Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Even the chair of the Commons education select committee thinks it’s inadvisable – and he’s supposed to be running an official inquiry into it, writes Christopher Walters

You have to admire Michael Gove’s staying power. By now, the EBacc should have been just another coalition U-turn: it’s even more unpopular than the forestry sell-off. But despite a consistent flow of critical comments, the government insists on ploughing on with what everyone can see is a disastrous idea.

Let’s get one thing straight: the EBacc debate is separate from the argument about whether music should remain on the national curriculum. The music education sector is understandably heated about both issues, but it’s important that they don’t get mixed up. The national curriculum debate is worth having; the Ebacc debate is not.

Unfortunately, music education has not shown itself in the best light during the curriculum debate. It has made it a taboo to express the view that taking music off the curriculum might not be a bad idea. While on balance it probably makes sense for music to remain a curriculum subject, some of the arguments for having music outside the compulsory curriculum are well considered and worth hearing. But these have been drowned out by the louder voices of the curriculum camp, many of whom seem to think that everyone should feel as they do. This has almost had the effect of vilifying practitioners who dare to see things differently.

But whatever the rights and wrongs of the way the curriculum debate has been conducted, at least it is a debate. The same cannot be said of the EBacc row: at its centre is a policy with contradictions at every level and no logical rationale.

The EBacc was proposed as an assessment measure for schools, an equivalent to the current league tables. It will be awarded to pupils who achieve a C and above in six GCSEs – not including any arts, ICT or vocational subjects – and a school’s performance will be judged on the number of EBacc passes. But during a recent hearing of the Commons education select committee, it was denied that the EBacc will become the dominant accountability measure. Instead, it was claimed that it will be just one of a range of measures by which parents can judge schools. In which case, why instigate it at all? League tables already exist, and information on schools’ performance in individual subjects is already available.

If it is to be merely the repackaging of existing information, the EBacc will offer no discernable benefits. But this does not mean that it will do no damage, as music educators, headteachers and many others have been quick to point out. The Department for Education has reminded critics that other GCSEs – which could include music – are likely to be taken alongside the EBacc subjects, but surely it is the case that schools will direct more resources towards the EBacc subjects as they strive to improve their ranking – at the cost of the non-EBacc subjects.

Graham Stuart, chair of the Commons education select committee, appears to agree. Despite being responsible for an inquiry into the EBacc which has yet to report, Stuart has freely expressed the opinion that music and other arts subjects will suffer as a result of the EBacc. Perhaps even more worryingly, he has commented that lower-achieving students may find their provision ‘dismantled’ – not exactly a ringing endorsement for the EBacc’s likely knock-on effects.

All of which begs the question of just when the coalition will back-track on the EBacc. Yes, it will mean yet more embarrassment for Michael Gove, just as the Building Schools for the Future U-turn was beginning to be forgotten, but this cannot be helped.

We must all hope that the EBacc will soon be consigned to the past, so that music educators can concentrate on throwing their weight into a fair and transparent debate on music’s place – or otherwise – on the national curriculum. Unlike the EBacc, this is an issue we must debate rigorously if we are to produce an outcome that will best serve our young people. Which, of course, is what really matters.


A week on from the publication of the Henley Review, MT editor Christopher Walters takes a critical look at the review’s recommendations and the responses of the music education sector

The saying goes that a week is a long time in politics, and it certainly applies to the week since the Henley Review was published. Just one week ago we had no idea whether or not the government would retain the £82.5m of ringfenced music funding. Now we know that it will (for 2011-12 at least), in line with the review’s recommendations. And while the government has deferred any decision regarding the place of music on the national curriculum, due to its ongoing curriculum review, it was reassuring to see Henley write so unequivocally about the importance of curricular music. His recommendation that music become an English Baccalaureate subject at the next review was a further positive.

But did so much good news cloud our judgement of the review as a whole? The review contains a total of 36 recommendations. Did the speediest commentators really have time to assess all 36, not to mention what wasn’t included, before tweeting and blogging their verdicts? For me, it’s telling that the music education sector’s earliest responses were broadly positive, and that only later did more critical voices emerge.

The Federation of Music Services was one of the first groups to comment, calling the review ‘a landmark report’. This must have been heavily influenced by the news that the ringfenced funding on which music services depend will remain for another year, because it could be argued that a number of the review’s other recommendations are rather light on details. For instance, what form will the National Plan for Music actually take? And how will Music Education Hubs function in reality? These may be sensible, practical ideas, but while details are still being finalised the music education sector would do well to keep a close eye on the situation. (Incidentally, it took a few days for anyone to point out that the £82.5m is in fact a real-terms cut – well spotted, NUT.)

Youth Music’s response came a few days later. This response was eagerly awaited, as the review contained a number of gentle criticisms of the way Youth Music operates, recommending it be prevented from spending its lottery funding on public affairs or lobbying. Youth Music’s response addressed these points as expected, but other comments stood out more, including that Henley had painted a ‘somewhat narrow picture of music education’, and that it ‘would have liked to have seen a broader representation of music education, encompassing the wide range of genres and styles of music-making which the sector is well placed to support.’ Similar criticisms were posted on a Musical Futures blog soon after (the review failed to mention Musical Futures or any form of ‘informal learning’).

