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Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT blogs about his thoughts and passions and the work of the National Association of Head Teachers.

"All together now..." How can we make music education a right and not just a privilege?

A number of organisations wrote to the Sunday Telegraph this weekend as part of the Don't Stop the Music campaign. They were worried that too few children have a real opportunity to play musical instruments. In fact, the Royal Schools of Music provided the sobering statistic that 40 per cent of children from disadvantaged backgrounds said they’d never had the chance to play an instrument. This is one of a wider set of concerns about a narrowed curriculum in response to exam and accountability pressures. 

Academic attainment is of course vital and paramount in schools, but a young person's entitlement is wider than that. Music is part of it, as are sport, drama, art, PSHE, RE...

It is interesting therefore that Ofsted's current consultation on reform to the inspection system also asks whether there should be a separate judgement in an inspection on the breadth and balance of a school's curriculum. This is no doubt partially triggered by the reaction to Trojan Horse (and we saw more criticism of narrow curricula by Ofsted last week in relation to independent schools in Tower Hamlets). 

On the face of it, the answer to Ofsted's question is simply 'yes'. But we must also remember that Ofsted is a heavy handed tool. One of the  features of recent education policy making is that, as the government has given up its various 'levers' for change, is has little more left than Ofsted and league tables. It is almost pro forma now that any report on education should end with a call that Ofsted must inspect whatever topic motivated the report. That way lies a bloated inspection framework. It has to be said that one of Michael Gove's virtues was his ability to largely resist calls to make schools 'do something about it'. 

Schools have been granted considerable freedom in curricula, particularly outside the core subjects. How well does an Ofsted curriculum judgement sit with this freedom? Will we get one organisation's vision of a curriculum or will they be more subtle?

One approach would be to focus on curriculum entitlement - on the basic rights of every young person educated in a state funded school - without getting into the detail of how those rights are met. Thus, every child should have the opportunity to play an instrument, to be taught about sex and relationships, to take part in performances, to physical exercise, to learn about more than one religion, to be able to read fluently and think mathematically, to be taught scientific theories of creation and evolution. This is not an exhaustive list! However the final list is not infinite. 

There is then the relationship of this judgement to the overall judgement of effectiveness: is it a limiting judgement or simply an additional commentary? How will inspectors verify its delivery in increasingly short inspections? 

Is providing an opportunity enough or does the school need to insist on participation? Thus a school could provide an opportunity to play an instrument but a student or their family could refuse to take this up: are we comfortable with that? Any entitlements must be backed with resources, facilities and training to be meaningful. It is of concern therefore that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation found that only half of music teachers in primary schools surveyed said they have the music resources they need. Rights without resources will be an empty entitlement. 

These challenges are not insurmountable but need addressing. A clear statement of curriculum entitlement could help prevent future Trojan Horse style episodes by helping schools navigate the right line. In the meantime, let the music play on. Participation in music offers a host of benefits to achievement and behaviour, offers some children a precious chance to excel and is, of course, a pleasure in its own right. 

To find out more about the Don’t Stop The Music campaign and to add your name, click here: www.dontstopthemusic.co.uk.

24 November 2014

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