“Learning music is a birthright”, Sir Simon Rattle

simon_rattleHave you been listening to the Proms at all this year? One of the world’s greatest conductors, Sir Simon Rattle, is conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in two concerts this week.

Simon Rattle is from Liverpool. His dad was a jazz pianist and he learnt percussion as a youngster. When interviewed on Desert Island Discs, he recalled his music teacher playing him an excerpt from a Mahler symphony in a music lesson aged about 11. This was a transformative moment for him and his tremendous love and passion for all musical styles is obvious for everyone to see.

He has also have some interesting views on music education. In his interview with the Guardian over the weekend, he said this:

… the entire issue of music education is becoming an ever bigger issue all over Europe. Apart from the obvious cultural value, employers want people who can work in teams, think laterally and not in straight lines, all of which music gives you in spades. A free music education was one of the glories of the UK when I was a child. Too much has been sacrificed in the name of economic necessity. Learning music is a birthright. And you have to start young. 

I agree completely with this. Music education offers so much to us all, whatever our age. Learning music is an essential and integral part of all our education, throughout our lives. But this is particularly true for our children as they develop physically, psychologically and socially.

Our new music education centre opens in Sandbach this week. At Ohana Music we have structured our programmes in terms of its content and fees to ensure that music education is affordable, enjoyable and social. Learning music together is the best way to learn music.

‘Ohana’ is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘family’ or ‘group’ where everyone learns and supports each other. It emphasises the notion that we are bound together as human beings and that we must not forget each other as we work together. It was a concept that was famously bought to live in the Disney film Lilo & Stitch:

This notion is central to our work at Ohana Music. Our new music space opens on Saturday 6th September at 9am. Do come along, meet us, share some refreshments and have a look at our new facilities. But most importantly, come and learn music together with us. Whatever your age,  I invite you to come, discover or share your passion for music as part of our supportive community.

Why not nominate a talented teacher for a Music Teacher Award?

I’m delighted to work with many talented teachers in schools and colleges across the United Kingdom and beyond.  It is great to see their work recognised and rewarded. At MMU, we were able to honour the lifetime achievements of our colleague Geoff Reed through an honorary doctorate. It was so well deserved.

On that theme,  the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence is now accepting nominations for next year’s ceremony on 12th March. The categories include:

  • Best Musical Initiative Award, sponsored by the Royal Marines Band Service
  • Best Print Resource Award, sponsored by Rhinegold Publishing Ltd
  • Best Digital/Technological Resource Award
  • Best SEN Resource Award
  • Excellence in Primary/Early Years Music Award
  • Best School Music Department Award, sponsored by the MMA
  • Best Classical Music Education Initiative Award, sponsored by Classic FM
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Black Cat Music and MusicPracticeRooms.com
  • The 2015 awards will also see the inclusion of two new categories – Musicians’ Union Inspiration Award, sponsored by the MU and Best Music Education Product Award. A Music Teacher Magazine Editor’s Award will also be chosen by Thomas Lydon, editor of Music Teacher.

The awards were created to celebrate excellence in the UK’s music education sector. For more details visit the Music Education Expo site. Get voting!

Musical Futures to become ‘independent’ from 2015

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, who has funded and managed Musical Futures since 2003, will provide three year’s funding to the tune of £1.2m to support the transition from a project to a not-for-profit organisation. The funding will enable the development of exciting, innovative new models and approaches, as well as continuing the core offer of open source, free materials, training and support to schools. Abigail D’Amore, Chief Executive designate, says:

‘The Musical Futures team are delighted with the generous offer of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation trustees. We have been given a unique opportunity to expand the work of Musical Futures into new sectors, and develop a fully self-sustaining organisation committed to providing high-quality participatory music learning experiences for all children and young people.’

Further information from here.

Today, we are celebrating the career of Geoff Reed – a distinguished colleague and great friend

I’ve never been a fan of honorary doctorates. On the many occasions that I’ve sat on the Bridgewater Hall stage for MMU graduation ceremonies, I’ve seen them given out to various celebrities and wondered why they deserve the conferment of an academic award for basically doing the day job. Also, as someone who worked hard to get a PhD in the proper way (none of the PhD by publication rubbish that’s becoming popular nowadays), I suppose my view is that you need to work hard to get this qualification (actually, work really hard) and not just be dished one out to add to your collection of gongs. I know that sounds a bit petty.

This morning, at MMU’s Faculty of Education graduation event at the Bridgewater Hall, things will be different; very different. In this morning’s event, my friend and colleague Geoff Reed will receive his honorary doctorate.

Geoff has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a music educator. During the final part of this, over the last ten years, he has been working at the RNCM in collaboration with MMU supporting our PGCE in Music and PGCE in Music with Specialist Instrumental Teaching courses.  He has worked tirelessly with hundreds of MMU’s students in this role . His warmth, wise counsel and humanity have shone through all his dealings with them.

