The shifting politics behind music education

The reducing allocation of Local Authority funding to support music education has been a long term theme in my blog. However, there was one further aspect of the potential cuts to music education that I didn’t write about in the previous post.  This relates to the relocation of music education to the DCMS and most notably, of course, Arts Council England. Continue reading

Further funding cuts for music education: Fight now!

The Department for Education have released a new consultation regarding the Education Services Grant (ESG). Whilst this might not immediately sound like it has anything to do with music education, it most certainly does! The ESG is a grant paid to Local Authorities and academies for the provision of various education services. It is calculated on a per-pupil basis. The services it covers includes music education. In 2012/13, this figure was £14,344,043, the year before it was £17,337,019 and it had been as high as £25m under the previous Government.

The current Government’s proposal is to remove this funding completely from the ESG. You have to go into the fine print of the consultation to find the relevant paragraphs, but here they are from section 4.5 headed Central Support Services: Continue reading

Fract launches on the 22nd April. Gaming, music and synthesis!

I’ve been watching the development of Fract over the last year or so. We’re delighted to see that it launches on the 22nd April 2014. For those of you that haven’t heard of Fract, it’s a first person based exploration game based on sound and synthesis. It is designed to be a journey of musical discovery within which you make music through different games based on the components of synthesisers. The Fract website has loads of teasers relating to different components of the game.

I’ve just pre-ordered our copy and you can do the same here. It looks and sounds fantastic and we can’t wait to start playing.

The Schools Music Association is to merge with the ISM

The Schools Music Association (SMA), an organisation with a 76 year history of working in music education, has voted to become part of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, the professional body for musicians and subject association for music. This is  good news for the SMA who will benefit from the expertise of the ISM’s full-time staff-team and it further strengthens the ISM’s sphere of influence in terms of guaranteeing a strong voice for the music education profession at the national level.

You can find further information about this merger in this press release. Personally, I think that this is a wise move on the part of the SMA and represents a helpful consolidation of what is still a significantly fractured community of diverse interests and competing ideologies. I would like to congratulate the staff at both the SMA and the ISM for having the foresight and wisdom to put whatever differences they may have had aside and work together for a common cause. It is no secret that I hold the ISM in the highest regard in respect of their campaigning and support for music education over a very difficult few years.

Guest Post: ‘A Response to ‘What Hubs Must Do’ by Piers Spencer

I’m delighted to publish this paper written by Piers Spencer in response to the now infamous Ofsted report published last year. You can read my thoughts on that report here

The recent paper (November 2013) from Ofsted concerning music in English schools is the latest in a sequence of documents commissioned by the current government since 2010.  The first was a report from Darren Henley, chief executive of Classic FM.  Entitled Music Education in England, it recommended the establishment of local ‘Hubs’ to promote and support music in schools, the teaching of instruments and the development of singing.  The government followed it with a National Plan for Music Education and there were two further reports from Ofsted before the present one appeared, bearing the title What Hubs must do.  With a somewhat sensational heading on the Ofsted website that read ‘Music Hubs fail’, it marked a worrying change of tone from previous reports.  In this response, I am going to concentrate on the critical remarks it makes concerning the role of music in the classroom, backed, it says by evidence from a sample of 31 schools.

While heads, governors, parents, the press and politicians see public performances as making a positive contribution to school culture, there is very little interest in day-to-day classroom music.  Many primary schools are inadequately staffed for the subject and there is often indifference to what happens at Key Stage 3.  It is to Ofsted’s credit that its inspectors do care about what goes on in classrooms as well as instrumental teaching and the development of ensembles.  The report castigates schools for their superficial attitudes:  Continue reading

Do you like Music? If so, this offer is for your school or college


I’m delighted to announce that our company, UCan Play, is working collaboratively with I Like Music, the providers of Desktop DJ, the only commercial music streaming service fully licensed for educational use in schools, colleges and universities.

phil_swern2The I Like Music collection is built on the original collection of music fanatic and BBC Radio Producer, Phil Swern (pictured here on the right with the collection that is housed in a secure location in London). It includes every UK Top 40 Hit single since the charts began in 1952, the majority of The US Hot 100 and a comprehensive collection of every conceivable genre including jazz, classical and world music – constantly updated with the latest releases (on average, around 8,000 each month).

UCan Play is looking for schools to work with to tailor the I Like Music archive for educational use. In return for a 50% reduction in your school’s subscription to I Like Music, we would ask you to complete a 5 playlists each with 10 tracks based around curriculum themes, topics or subjects. We would work collaboratively with you on this. You can download our introductory pack about this amazing offer here.

Please rest assured, that all this music is fully licensed for use in an educational context. Unlike other sources of music that are illegal for use in schools, such as You Tube, Spotify and iTunes, the I Like Music music has secured all the appropriate licenses for curricula and extra-curricula usage.

If your school is interested in working with us in this way, please contact us and we can send you some further information. In the meantime, why not explore the I Like Music collection by trying it for yourself? 


Celebrity Teachers: Tough young teachers, social class and inspiration


I really enjoyed reading this post by Heather Mendick today. I would encourage you to read it and follow up on some of the references contained within. Heather argues that Teach First is a form of social class reproduction. This occurs through:

  • the accumulation by participants of additional social and cultural capital;
  • the reproduction of middle-class values and stereotypes of the working-class ‘other’;
  • the obscuring of middle-class advantage through discourses of ‘natural ability’.

The broader politics around Teach First are also explored. In her research, Heather recounts  ’TF participants referring to themselves as ‘fire fighters’ and ‘saviours’’ and she asks hows this influences the position and perception of all of the other teachers in our schools (as well as  what it says about how Teach First and its teachers view the young people with whom they work?).

In terms of cost, I’m in agreement with Heather when she states that:

In an age of austerity, it is clearly an ideological choice that has led politicians of all stripes to robustly support Teach First, by far the most expensive form of training, while Gove destroys the best value and most effective form of initial teacher education, within universities. As the series has progressed, we’ve seen the ‘tough young teachers’ improve, and the inclusion of a second year teacher who is more self-assured, signals this developmental narrative thread that supports the effectiveness of on-the-job training and thus the move of teacher education into schools.

Thanks for such an informative insight into your research Heather.

Laughable: the Year of Code


This is laughable. Lottie Dexter appeared on Newsnight recently to announce the Government’s ‘Year of Code’. With just the gentlest of interrogations from Jeremy Paxman, she announced that she can’t write code herself, and that teachers will be able to teach code to their students with just one day’s training themselves. But I think my favourite quote was when she said, with an exquisite lack of self awareness, ”Knowing how to code is crucial for so many people for getting jobs in the new economy”. Clearly not the case for her job description!

When I think about all the hard work that my friend Bob Harrison has done with the Primary and Secondary National Curriculum for Computing in ITT Expert Group, despite constant opposition from Gove and his cronies such as Dominic Cummins, it makes be laugh and cry that such an initiative should be head up by such an incompetent appointment. If we are going to teach our children to write computer code (and there is a strong argument to the contrary), at least appoint someone to manage the programme who knows something about it.

You can see Lottie Dexter’s interview on Newsnight below and read some of the industry response to this laughable initiative here.