Why no aesthetic education to age 16?

  • Michael Fordham @mfordhamhistory

Music, art, drama and dance are all crucial parts of a child’s cultural heritage. All children should be doing at least one at GCSE.

Giles Fullard‏ @rgfullard 20h20 hours ago


A broad education and one that attempts to enrich students’ cultural capital. We narrow the curriculum far too early.


John finney‏ @Johnfinney8


Replying to @rgfullard @MrHistoire

It’s the aesthetic dimension of human existence seeking meaning through artistic expression and which is culturally significant for all.



This was part of a twitter discussion set in motion by Michael Fordham advocating and no doubt elsewhere justifying the place of the arts in a broad and balanced curriculum to age 16.


I recall, somewhen about 1985 in my Basingstoke comprehensive school, the question being asked by a parent at a year 9 options evening: why don’t pupils continue their study of all subjects in years 10 and 11?


This question was asked in the public forum and alongside other parents who questioned the compulsory ‘aesthetic option’ requiring all pupils to study an arts subject post age 14. The next day teachers of art, ceramics, music, film and drama were called to a meeting with the head and deputy. We sensed that our highly prized aesthetics option was under threat. We went to the meeting armed with chapter and verse on the value of the arts. At the time There was no shortage of philosophical enquiry into aesthetic and artistic knowing and the uniqueness of this way of understanding the world. We presented the head and deputy with reasoned arguments supporting our place in the curriculum. We deployed the weight of intellectual authority with confidence and conviction.


The aesthetic option lived on and in end of course evaluations pupils expressed great satisfaction with the ways in which the uniqueness of the arts had enriched their lives. It was part of a comprehensive comprehensive school education, a result of progressive 1970s thinking reviving a liberal education and saving education from a lazy traditionalism.


Now, some thirty years later there is the EBacc and the arts are excluded and only a few enlightened liberal educators feel confident enough to sustain an argument for a post 14 aesthetic education. Some point to the compulsory nature of English and English Literature and all that is offered there in the cause of an aesthetic education. But many will have noticed a general shift in discourse towards a certain view of rigour, competence and functionality. The idea of an aesthetic dimension to education is now unheard of and long silenced to be replaced by myopic reductionist notions of knowledge.


You will notice that I am talking of the aesthetic dimension of human existence in preference to Michael Fordham’s focus on cultural heritage and Giles Fullard’s cultural capital.


I do this not to deny these things but to remind us that there is an existential component to education that challenges dominant ways of thinking about knowledge and the prevailing limited ways in which culture is construed.


Pupils between the age of 14 and 16 will be wanting to give meaning to their lives through artistic expression and aesthetic experience and there should be a broad range of options available across a school’s aesthetic offering.


Did you know that the first proposal from the DfE in respect to the formation of the new GCSE examination in music was that 80% of the marks should be allocated to a written paper and that the ABRSM graded theory exams were considered as a model?


Interestingly, in the final reckoning there is a component of the exam referred to as ‘knowledge’, not aesthetic knowledge, not the wonder of occurrent knowledge. personal knowledge or embodied knowledge but, you’ve got it, propositional knowledge.


Alas, our current political masters have a poor grasp of the order of things.








Just imagine the music

This morning I went to a local supermarket and headed for the newspaper stand. As I approached, a song came into my head, from where, I don’t know. It was so strong that I found myself singing it, albeit quietly, as I found my newspapers. The song – See the conquering hero comes by Handel. I was feeling upbeat for some reason. But where did the song come from? I hadn’t consciously willed it and it wasn’t an ear worm. Once it had come I was in full control of it and once I got to the end there was no involuntary return.

The poet Stephen Spender writes:

‘There is nothing we imagine which we do not already know. And our ability to imagine is our ability to remember what has already once been experienced and to apply it to some different situation’ [1]

I assume that we all have an unconscious life of fantasy feeding our imaginations, including our musical imagination. Well, there it was in my long-term musical memory and awoken by my mood of the moment and being applied to a specific situation.

There’s a lot of talk about musical creativity less about the musical imagination.

John Paynter had something to say about it.

‘Every conscious involvement with music in performing, composing ”and” in listening is the result of an independent imaginative response. It can not be quantified or reproduced exactly a second time. It is personal and individual. No matter how much we analyse the mechanic of a piece of music, or pay attention to what other people tell us about it, music will not ”happen” for us unless we ourselves enter into the particular sound world it inhabits.’ [2]

Yesterday I enjoyed very much the compositions of the year 7s of the City of London School for Girls performed in the Museum of London where they had been working all day and responding to ‘The City is Ours’  (see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/the-city-is-ours).

There were eight newly created works, none of which I or the girls could possibly have imagined at the beginning of the day. Their teachers I imagine entered into the day without giving much thought to ‘learning’, rather more thought to the subtleties of their teaching and being sensitive to the personhood of their pupils. (I like the idea of teaching without learning. [3])

What seemed important about the girls’ musical work was its uniqueness, and this means that it is irreplaceable.