For myself, Will and Jane, as a team of MMU tutors, Geoff has been an outstanding colleague. His advocacy for music education never fades and his commitment to provide the very best quality educational experience for our students has never dipped. At a personal level, we have all benefited from his broad perspective and wisdom on all matters to do with music education within higher education, schools and music services. Geoff is widely respected within the field of music education across the United Kingdom and Europe, through the Association of European Conservatories.

Geoff is a quiet and humble man. He would never have put himself forward for an award such as this. However, it was our belief that he would be an ideal candidate to be recognised in this way because of his:

  • Commitment to high quality music education of the highest order shown throughout his career at various schools, Sefton Music Service and latterly at the RNCM;
  • Collegial approach to working with and supporting MMU staff in the most constructive and positive manner;
  • Advocacy for MMU students and staff through our long standing collaborative engagement with the RNCM;
  • Wonderful humanity that has shined through all our work with him. This will be testified to by a huge range of other colleagues, musicians and educators .

This event marks the end of Geoff’s career. He is retiring shortly from the RNCM. I am pleased that we are marking this by honouring Geoff with this award. It is full deserved. Unlike so many who dabble in initial teacher education today, Geoff understands deeply how the process of initial teacher works and how vital the role of the university is in caring for and nurturing students through this process . His wisdom and counsel has been a daily inspiration to us.

Congratulations on your retirement Geoff. Enjoy being Dr Reed. It is well deserved.  We will miss you.


60% of Andrew Carter’s ITT review panel have no experience in ITT at all. Does it matter?

As you may remember, in May 2014 Michael Gove (remember him?) appointed Andrew Carter, Headteacher of South Farnham School, leader of a school-centred initial teacher training (ITT) provider and ITT lead on the Teaching Schools Council, to chair a so called ‘independent’ review of the quality and effectiveness of ITT courses.

He asked Carter to look across the full range of ITT courses and will seek views from those involved across the sector to:

  • Define effective ITT practice;
  • Assess the extent to which the current system delivers effective ITT;
  • Recommend where and how improvements could be made;
  • Recommend ways to improve choice in the system by improving the transparency of course content and methods. Continue reading

Further good news regarding the funding of music education

In a separate Ministerial Statement given by David Laws, there is some good news for the future funding of music education through the Educational Services Grant. This is a direct quote from the statement that can be found in full here:

The Department received a large volume of responses to the consultation relating to the provision of music services. Many were concerned that any reduced local authority support for music services would impact on the overall quality of music provision and in particular on the opportunities for disadvantaged children.

We strongly believe that all children should benefit from a good music education and have given £171million to music hubs since 2012. We have also announced today that central government funding for music education programmes will increase by £18m in 2015-16, and funding for music education hubs will rise to around £75m in total. Local authorities will continue to have total discretion about whether to spend any of the ESG they receive on providing music services

This final sentence is key and should be welcomed. In reality, though, the number of Local Authorities that will continue to support music education through the allocation of ESG funding remains to be seen. Most Local Authorities that I am aware of are withdrawing their funding at a significant rate as they prioritise other things. As I wrote before, the Government will claim a victory whilst the reality is they have cut funding to music education massively over 4 years whilst blaming Local Authorities for the mess that results.

Is this really an additional £18m to support music education?

The Government have announced an additional £18m of funding to support music education during 2015/16. This funding will go direct to music education hubs to help them fulfil their core roles. As Alan Davey says in the press release, this will help them plan with more confidence for the next year or so.

I welcome this additional funding. However, there are a couple of provisos. Firstly, this ‘additional’ money comes after significant cuts of around 10% every year to music education funding over the last few years. This additional money still means that music education funding is woefully short of where it was when this Government came to office.

Secondly, the spectre of significant reductions in Local Authority funding for music education still remains given the ongoing consultation into the Educational Services Grant. I wrote about this back in April yet the Government have still given no assurances that music education services will remain a core part of this grant. The potential loses to music education as Local Authorities withdraw their support will make this ‘additional’ £17m pale into insignificance. As many of us know, across the breadth of our country, music services are shutting or restructuring as their core funding from Local Authorities diminishes year by year.

UPDATE: See my recent post about another announcement today (22/7/14) through a ministerial statement by David Laws. Local Authorities will retain the right to use ESG funding for music education should they so wish. 

You might call me naive, but I think the crux of the argument is this. During the forthcoming election campaign, the Government can now say they have increased funding for music education (whilst in reality, over the whole term, they have decreased it).

The Government can now also blame Local Authorities for cutting music education funding and still maintain that they have supported it fully through this ‘increase’ in funding for music education hubs.

As usual, Tories cut and cut, privatise and then blame others when things go wrong. It’s pretty cynical but there you go.

