Another independent report showing Teach First as vastly expensive and ineffective

The IFS have published their report into the costs and benefits of different initial teacher training routes. If you are unfamiliar with this sector, you might have wondered how hard it could be to prepare someone for teaching (the answer is that it is harder than many imagine) and that universities might have a key role still in providing this training (the answer is that they do but it is not nearly as large as used to be the case).

Successive Tory governments have favoured alternative approaches and have continued to spend multiple tens of millions of pounds on the ‘charity’ Teach First which trains, on balance, a very small number of teachers in comparison to other routes.

Following on from the DfE’s own research in 2010, research done by the University of Buckingham in 2012, the Education Select Committee findings in 2014, and the report from the National Audit Office in 2016, the IFS report is the fifth report that I can recall that makes two things completely clear:

  • Teach First is vastly more expensive than all other initial teacher education pathways;
  • Teachers trained via Teach First have significantly shorter careers than teachers educated by other initial teacher education pathways.

Here are some of the key graphs from the IFS report. Firstly, this graph shows the average and total costs of training one secondary school teacher across the various pathways:

initial_costs

Alongside this, it is also worth considering the the variation in the amount of funding ITT providers receive for trainees on the different training routes. The report states, clearly, that ‘Teach First receives net funding of £28,700 per trainee (this includes direct grants from the NCTL, fees paid by schools and voluntary contributions, and this is net of the payment to schools to cover mentoring). This compares with the £9,000 HEI providers receive in tuition fees for HEI-led PG courses’ (p.15). In other words. HEIs can educate three teachers for the price of one via Teach First.

However, it is not just the initial costs that one should consider. The IFS have also done an analysis of the costs over the first 5 years of a teacher’s career. Here, the vastly inflated costs of Teach First are reinforced again:

average_costs

As the report explains:

Figure 8.1 combines the five-year retention rate estimates with the central costs associated with ITT to show an average central cost per teacher ‘in service’ after five years for each of the routes for which we have data available.41 Teach First has both the lowest five-year retention rate (37–44%) and the highest average central cost. This means that the average central cost per Teach First trainee who remains in service five years after QTS is therefore between £59,000 and £70,000. For other secondary school routes, the five-year retention rates are higher and the central costs lower, resulting in a lower implied average central cost per trainee ‘in service’ after five years of between £35,000 and £44,000 (p.62). [my emphasis]

If you have got this far, you might be wondering whether the hugely inflated costs associated with Teach First are a wise use of public money at a time of austerity? I am. Perhaps, you might think, teachers trained by Teach First enjoy a long and productive career which returns on the investment that we, as taxpayers, have made in them. You’d be wrong. Teachers trained via Teach First enjoy significantly shorter careers in teaching than their colleagues educated via other routes. Here’s another graph from the IFS showing retention rates after five years:

five_year_retentionSee that line at the bottom? Yes, that’s Teach First’s retention rate. Over 60% of people trained by Teach First leave teaching after 5 years. This is significantly higher than any other route. Additionally, their retention rate is getting worse. This graph shows how it has deteriorated over the last five years (look how the grey and black lines for recent years fall below the green):

retention_cohort

In presenting the facts about Teach First in this way, I receive a lot of criticism from those either involved in Teach First as participants or those seeking to defend it as some kind of engine for social justice in education. To the former group, I have always defended the rights of individuals to choose whatever route into teaching you feel is best for you. I would strongly argue that Teach First does not offer the best training experience and nor does it prepare you to enjoy a long and productive teaching career (that much is obvious from the above). I would encourage you to look elsewhere.

To the later group, I think there are only marginal if any gains from the state sponsoring Teach First to the tune of over a hundred million pounds in recent years (including £76m in 2013). The Teach First marketing machine is infamous for promoting the perceived benefits for their programmes, including much play being given to increases in GCSE grades and, yesterday, to the claim that it’s participants are 7 times more likely to end up as school leaders. Dig a little deeper, and the marginal gains quickly fade away.

So, there is no doubt in my mind that this money could be spent more wisely. As soon as this ‘charity’ has its public funding removed the better in my opinion. Teach First is too expensive and based on a flawed model: you teach ‘first’ and then move on something else with a better salary. This is something else that the IFS report makes clear is a more likely outcome for folk trained via this route. As this table shows, put simply, as local wages rise Teach First trained teachers are up to five times more likely to leave teaching that those educated via other routes:

wages

There is a huge amount of other interesting information in the IFS report and, as time allows, I’ll be returning to it to consider its implications more widely. I would also highly recommend John Howson’s blog for those with interests in this area.




Music teachers - please respond to this request for information about music in your school

I’ve received this request from my friend Ally Daubney at the University of Sussex to help gather responses on music education from a wide range of secondary school music teachers.

Working with her colleague Duncan Mackill, Ally has recently launched an online survey to gather a longitudinal view of secondary school music provision in order to investigate and document any changes within the curriculum across Key Stages 3 and 4 (time, accessibility and models of delivery), staffing levels and uptake of music within and beyond the curriculum.

