them as the organisation that sends the peripatetic instrument teachers, but the CPD events they organise and networks I have been to are fab for sharing practice.

As an exam board, we offer what we call one to many support sessions - facilitating getting a group of teachers together for exactly this, supported by the subject specialist for any specific training needs. I quite often call upon the local music hubs to help get these organised.

At OCR, we are always working with, and seeking out other organisations to collaborate with, in our support for teachers, and giving teachers a platform to get together and communicate, and help each other, and generally be a loud and noisy community so that, hopefully, these stakeholders will hear what we’re saying.

Teach music musically and the students will achieve! This means something different for every school, every cohort. The workforce is losing is trust in itself and this is something communication and networking can help to address.

Marie Bessant
Subject Advisor, Music and Performing Arts, OCR

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