A tribute to Michael Gove?

How will you remember Michael Gove? The Guardian has published an opinion piece answering this question today. Within it, I’m quoted as saying the following:

I’ll him remember as a divisive figure – somebody who had a radical programme of reform and succeeded in alienating almost everyone in the educational world. Sadly, I think he’s left us with a fragmented and incoherent education system. In many senses, there’s chaos.

Wherever you look in teacher training, there are problems. We’ve got universities – traditionally the main vehicle for training teachers – withdrawing their provision because vice-chancellors are fed up with the lack of security within teacher education. Both Bath University and the Open University have scrapped their PGCEs. Large numbers of potential teachers were lost as a result of the changes and it’s going to be difficult to recover them. There used to be an independent organisation that managed teacher education but this was abolished by Gove and the function was brought under the DfE. I don’t think that move gave it the impartiality and strength that it needs. This is something that needs to be reconsidered – there needs to be an agency that has oversight of teacher training. We now have a real shortage of teachers, especially in specialist areas. Unless something is done by Nicky Morgan, we will live with the consequences of these reforms for years.

Want some help with your lesson planning? Look no further!

lesson_planning I’m delighted to say that my new book for Routledge - Lesson Planning: Key concepts and skills for teachers - is published today. The book describes a simple, staged process of lesson planning that includes:

  • Defining learning objects and outcomes;
  • Considering various different structure for lessons;
  • Creating a suitable environment for learning;
  • Assessment processes;
  • Differentiating and personalising your teaching;
  • Evaluating your work;

and, most importantly, a large chapter on pedagogy which is, for me, an integral part of the planning process.

For anyone who has read my blog and other writings over the years, there will be no surprise that one of the central arguments of the book is built on Stenhouse’s phrase that ‘there is no curriculum development development without teacher development’. This is as true today as it was in the 1970s when he first penned it. Lesson planning is not a dry and dull process. It is about your development as a person, as a teacher, and, when done well, is a highly creative and enjoyable process that is at the heart of all excellent teaching.

Gove is gone!


Gove is gone! Reshuffled, demoted or sacked, however you want to put it, he is no longer the Secretary of State for Education. Personally, I’m delighted.

Gove was always a divisive figure. His radical programme of reform, conducted vivace con moto, took no prisoners and succeeding in alienating large portions of the academic and educational establishment. However, I agree with the TES opinion piece today which stated that Gove ‘mistook change of improvement’. Quite right. Education in the United Kingdom today is in far worse a state that it was before Gove took office.

I was asked what Gove’s legacy was on BBC Radio Five Live this afternoon. In a nut-shell, it is one of fragmentation and incoherence. Wherever one looks:

  • in the field of school governance, autonomy and local accountability;
  • in the provision of school meals for pupils in Key Stage 1;
  • in the slashing of schools’ sports budgets;
  • in the allocation of school places across the country;
  • in the demise of LA support services and the rise of for-profit organisations ‘supporting’ schools;
  • in the imposition of a National Curriculum which isn’t national in any meaningful sense;
  • in the complete lack of support and guidance to schools in how to implement curriculum change at any level;
  • in the mess surrounding the reform of GCSE and other qualifications in the 14 – 19 sector;
  • in the closure of vast swathes of university teacher education provision and the unregulated rise of School Direct;
  • in the random handling of subject allocations for initial teacher education courses which will result in teacher shortages in many areas for years to come;
  • in the weakening of Ofsted’s credibility and political interference in how it operates its inspection regime;
  • in the blatant de-professionalisation of music education and its associated workforce;

and no doubt in a whole range of other areas that I have failed to mention, Gove’s legacy is one of fragmentation, incoherence, alienation and, to a large extent in many areas, chaos. Many elements of our educational infrastructure are already privatised or ripe for privatisation, and profit has become an acceptable motive for educational ventures during his watch. One can only hope that Gove’s successor, Nicky Morgan, has a good stash of cleaning products available. She is going to have to do a considerable amount of cleaning up.

But perhaps the singularly most dismal failure of Gove has been his inability to inspire individual teachers. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t meet a teacher who is stressed, considering retirement or moving to a job outside teaching, who is fed up of being ground down by an educational rhetoric inspired by Gove’s pernicious policies. Many teachers will be raising a glass tonight to Gove’s dismissal.

What’s the bottom line? Gove was a bully. He’s been moved to a job as Chief Whip where being a bully is the first line of the job description. David Cameron recognises his qualities; schools, teachers and others have had to put up with his heavy-handed and bullying approach for the last four years. I’ll be raising a glass with the vast majority of teachers tonight. Good riddance Gove. And good luck Nicky Morgan. Let’s hope you can do a better job through a more collegial approach. Everyone deserves a chance, but we’ll be watching carefully to see whether you are able to adopt a different approach to the handling of our country’s educational system.