Perhaps it’s time to stop, think and cherish the human imagination and its capacity to remake the world. I wonder if today the girls will be experiencing involuntary visits of their Museum Music. I am going to have a silent sing of that song.


[1] Spender, S. (1982) The Making of a Poem in Creativity (ed) P. E. Vernon, Penguin Books.

[2] Painter, J. (1982) Music in the Secondary School Curriculum. Cambridge University Press.

[3] See Gert Biesta’s ‘The Rediscovery of Teaching’, Routledge for the significance of this proposition.

Creating a music curriculum

In my recent blog The year 9 class and their changing musical behaviour (see https://wordpress.com/post/jfin107.wordpress.com/6949) I cited the thought of Carolyn Cooke, one of the editors of Learning to teach music in the secondary school (3rd edition). In the recent symposium reflecting on that book at the Research in Music Education Conference at Bath Spa University Carolyn also spoke about Chapter 5 in the book, What is a music curriculum? written with Gary Spruce. Carolyn explains how her two chapters are linked:

‘It is this overriding principle of young people’s agency which tie together the Behaviour for Musical Learning chapter and the What is a Music Curriculum?’


‘This chapter was conceptualised as a provocation – asking music student teachers to consider their own views, images, and experiences of the term ‘curriculum’ and then providing the resources and ideas with which to critique, and conceptualise curriculum in different ways. This ‘opening up’ comes in two forms in the chapter. In the first half, the term curriculum is itself scrutinised introducing the concepts of ‘curriculum as content’ and ‘curriculum as product’, arguing that both are reified forms of curriculum in which the document, content, objects within it become seen as concrete, fixed, unmoving and one in which young people have little to no agency. This is then contrasted with the concept of ”curriculum as a lived experience”, where young people become the curriculum makers. Cornbleth defines curriculum in this view as ‘an ongoing social process comprised of the interactions of students, teachers, knowledge and milieu’ (Cornbleth 1990). It is within this interactional, or ‘dialogic space’ that the curriculum isn’t just enacted, but is created.

The second half of the chapter explores this notion of curriculum creation by starting out with a metaphor used by Doll of the ‘Dancing curriculum’ – where nothing is fixed, or static (Doll in Fenwick et al. 2011). Where everything (resources, materials, environment, knowing, meanings, experiencing) are moving and dynamic and therefore where the curriculum is always evolving or emerging in response. It is here that complexity theory helps us to conceptualise what this means for re-conceptualising what a music curriculum is.’

The chapter sets out eight tasks for the reader and by the end they should have quite a lot to say about ‘what is a music curriculum?’ I think many of us would be a little tongue tied in answering this question or perhaps have only a summary phrase or two,

It seems to me that at the present time we need Carolyn’s chapter to sort out quite a bit of muddled thinking about our music education. I hope you will read the chapter.





Is Meighan’s curriculum model more useful than the ‘Informal, Non-formal; Formal’ one?

I have noted that the blog republished below, and first published at  https://jfin107.wordpress.com/?s=autonomy, has over time attracted a lot of attention. That is, the number of readers rather than comments.

In this republication I have made a few changes.

What is musical autonomy?

If a goal of education is to develop self-governing critically engaged citizens, and if this is considered fundamental to making a democracy, then there needs to be a carefully considered balance between autonomy and heteronomy. These are big ideas. First autonomy.

The idea of ‘autonomy’ emerged from the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, that time when we came to understand ourselves a bit better and imagined that with the aid of rational thought we could make progress and achieve a more perfect state of humanity. Most haven’t given up on this despite disappointments. [1]

The idea of being an autonomous human being is very attractive. We take this to mean that we exercise the capacity for self-government. Our actions are truly our own. We have agency and we can act authentically. [2] Music teachers like the idea of pupils having autonomy over their music-making. Autonomy is thought to be a good thing and a worthy goal.

But autonomy has an antonym, heteronomy, meaning ‘under the will of others’. This is interesting because until recently it was under the will of others that autonomy was thought to be achieved – the will of the parents, school, the teacher, peers, examination boards, for example.

Education’s big idea, the achievement of what has been called ‘rational autonomy’, expected a submission of the will to the authority of the past, its store of knowledge, know how and the formalities of the school.

This noble educational goal was to bring students to a point of rational autonomy through taking them beyond what they already knew or felt at home with. Education released the student from being bound to their immediate context and limited experience. Their thinking would become ‘context independent’. It was the school and the teacher who were vested with the authority to mastermind this process.

