This year’s NEU (National Education Union) conference takes place today Monday 3 April to Wednesday 5 April, with the very first motion to be passed from Victoria Jaquiss.
Arts for arts’ sake, music for all.
The man on the radio said there were talented children already missing out in our primary schools.
I replied, though he couldn’t hear me, that there were untalented children in our schools already missing out.
Yes, the arts are in crisis in our education system
But as the adjudicator said last month at our regional festival “well, Lady Elizabeth School must be doing something right!”
Yes it was, and is. They are spending shedloads of money on music! Private school! Durr!
1. The arts in general don’t survive compulsorily past KS3. Not considered worthy. A levels? Nope, GCSEs? Dying. And it is not that students aren’t choosing them; they are being deliberately steered away from them.
2. Ofsted, for all the good they do [and don’t do], don’t always send arts specialists into schools and the status of arts is further lowered by their absence in SATs – obviously the answer is to cancel Ofsted and SATs.
3. And the arts aren’t easily measured. Well the skills are, but the emotional and spiritual response. Not really appropriate.
4. Primary schools rarely have dedicated music rooms and never have adequate storage. High schools, especially PFI new builds, have inadequate music suites. I call them suites. Two rooms and a cupboard.
5. Half of all parents don’t value the arts, and there was no golden age when they did in my experience. Music, the lesson is a leisure activity when you are expected to “have fun”, not a serious nor useful subject.
6. The pockets of excellence that do exist are enabled only by supportive headteachers, and nearly always validated how they improve academic results.
7. Professional musicians have become the media’s go-to spokespeople for what is wrong with music education. And, in my experience, professional musicians are quite happy to blame the music teachers for the failings of the system.
Children don't study music just so that some talented individuals can be professional musicians
The late Ken Robinson declared in the 90s that “evidence shows a balanced combination of the arts, humanities and sciences produces an unbeatable style of education “- and I would also add physical education to that list.
Children don’t play football so that some of them can be selected to be professional footballers and others cast aside.
Children don’t study maths so that some of them can become mathematicians.
You can probably see where I am going with this. Children don't study music so that some talented individuals can be professional musicians.
Why do we play sports? It’s not just for health and social reasons, but helps our appreciation and enjoyment when watching professional games.
When we watch a play or a dance, listen to music or look at art, it is with a deeper enjoyment when we have an understanding of how it is created.
Music is most at risk as it is most expensive in terms of space, equipment and specialist teachers
All arts suffer in the same way but music is most at risk as it is most expensive in terms of space, equipment and specialist teachers. Because while 25 students can be in the same room painting, quite different pictures, the same can’t be said for 25 music students.
One benefit of a practical music lesson is that while students can play together with widely differing abilities, talents, preferences, need, experience or state of mind, it is not always appropriate. There are times when they need to be in practice rooms, working separately, or in small groups.
And practice rooms need:
1. To exist
2. To be soundproofed
I find it hard not to think that the government - and this government in particular - doesn’t want our students to think for themselves, find themselves, choose for themselves, be themselves.
Arts for arts’ sake, music for all.
The MU’s primary aim at this year’s conference is to discuss the crisis in arts education in our schools and what we can do about it.
We also have an official stand at the event and over the next few days, both officials and members alike will lead an informal conversation about the challenges that can undermine a vibrant arts culture in our schools and how we can overcome these.