A major new report makes recommendations for policymakers in the UK and globally on how to improve the quality of the music education provided to young people.

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Schools and governments should make music central to the curriculum to reap the benefits the artform can bring to personal growth, a major new study argues.

The Music Commission’s report, which follows an 18-month inquiry, says every secondary school should have at least one specialist music teacher on its staff, that there should be free school-based instrument tuition for all, and that school inspection models should “acknowledge the importance of music”.

In addition, it calls for new centres for leadership in music education to be created, and for partnerships between schools to support “more collaborative” models of music education.

Way forwards

The Commission, established by exam board ABRSM and supported by Arts Council England, assessed the barriers facing musical progression among young people.

It concludes these are multi-faceted, combining a variety of factors including home environments, finances, school structures and the rapid pace of technological change.

The report also echoes recent arguments from music education campaigners that the Government’s English Baccalaureate (EBacc) performance measure has had a negative impact on music in schools. Citing a 15% decline in the uptake of GCSE music since 2016, it says the EBacc is one of a number of pressures that have led to a “disturbing” reduction in the attention given to arts and creative subjects.

But it concludes that making music a core curriculum subject may not solve this problem on its own, and says the subject must make a “much more compelling case to all who benefit” – including Government, school governors and head teachers.

“It is important that the case for music is made in language and terms that head teachers and school governors understand,” the authors write. “Policy makers also appear to lack powerful, evidence-based arguments for the value and worth of music in terms of pupil development and school performance.”

The report also finds a “vacuum” at a national level in how the quality of music education is assessed and monitored in schools. This leads the authors to conclude that the music curriculum should be determined locally “through improved partnerships between learners, schools, communities, parents, and music services”.

Recommendations

The authors call for greater parental engagement in music education to help them discover the wellbeing and development benefits of the artform, through the establishment of national and regional early learners’ music forums.

Among a wide-ranging series of recommendations, the Commission also calls for:

  • Grant conditions be introduced for some music organisations to consult and report on their involvement with young people in the planning and programme delivery 
  • Producing best-practice guides and case studies on engagement of the voice of young people in music education
  • A digital research and development fund for music, to support partnerships between music organisations, technology companies and academic researchers that would test ways for technology to be used in music education
  • Using music education resources to catalyse the use of technology to develop support for schools

ABRSM, which plans to work with partners on several pilot projects to explore how it can support progression and social mobility, promises to produce annual updates on the adoption of the Music Commission’s recommendations. 

The organisation has also pledged to release a further report in 2020 on “how and what music young people learn”, and emerging trends to which educators must adapt. 

“Our one aim is to unlock creativity in everyone, with the belief that this will benefit individual skills and community activity, generating soft power and business skills that build long-term economic benefit,” writes Sir Nicholas Kenyon, the Commission’s Chair, in the report’s foreword. 

“We thus release the power of music in the service of today’s world, where the depth, perspective and humanity that music brings is not an option, but an ever more urgent necessity.”

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