Ofsted’s dubious provenance?

The recently published Ofsted report ‘Music in schools: what hubs must do’ has understandably caused great irritation and confusion. (See http://engagedlearning.co.uk/?p=2136 #mufuchat for a view on Ofsted’s undue influence and dubious legitimacy.) The report speaks a different language from the previous ‘Wider, still and wider’ report. The former set out a view of what musical learning and good progress by pupils are like, mindful and respectful of the ongoing dialogue within the community of music education and beyond. The recent report sets out a different view. The report speaks of music as ‘a rigorous, academic subject’ and as ‘a demanding academic discipline’. This noble sentiment, not new and entirely admirable, is used however to infer an approach to music education that will serve only to demean the rigour and intellectual demands of the subject. There are many examples of this in the report. I give this one because it is the most revealing. The report states:

‘Schools failed to grasp the fact that, for example, a Mozart Symphony or song be based upon the same three chords – tonic, dominant and sub-dominant – and be in the same time signature as many pop songs and a typical 12 bar blues pattern, and that understanding one of these styles could lead directly to understand another.’ (page 12)

In other words ‘the theory of music’, that reductive codification of singular sensuous experiences, is to be used to make all music the same. This process of sameing by which ‘the other’ can be brought into the totality thus does violence to difference. Violence is done to Mozart, to pop songs and 12 bar blues. In this view the Blues is worthy of study because it prepares students for the study of Bach Chorale. The Blues can have academic rigour never mind any kind of meaningful provenance. And why doesn’t Mozart’s Overture to the Magic Flute begin with I, IV and V? You got that wrong Wolfgang!

The doctrine of sameing proposed by Ofsted through the application of a reductive musical code ensures a hierachy of musical categories and a hegemonic order which becomes hostile to thinking of music as an intellectually demanding subject. That the report makes no reference to critical engagement with music and the values, beliefs and ideologies that surround it is telling.

In the weeks prior to the report a young music teacher had been teaching an eight lesson sequence based upon Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. For seven lessons music had been the medium of knowing and understanding. And in the eighth lesson appeared an Ofsted Inspector to observe a reflective lesson, albeit active and mentally engaging. The inspector (non specialist), while acknowledging the kind of learning in evidence, declared the lesson to be not good enough. You can guess. He was following the view of Wider, still and wider – the line of not enough musical action. Now this inspector will receive a copy of the more recent report and who knows, returning to that lesson might see things differently. But in all this the music teacher continues to be victim to a regime of terror, while the moral blindness of Ofsted expands at an alarming rate, victim themselves of being in fear and of favouring.

I call upon Ofsted to write a Philosophy of Music Education or at least a pamphlet called ‘What Ofsted has not learnt from Music HMI reports 1870 to the present day’.

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