This is in strong opposition to another discourse where it is argued that heteronomy must give way to autonomy in order to make space for students to express their opinions and to participate in the making of their musical cultural environments. [3]

While there is currently much energetic and enthusiastic rebalancing of the autonomy-heteronomy scales, little attention has been paid to defining the curriculum in these terms. The focus has been on pedagogy. [4]

In Ronald Meighan’s view the place to start is to be clear about how the curriculum is defined. A conception of curriculum precedes pedagogy. [5] Three possibilities are offered.

Consultative Curriculum
Imposed programme; student given regular opportunities to input thoughts and feelings. Feedback can be reflected upon by the teacher and modifications made.

Negotiated Curriculum
Power sharing between teacher and student is increased, and where a common understanding is developed between both about the course of study that is to be undertaken

Democratic Curriculum
The learners create, deliver and review their own curriculum.

In the book ‘Masterclass in Music Education’ secondary school music teacher Eleanor Man analyzes the move from a consultative to a negotiated curriculum. [6] A remarkable degree of trust was built up between teacher and pupils opening up the possibility of an ongoing mature dialogue about how the curriculum might unfold. The teacher’s authority was enhanced. The pupils became self-governing and critically engaged and on the road to achieving musical autonomy. The Democratic curriculum beckons. And we could begin to imagine how the three curricula could work together, sometimes emphasis here, sometimes there and with the longer term goal of achieving rational autonomy.

Meighan’s model may be more useful than the ‘Informal, Non-formal; Formal’ one.

Or a better question:

How would the two intersect?

We need better theorising about all this. Without that we barely know what each other are talking about.

Next week I introduce the reader to Carolyn Cooke’s ‘what is a curriculum’?


[1] The Enlightenment project, as it is called, has come under severe criticism expressed in the move from modernity to post-modernity. Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘The Dialectic of the Enlightenment’ argues that the dominance of scientific rational thinking has served to dehumanize and instrumentalize society. Christopher Small’s seminal work ‘Music, Society, Education’ critiques the tradition of Western European music as being hidebound by scientific rationality.

[2] The idea that we are free to act authentically is of course challenged.

[3] See ‘Music Cultural Pedagogy in the ‘’Network Society’’’, Winfried Sakai at http://jets.redframe.com

[4] One example of the emphasis on pedagogy is Lucy Green’s influential ‘Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy’. Ashgate, 2008.

[5] See Meighan, R. (1988) Flexi-Schooling. Education for Tomorrow, Starting Yesterday. Ticknall, Education Now Publishing Cooperative.

[6] See ‘Masterclass in Music Education’, (Eds) Finney, J. and Laurence, F. 2013, Bloomsbury.


The year 9 music class and their changing behaviour

In last week’s blog (see below) I wrote about a beginning music teacher developing a new relationship with her year 9 class. The behaviour of the class changed in an interesting way. A fresh classroom dynamic had been created. And now the teacher tells more of the positive moves forward with the class.

‘Yesterday I had the class again – it was fascinating! They absolutely loved that clapping in a circle, asked if it could be a ‘knock out’ game so they were ‘out’ if they got it wrong and then those that were left managed to do it in 7! Even reluctant Trev and Tim joined in (reluctantly)!! One of the boys that you were working with last week even requested to play again, but unfortunately we didn’t have time. I decided to go on to working with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. There are 4 different parts (melody, countermelody, chords and bass line) meaning it works at different levels but means that everyone can be part of a high quality ensemble. Once they can play the loops, my challenge to them is to experiment with texture and timbre as Oldfield does to create their own ‘Remix’ version of it. Once they’ve done this in group, I’m planning to try to create a whole class version too in order to capture and build on the team spirit that was created last week.’ [1]

Here is a cue for Carolyn Cooke’s presentation at the recent Research in Music Education Conference and her chapter in Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School. [2]

Carolyn writes:

‘This chapter was conceptualised as a provocation to rhetoric around behaviour (often from policy or government sources) which is frequently discussed in two ways which can be unhelpful for music education:

Firstly, it is often talked or written about in generic educational terms rather than recognising the specific requirements of musical behaviours and secondly, such discussion often transmits messages about the type of learning that will occur in a classroom, which may or may not be relevant or appropriate in music. The example in the chapter is a set of rules that include such gems as ‘Listen when others are ‘talking’, and ‘keep hands, feet and objects to yourself’ – tricky in a subject dominated so strongly by physical movement and collaboration! By highlighting how potentially unhelpful these generic rules are, the chapter therefore aims to:

(a) promote an alternative perspective on ‘behaviour’ and ‘behaviour for learning’, where student teachers are asked to move from considering behaviour in terms of ‘management’ in a prescribed way or behaviour as relating to ‘negative behaviours’ to opening up an alternative, positive, proactive discourse about musical behaviours; and

(b) to challenge them to critique how musical behaviours may differ / challenge or even conflict directly with more generalist views of behaviour in schools.’

