‘Given the research evidence, why isn’t Music central to education policy? What should we be doing better to get that message out?
Why are we not a “Core” subject?’
Questions asked by Matt Allen. (See https://teachtalkmusic.wordpress.com/)
The research evidence on the power of music is growing by the day. Active music making, assuming that it is regular and of high quality, can contribute to the enhancement of a range of non-musical capabilities and lead to other beneficial outcomes. This is broadly what the research says that I think Matt is referring to.
In this view Music in the curriculum is able to go beyond itself and serve aspects of general development and well-being.
Policy makers, by which I mean the current government, while acknowledging this, move quickly to the value of the subject itself, to its place in the order of things. They don’t dwell on how it is a servant to other subjects or other things, but as a subject of the curriculum that has never been ‘core’ and which is destined to remain non-core while at the same time being accorded value.
This is very much how it has been since the advent of compulsory education in 1870. In some exceptional cases headteachers and some former Local Education Authorities have given core status to music and the arts and where they have seen this as a central tenet of a liberal education. David Hargreaves attempted this in ILEA in the late 1980s, for example and today, some headteachers are committed to all pupils having an arts option at Key Stage 4 in spite of the Ebacc. This kind of enlightened view of an education in which the arts are considered as a significant aspect of human being continues to exist.
While research on the power of music is heartening (and a life blood to organisations seeking funding) it may ironically serve to undermine the case for music as a subject discipline, acting as a kind of distraction from music’s core purpose of providing a unique way of understanding the world into which young people are growing. From there many good things are likely to be accrue, many of those benefits claimed by the research. Getting this the right way round, in my view, is important.
Chris Philpott makes the distinction between hard and soft justifications for music in the book ‘Debates in Music Teaching’ and shows what a powerful thing music is, and not in the way that the research referred to above does. Its power lies in the way it is in culture and society as a significant form of meaning making. (By the way the work in the book Debates in Music Teaching is also research. Philosophical enquiry is a form of research.)
Following James Callaghan’s Ruskin College speech in the late 1970s and the steady moves during the 1980s to form a National Curriculum the concept of Core and Foundation subjects was established. Despite some making a case for a curriculum that was not hierarchical, the Core-Foundation division easily won the day. Nothing much has changed since then except the coming of the EBacc, a throwback to the School Certificate subject grouping of the mid twentieth century. So all the research in the world showing ‘the power of music’ and its contribution to human well-being and the making of smarter pupils is insignificant in the face of an ideology that champions the core, defines ‘academic’ in a narrow way and that sees STEM subjects as giving citizens economic advantage.
There is talk of giving school leavers an app that will provide government with information about the amount of income tax paid by the individual correlated with the subjects studied. Thus the value of a subject can then be directly liked to its value – its economic value that is. (By the way, it remains unclear whether there is a relationship between the study of the arts and the success of the creative industries.)
So music is not a Core subject. This is not to say that it has been and will continue to be valued as being worthwhile and in some places giving the appearance of being central to the school’s work – ‘core’ in a metaphorical sense.
I am a governor of a primary school which has three music graduates on the staff, a subject leader for music, a year 4, 5, 6 choir of over 100 (a third of the cohort), all year 3 engaged in First Access, all pupils experience Steel Band etc. and regular music lessons . At governor meetings there is no mention of Music, just improvement plans, targets and data, ways of presenting data, FSM success ratios etc. And in this discussion it is the childrens’ reading, writing and maths that is, well THE CORE.
Music is not central to education policy because Maths, English and Science are, because there are international league tables based on these subjects. (The latest positions coming shortly.)
Perhaps this might change.