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Protecting Music Education – What Can Be Done?

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 Despite the growing presence of instruments, advanced recording equipment and the best scoring software in schools, many believe that music education in the UK is under threat.

With higher education music departments continuing to close and researchers warning that music education could face extinction in secondary schools, we explore what can be done to protect music education.

Does Music Education Need Saving?

In 2014, the Incorporated Society of Musician’s ‘Protect Music Education’ campaign published the results of a poll which found that 85% of adults agreed with the government’s own assertion that ‘music education must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition.’

However, researchers from Sussex University’s School of Education and Social Work have issued a stark warning that music education ‘could face extinction’ in secondary schools unless concerted action is taken to halt its decline. The survey pointed to a dramatic decline in the number of schools in which music lessons were compulsory for students aged 13 to 14 – from 84% in 2012-13, to 62% in 2016-17. The same survey also revealed that 30% of secondary schools have just one music teacher.

These results followed on from similar concerns raised by the Warwick commission, who warned that the arts were being ‘systematically’ removed from the UK education system.

What Can Be Done?

In recent years, the question of how we protect music education, and reverse the decline it has already undergone, has become both a pressing issue and a politically contested one. Various parties, including the aforementioned ‘Protect Music Education’ campaign and several leading musicians, have called on the government to increase funding for the arts in schools, as well as offer more comprehensive protections against further cuts. While the government has pointed to the additional £18 million that has already gone to music education hubs, the Labour party haspromised to pump £160 million into schools to help with arts education, including music.

However, while adequate funding and increased investment must both play a crucial part in ensuring the continued existence of music education in the UK, money is not the only factor that needs to be addressed. It is also important to consider new and innovative possibilities for the way that we teach music to children, such as the David Ross Education Trust’s efforts to improve music education teaching practices throughout their academies. Similarly, the former education secretary Lord Baker has suggested significantlyincreasing the ‘narrow’ curriculum taught in schools. This process can begin with the continued embrace and promotion of new classroom technologies and computer-based programs for composing music.

Since 2013, the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence have been celebrating the innovation taking place within music and performing arts education. This year’s finalists in the Best Digital/Technological Resource category include the digital music resource Minute of Listening and Steinberg’s AI-integrated music notation software Dorico. As well as new technologies, the awards also highlight the important teaching resources and initiatives currently available, which could prove useful in reshaping the way we teach music.

It is also essential to continue to push for a greater level of diversity in our music classrooms. According to Alan Davey, the controller of BBC Radio 3, ensuring that students from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds are afforded the same opportunities as any other students is vital to fostering the UK’s musical output, and promote the next generation of world-class musicians.

Ensuring a successful future for music education in the UK is unlikelyto come from addressing any single factor in isolation. Instead, we must look for innovative solutions that allow us to maximise the brilliant resources and teachers we already have, while also constantly searching for new possibilities.

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