Beginning music teachers are deluged with generic wisdom about managing behaviour and their practice is easily fractured in the light of this, and as they navigate a way towards finding musical integrity in their classrooms. Carolyn’s chapter is an important one. Have you read it?


[1] Email correspondence.

[2] Cooke, C. (2016) ‘Behaviour for musical learning’ in (eds) Philpott, C., Spruce, G., Cooke, C. and Evans, K., Learning to teach music in the secondary school (3rd. Edition). Routledge.




A Key Stage 3 tension

The task was an interesting one. Really quite demanding musically and I decided to work on it with two boys and to take a strong lead.

This was the third lesson with this year 9 class and the beginning teacher is establishing an authoritative presence with students who are learning fast that this will be an orderly class where they will be taught well and where they will learn and make progress. [1]

The lesson centred on ‘rhythmic phasing’ through the medium of clapping (after Reich).

In my group I decided that we would work with a simple rhythmic idea and with the expectation that we would perform with some expression and fluency, and in the belief that less is more, and that the phasing concept would be fully grasped.

I worked the two boys hard. We practised the eight beat rhythm again and again until fluent and ease had been achieved. And then into the task of phasing, a one beat shift to disrupt and challenge. Once we were in two parts the state of our musical minds would be tested. Would our rhythmic powers cope with the challenge? Well, we had to work hard at it but in performance to the class we did ok. They were impressed.

The teacher appraised the performances of the class as a whole. Several groups were not fluent and so decided that it would be good to work as a whole class in order to explore the audiation of pulse and to make explicit what this meant. This revealed the need for thinking bodies and gross motor movement.

In this ten minute period the dynamic of the classroom changed. There was a sense of communal endeavour and this placed the teacher in a fresh relationship with the class. A dialogue had been opened up.

I wondered how this work could culminate in an extended whole class performance that would be so well rehearsed that the class called for an encore?

What had become clear to me and the teacher was that there exists a tension between grasping a concept, in this case rhythmic phasing, and achieving fluent and expressive performance. And what appears to be often the case at Key Stage 3 is that grasp of the concept trumps the other. (And furthermore laddered assessment criteria have much to answer for.)

You may recall my blog about the lesson where everybody knew what a chord was but in the process barely anybody performed with meaning, feeling, fluency or expression. [2]

In other words ‘knowing that’ is out of balance with Reid’s ‘occurrent knowing’ as set out in last weeks blog. [3]

Of course, the tension can be resolved.

So take care to place the concept in the right order of things.


[1] In this school music has been reduced at Key Stage 3 to a carousel arrangement as Ebacc subjects have gained in time allocation.

[2] See  https://wordpress.com/post/jfin107.wordpress.com/6564

[3] See  https://wordpress.com/post/jfin107.wordpress.com/6847





Creative thinking in music education

I took note of this tweet

Dave Aldridge‏ @zudensachen

Creative thinking is a ‘responding to’ something that comes before, in the manner of call and response. Thinking ‘with’. Fairfield #pesgb17

I had tended to think that call and response belonged to music education and as one of its most foundational pedagogic devices.

Attending this year’s third round of the FA Cup to see Southampton play Norwich at Carrow Road, I found myself in the heart of the Southampton fans. We were seated, well mostly standing, not far from the most vociferous section of the Norwich fans.

It wasn’t long before we started singing. The repertoire included a short snatch of a song that made reference to the Woolston Ferry. Where did that reference come from I thought. The Woolston Ferry (The Floating Bridge I knew it as) was replaced by the Itchen Bridge in 1977. Wow, this was heritage stuff. Fathers to sons folk memory I romantically imagined. But with a little research I discovered this


and with a little more I found the song on the album ‘Super Saints 20 Southampton Classics’.

The snatch used by the fans was the beginning of the chorus line.

I will get to the matter of call and response; for now one particularly loud Saints fan stood on his seat and bellowed across to the Norwich fans and in due course one Norwich fan responded. Pretty tribal and rather like war- lords stepping out in front of their armies. What followed was a short spell of call and response between the two. As far as I could tell each drew from the depths of their abuse repertoire. A kind of creative thinking with responses to something that comes before. It was unlikely that fresh material was being generated in this instance.

Call and response as a pedagogical device in music education of course has roots in its evolutionary story and there exists a rich world of antiphonal musical practices. But I wonder how commonly it is now used in our music classrooms as a creative thinking device. There’s plenty of call-echo meaning call-copy. But that’s not call-response.

Let’s think of the step from call-copy to call-response as being vast, the first requiring thought certainly, but the second requiring the creation of a mental space in which the mind is called upon to make sense of the material offered, manipulate it, re-order it, re-create it, think with it.

This is creative thinking and an example of the proximity of musical knowledge acquisition and musical creativity.

‘Responding to’ something that’s comes before. Is it in danger of becoming a lost pedagogy?

And it was just a passing tweet.