Perhaps it was only to be expected from the chief executive of Classic FM, but Henley’s view of musical achievement seems much more likely to lead to a place in the National Youth Orchestra than a headline gig at the Brixton Academy. But music teachers know that this is precisely the kind of achievement that tends to happen outside curricular music lessons – so, having stated that he believes in it, just what is Henley’s vision for curricular music?

A week may be a long time in politics, but it’s a short time to digest and form an opinion on a complex document that looks likely to play a major role in shaping this country’s music education for years to come. Yes it’s a serious and thorough piece of work, for which Henley should be acknowledged, but music education professionals have both a right and a duty to analyse it critically and independently – whether or not they find themselves agreeing with any consensus. It’s what Darren Henley would want.

Harassed by Henley? Former MT editor Clare Stevens charts the progress of the Henley Review from its conception to the recent turmoil caused by its delay

Pity poor Richard Hallam. Charged by the previous government with ensuring that children in English state schools had access to their fair share of music-making, he has retained his brief under the coalition. Now he’s the man everyone’s been badgering about the delayed publication of the Henley Review, because he’s the one we all know. It’s just one of the anomalies of the situation music education finds itself in that Dick’s role as national music participation director actually falls within the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, whereas the review was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE). Whatever – he now finds himself the link between those responsible for producing the Henley Review of  Funding and Delivery of Music Education, to give it its official title, and service providers desperate to know whether they will have a future beyond the end of March.

The review was announced in September, which was still early days for the coalition. Secretary of state Michael Gove insisted that he wanted to be kept abreast of its findings as they emerged, and expected a full report before Christmas, which could be published by the end of December in order to give local authorities time to make plans for music provision in the next financial year. Since he issued his instructions Gove has been discovering that running an education department is rather more difficult than he probably imagined; facing opposition to his cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme and lukewarm enthusiasm for his beloved academies, and forced to do a U-turn on the funding of school sports, he may not have lost too much sleep about the late arrival of the report on music education. But as the clock ticked on through January, music services and all those other organisations and individuals whose economic survival depends on the government’s commitment to supporting music provision in schools  became increasingly anxious to know what Henley would recommend, and whether the DfE would accept his proposals. Yet again Dick Hallam has had to urge providers to hang on in there and hold off on decision-making if at all possible, explaining  in an email after a meeting at the DfE  on Monday 31 January that he feels sure there will be some sort of announcement next week.

Having read some of the submissions to the review which have been posted on the Teaching Music website, I’m not surprised it took Darren Henley longer than expected to wade through all of these and many more, conduct a range of face-to-face interviews and produce his report. Individual practitioners, music services and representatives of the myriad other agencies involved in music education responded at great length and with varying degrees of clarity and objectivity to the handful of questions in Henley’s original call for evidence. Digesting and drawing conclusions from such a vast amount of material would have been an onerous task for someone who had no other responsibilities, let alone for a man who has an extremely demanding day job running a radio station, not to mention, as Henley’s Twitter followers will know, an equally demanding allegiance to Gillingham Town FC. As Dick Hallam is keen to remind us, the Classic FM boss has undertaken the review voluntarily and is conducting it in his ‘spare’ time.

In the meantime, the blogosphere has been buzzing with speculations about what might be in his report, and in the past couple of weeks a campaign in defence of music provision has gathered momentum, fuelled by interventions by the likes of Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and chair of the Music Education Council, whose credo is that ring-fenced government funding must remain in place until 2015 to support a wide range of inclusive, high-quality music learning activities, including opportunities for instrumental and singing tuition for every child, and with music guaranteed its place in the national curriculum. One of the most articulate and public appeals came from vocal coach and Pop Idol judge David Grant, who joined Christine Bleakley on the Daybreak sofa last week to make the case for music in schools, in response to an emotive film featuring the award-winning silver band of Egglescliffe School, which is entirely dependent for its survival on Tees Valley Music Service. (See the Daybreak interview here:

At a time of general economic crisis, even some of the most dedicated advocates of music education admit that it can be difficult to make the case for continued funding. Across the UK, local authorities are facing cuts that threaten Sure Start centres, welfare-to-work schemes, care for the elderly or disabled and essential services such as street lighting and cleaning and refuse collection. Against that background, it’s no wonder that some feel instrumental and singing lessons are a luxury they cannot afford, despite their proven social value. Some music service leaders are prepared to accept that and are already investigating alternative strategies. But they need to know where they stand. No one wants to begin dismantling staffing arrangements that are based on local authority support only to find that the Henley Review recommends keeping them in place. The real problem is that funding settlements are based on the financial year, not the academic year, which is why an initiative such as Sing Up, launched as part of the Labour government’s commitment to music education in the 2008-11 allocation, is scheduled to end in a few weeks’ time, despite its acknowledged success – and why some councils have already announced cost-cutting redundancies or changes to freelance contracts for their peripatetic teachers.

There are some good news stories. In Sheffield, for example, a meeting called by music service head Mary Heyler to explain the financial situation to parents resulted in enthusiastic support and offers of practical help for whatever solutions she and her colleagues felt would be appropriate. Although deeply frustrated by the absence to date of the transition strategy promised by the government to bridge the gap between the end of the current funding package and a new system based on Henley’s recommendations, she is confident that the city council will do everything in its power to support music education in Sheffield and is optimistic about the future.

But most music services are still playing the waiting game. Let’s hope it will soon be over.