Good music education only 'for minority of pupils'

Schoolboys playing brass All children have a right to group music tuition but all too often they miss out, says Ofsted

A quality music education only reaches a minority of pupils in England's schools, an Ofsted report has said.

Despite a shake-up of music services supporting schools, there is a lack of depth and rigour to school music in England, it said.

Musical notation and classical music for example were seen as too difficult by most schools, the report said.

Schools told inspectors they did not know how to develop group singing or seek expert help.

All too often children were missing out on the whole-class instrumental teaching which they are funded to receive through music support networks called hubs, said the report.

It comes a year after a mass reorganisation of music support services in England under the government's Music Plan.

About 150 local authority music trusts were re-shaped into 120 music hubs. These included music trust staff, voluntary groups and private firms who provide music services to schools in specific areas.

'Zero hours contracts'

When the government announced the shake-up it said music funding would increasingly be targeted at the less well-off in a bid to close a "musical divide between rich and poor".

But at the same time music service budgets were severely cut, by as much as 25% in some cases.

The report said the new hubs had bought "energy" and "vitality" to music teaching.

They continued to provide instrumental teaching and support orchestras and ensembles, choirs, festivals and holiday music courses."

But it added that while this was "essential" work, it only reached a minority of pupils and "too often" schools expected very little of pupils.

"They failed to ensure that all pupils understood, and could use practically, common musical features such as notation, time signatures, scales chords and key signatures.

"Many primary schools considered, without good reason, that pupils were not ready for such learning involving musical theory, and believed they would not enjoy it."

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Ofsted's findings are based on just a quarter of the 123 hubs, which were assessed only a few months after opening”

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Michael Cladingbowl, director of schools policy at Ofsted, said: "Music is a demanding academic discipline, developed through exciting practical musical activity.

"However, the vast majority of the schools visited shied away from teaching pupils about fundamental aspects of music as they thought it too difficult.

"All children, not just the privileged few, should enjoy a good music education.

"Music hubs were created with this very aim, so it is concerning that the hubs visited for this survey could not show how their work in schools achieves this or how they provide value for money.

Diane Widdison, national organiser for teaching at the Musicians' Union, said the music hubs had made great efforts to make the new system work.

But she added many music trust staff had been made redundant, put on zero hours contracts or made freelance teachers within the new music hubs. This had reduced consistency and stability within music services and reduced staff commitment, she said.

'Under threat'

"Schools have no duty to engage with music education or music hubs at all.

"You can't have a national plan for music when you have not got the main players in the schools involved.

"So it ends up going back to those areas that are able to afford things."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it was unsurprising but nonetheless hugely disappointing that music was being side-lined in many schools.

She added that arts and vocational subjects had been well and truly relegated as a consequence of reforms to the examination system and the focus of league table measures on narrow academic areas.

"Music services to schools, which were traditionally provided by local authorities with already stretched resources, were removed by this government.

"In passing the responsibility to music hubs, the government is now denying them the level of funding to be able to provide what is expected of them.

"The attack on the pay and conditions of those working in these hubs and the increasing fragmentation of the education service means our music provision is under real threat."

"Many schools do a fantastic job with music as the Schools Proms held every year at the Royal Albert Hall, and proudly sponsored by the NUT, show.

"All schools need to be given the support and finances to teach music", said Ms Blower.

'Benefit for all'

A DfE spokesman said the government was clear every child should experience high-quality music education, but the National Music Plan was in its early days.

"Ofsted's findings are based on just a quarter of the 123 hubs, which were assessed only a few months after opening.

"But Ofsted is clear that when hubs are properly run, they are already making a real difference.

"We are working with Arts Council England to ensure music hubs benefit all children."

NAHT said it is not just the work of music hubs that needs to be addressed but all arts provision.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: "Many parents pay to ensure their children receive private tuition in music and arts subjects because they realise the value of developing culturally rich lives. Our school system needs to be fully equipped to ensure that similar opportunities are available to all children."

Chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians Deborah Annetts said: "The message here is clear: senior leaders in schools must engage with their local music hub and hubs and schools must support one another in improving provision."

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