Dr Jonathan Savage, MD of UCan Play, was delighted to speak alongside Professor Pam Burnard, University of Cambridge at this important event organised by Music HE at the Royal Northern College of Music November 12th 2019.

Jonathan surveyed the state of music education in schools today. He asked the audience to consider the squeeze on the music curriculum in primary and secondary schools, primarily due to the weakening of the National Curriculum in England. Core issues around the lack of subject expertise in primary schools were discussed, as were the demise in numbers of students studying GCSE and A level music in secondary schools. Jonathan emphasised the importance of the National Curriculum for Music as an important entitlement for all children in state education. Head-teachers should be held to account for their decisions, particularly when this results in children not receiving their entitlement to a comprehensive and systematic music education through Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. In respect of school funding, Jonathan discussed the growing inequalities in the funding of music education in schools. This has become increasing apparent in the schools that UCan Play deals with on a daily basis. 

In the initial teacher education sector, there have been huge decreases in the number of students studying to become music teachers. There are also serious issues in retaining teachers and the average length of a teaching career is shortening rapidly. The number of hours associated with the study of music in a typical primary postgraduate teacher training programme is decreasing (currently around 5 hours at MMU), and generic models of training are being imposed within secondary postgraduate courses with the subject specialist element decreasing (MMU’s course now includes generic subject visits, generic tutoring and less subject teaching input). 

The overall picture is one of a growing disparity between schools, local authority’s music service provision and music education hubs across the UK. The postcode lottery for students seeking to benefit from a fulsome and comprehensive music education is growing. There are serious issues around the workforce that need addressing urgently.  

Jonathan was asked to consider how those working as music specialists within our higher education institutions can help. He discussed four key ideas. Firstly, he encouraged the audience to be proactive in their engagement with schools. There are great benefits for all involved. He cited examples of the new A level programme being delivered this year by Sandbach School, with support of the Love Music Trust and the RNCM.

Secondly, it is important for all to be advocates for music education in schools in any conversations we have in public, within our institutions and in the media. We should use our positions, institutions and networks to espouse the value of the role of music in schools, focusing on its intrinsic and extrinsic benefits.

Within this, and thirdly, we should promote a broad vision for music education. We should always attempt to bust the myth that a music education is solely about the opportunity to learn to play an instrument. Music is an academic subject, not solely a practical one, and the integration of the key processes by which we learn music, as performers, composers, listeners and skilful reviewers and evaluators, should always be at the forefront of our mind. 

Finally, we should share and develop our networks with schools in mind. Jonathan discussed the development of Resonance in Dudley as one example with a networked approach to music education at its heart. Working in higher education institutions, we have a privileged position and huge expertise in partnership working. We need to use this, build on it, work collaboratively with music education partners and, if possible, take the lead and be proactive.