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Mark Burke is CEO and founder of mynddset

The Importance of Music: Department for Education, England Report

By Mark T. Burke

The Importance of Music, A National Plan for Music Education (England, DfE) is now available.  https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/AllPublications/Page1/DFE-00086-2011

I hope that my fellow music educators in the US will take a bit of time and read the plan.  After a first read, I’ve documented many take-a-ways, key quotes, action items and a few powerful statistics (the plan is not rich in data, which in my opinion makes it a better read, but makes it feel a bit blue sky at times).

One of the key take-a-ways…Partnership working.  In US terms, this report calls for (actually, demands) the collaborative efforts of the community, LEA’s, arts organizations, funding sources, private sector agencies and others to step to the plate and provide music education IN COLLABORATION with public supported schools.  In fact, these collaborative efforts have been given a name, Hubs.  Hubs will be given funds, the majority of the music funding allocated over the next several years, to create programs that compliment existing public schools as well as fill gaps.  To earn and keep that funding, the hubs and the schools must govern each other, hold each other accountable for their role and “play nice.”  The standards they will adhere to will be spelled out and the programs will be mandated for all kids up through their 18th birthday.  Yes…music has been made a priority.  The responsibility will fall to the schools and the communities, all through a collective, partnership.

Great music education is a partnership between classroom teachers, specialist teachers, professional performers and a host of other organizations, including those from the arts, charity and voluntary sectors.

What I often see are music programs struggling through several layers of isolation.  One, the music program at the school is isolated from the overall educational program at the district level.  Two, the teachers are isolated from the administration and three, the teachers are isolated from themselves (music teacher to music teacher).  The worst isolation of all, music teachers who isolate themselves and their programs from local vendors and/or external music education providers by placing those services into categories of inferiority.  We’ve learned through our needs to protect ourselves and our programs to be defensive, so no shame in acting as we’ve been taught is necessary.  But, in the US, we can now learn from plans such as the Importance of Music, that at some point, either we can decide to break free or someone else will tell us to.  In the case of England, they are telling the music education world…you will now play by different rules, our rules and the rules of exemplar, community based programs.

All schools should provide high quality music education as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. Schools will want to review how they do this in light of this National Plan and following proposals from the National Curriculum review early in 2012. Schools, however, will be expected to provide high quality music education.

A plan such as this will be polarizing.  As I read the plan, I was really eager to learn how participation would be balanced.  Is external participation in music activities a threat to school based participation? I have never felt it was, and this plan addresses that, albeit a bit forcefully.

Pupils engaging with these activities would be expected to support their school ensembles and be an inspirational role model for younger pupils.

The plan is full of references to music careers and how music influences the lives of participants.  The question for us in the US is, “are we preparing kids for a host of musical careers?”  Providing services through hubs will offer a greater variety of experiences, which help ensure kids aren’t just funneled into narrow career possibilities.  I don’t say that to degrade our current system.  It is really impossible for a music teacher to be everything to everyone.  However, in the US, my personal experience as a teacher had me witness the negative consequences of letting my parents and administrators know that.  I believe many teachers experience the whiplash of suggesting students take private lessons.  In the US, teachers are supposed to offer all there is to kids, at advanced levels.  Not possible from my view.  I believe this report’s recognition of that struggle and the negative work environment it creates and is a step in the right direction for positive change. 

The report has more to offer.  I look forward to continue this conversation. What are your thoughts?  What are your key take-a-ways? 

PDF of the Plan:  The Importance of Music




One Comment on “The Importance of Music: Department for Education, England Report”

  1. DiscoverLearnPlay November 28, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    I am intrigued but disappointed that possible 'partnerships' do not include 'businesses' (or was that just a hedge bet by mentioning 'private sector agencies'?). I am amazed that academia is continually frightened by corporate interests and I believe it can be a win-win situation. I think we should champion the idea of more entrepreneurial thinking in our profession as one avenue toward leading music education boldly into a new future.http://discoverlearnplay.blogspot.com/2011/11/music-education-business-win-win.html

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