How well are the existing pathways through music education serving the needs of today’s students? This is the text of a speech given by Sound Connections Director, Philip Flood, at the Westminster Education Forum on Monday 3 July 2017
I’ve been asked to address the opening point on widening accessibility and how well existing pathways serve the needs of children and young people. For me, the answer is not very well at all and, if you look at my Facebook feed after I put this question out (with over 60 responses), you will see how complex this is. You’ll also see the passion, anger and, in some cases, rage of my Facebook friends, some of whom you are sitting beside today.
Four years into the establishment of Music Education Hubs and things, overall, move slowly. There is still a narrow involvement of children and young people and limited diversity, especially around special needs and those in challenging circumstances.
The Whole Class Ensemble Teaching approach (wider opportunities in old currency) engages 11% of the schools population. And just a quarter of those continue to learn an instrument, less than 3%. (What about the other 97%? Are they accessing any music at all in the current climate of Ebacc and Progress 8?)
We also know that music opportunities for young people with SEN/D are still very limited and meaningful pathways and progression opportunities are almost non-existent. This is not the case in drama, dance and the visual arts. Why is that?
The launch, in September 2018, of a National Open Youth Orchestra, which will be disabled-led, is a significant development but this will only be a success if music hubs, cultural organisations, schools, parents and carers work closely together to fully support those young people. Not an easy ask.
Those who are in challenging circumstances require significant additional support to be able to access relevant music opportunities. The current approach, which aspires to give access to all, is laudable but should we not instead be targeting our resources towards those who most need it? This should be the main purpose of the Department for Education investment to Music Education Hubs.
I’d like to see energies focussed to work with young people in pupil referral units and hospital schools and non-formal settings. As examples, the work that is going on in Bristol and Essex shows what can be achieved with fresh thinking, an understanding of need and a commitment to those who, previously, have not had the chances they deserve.
Bristol Plays Music has committed to becoming a centre of excellence for SEN/D music-making over the next four years and Essex is currently running a training programme for teachers and musicians to support all their special schools in delivering music. It is only with targeted, long-term support that young people who are disadvantaged can properly progress.
We also need to do more in actively listening to what young people want. Sound Connections is a national leader in youth voice, not only through Wired4Music, our growing network of musical minded young Londoners, but also through our work in supporting music hubs and cultural organisations across England to fully understand the needs of young people. It’s only by listening and responding that we can begin to be truly inclusive in our approaches.
The progression diagram in the National Plan is flawed and unhelpful and the hierarchical pyramid of excellence is outdated and potentially dangerous in that it is exclusive. We need to better understand the musical journeys that young people want to make and support them to fully achieve their ambitions. This needs to start in Early Years, an area bizarrely not part of the National Plan but thankfully attracting increasing attention.
There then needs to be a broad range of options available for young people to choose from to find their own pathways and in order to achieve this we need to ensure that we place learners at the centre of their learning. As Ben Sandbrook stated in his Musical Progressions Roundtable project:
‘Individual progression journeys need to be the primary and guiding focus, rather than the systems and organisations that might support some of those journeys. The whole environment, through which those journeys take place, needs to be considered holistically, rather than focussing on particular well-trodden progression routes through that environment.’
This can only be provided in full by many different stakeholders (including schools, music organisations, music leaders, parents and young people individually and collectively) and therefore, and this is my final point, informed collaboration is essential.
I think we all need more informed collaboration.
Header graphic © Bristol Plays Music
About the author
As Director of Sound Connections, Philip Flood is responsible for the strategy and overall management of the organisation. He is a member of the GLA Music Education Steering Group and adviser to a range of music organisations.
Previously, he was Head of LSO Discovery and prior to this, Education Director for Spitalfields Festival and Head of Music and Media at a large London FE college. He is an advisor for the PRS for Music Foundation and has also been a trustee of spnm, now Sound and Music, and the British Arts Festivals Association.