Anecdotally, numerous factors appear to impact upon music education across secondary schools; the survey aims to document changes and provide more substantive evidence and reasons for them. Ally and Duncan know from a pilot study that they carried out last year that there are a range of changes – positive, neutral and negative, so they are trying to map these and also consider reasons for possible changes.

Please could you respond to this questionnaire so that they can present a more complete picture of music education over the past five years and projecting into the 2016-17 academic year.

The link can be found at: https://sussex.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/music2012-2016

The research is led by Dr Ally Daubney and Duncan Mackrill from the Department of Education at the University of Sussex. In line with the strict ethical procedures by which this work is bound, only Ally and Duncan will have access to the data provided and you have their absolute assurance that no individuals or schools will be identifiable in any reporting.

Given the potential significance of this work and the interest which it has already generated, both Music Education Subject Associations (The Incorporated Society of Musicians and Music Mark) have taken a keen interest in the work and will be involved in reporting, publishing and sharing the findings. We are delighted that they have pulled together on this, an indication of their understanding that music in the curriculum is vitally important.

The survey is open for two months and I really hope that you have the time to get involved and help Ally and Duncan collecting this data to help inform a more constructive approach to music education in the future.




Making music is good for you - forever!

https://youtu.be/P4ZhqTUqstM

It was great to see CNN produce this film on the significant benefits that music education can bring to young and old alike. Our fellow music education researcher from Northwestern University, Nina Kraus, is featured in the first part of the film. Her work on ‘neural timing’ is fascinating. The benefits of learning music in childhood extend throughout one’s entire life. Practical music making from the youngest age really is good for you – forever!




'A specter is haunting music education: it is the specter of El Sistema'

dudamel_2242987bSo starts Robert Fink’s brilliant exposition on the theme of El Sistema (published for free here at Academia.edu). I would urge you to read his paper in full. It is a beautiful and challenging critique of El Sistema that utilises powerful metaphors to bring about a new understanding of this influential music education movement.

At the heart of El Sistema, Fink argues, is a fantasy. It is a fantasy of music appreciation (and music education) as social justice. This fantasy has been achieved and, for many, become reality through Abreu’s skilful political manoeuvring. Fink explores this through six ‘passes’ that demonstrate Abreu’s considerable sleight of hand:

  •  A Youth Orchestra can be a Social Welfare Project;
  • Material Poverty can be relieved by Spiritual Affluence;
  • Talented Young Performers are signs of a (state-Sponsored) Miracle;
  • (Their) Being in Harmony can revive the Meaning of Harmony (for Us);
  • Art as Social Justice enables Social Justice as Marketing;
  • Marketing ‘Change’ while programming The Same Old Stuff.

FInk’s arguments are rich and stimulating. They centre around a challenge to the ideology of harmony (socially, politically and musically) within the project itself and more generally in how it is received around the world. In the middle part of his paper, Fink reminds us the ideology of harmony is dialetical:

Harmony subsumes both consonance and dissonance, and thus the message of Western music for modernity is that struggle and discord can, up to a point, be exciting; that the authentic development of the individual is often at odds with the need for order in society; and that teleological development might lead to com-plexity and disorder, but is preferable to simple stasis. (p.8)

In contrast, he argues, El Sistema takes a very different starting point:

In Abreu’s System, on the other hand, harmony is an absolute, non-dialectical value, functionally equivalent in discourse to something like ‘the beauty of total agreement’. In harmo-ny with Leibniz, who argued that when each of us ‘plays his part,’ we fulfill our deepest purpose, Abreu portrays the classical symphony orchestra as a mechanism for aestheticizing social unity; in fact, the most perfect such cultural machine ever created. (p.9)

The metaphor of ‘harmony’ is used throughout the paper in a powerful way to critique El Sistema. Unlike Geoffrey Baker’s book, Fink doesn’t bring this powerful metaphor to bear on the pedagogical approach inherent within El Sistema. It would be very interesting to discover what he thinks about this.

However, he makes the more obvious point that Venezuela is, perhaps, ‘one of the most in-harmonious places on Earth, with decaying industrial infrastructure, skyrocketing rates of street crime and inflation, an openly paranoid style of official diplomacy, and regular shortages of basic consumer goods that socialist and capitalist factions can only explain by accusing each other of sabotage? (p.20). Perhaps, he concludes, it is time to ‘stop playing around in the fantasy utopia of classical music, and start fighting in the real world’ (p.20).

For us working within music education in the UK, the article is a useful reminder that all that glitters in the world of music education is definitely not gold. Given that our ‘version’ of El Sistema is titled In Harmony, I must admit that I enjoyed Fink’s playful and powerful use of harmony as an ideological and metaphorical construct throughout the paper. For me, like him, I’d prefer to be In Dissonance rather than In Harmony. 

You’ll need to read to the end of his article to find out why. I highly recommend it to you all.




Steve Reich's Clapping Music: A new app!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhhvgdQs_h4

UCan Play has recently been involved in a project with NYMAZ researching the delivery of instrumental music lessons online using Roland’s VR-3EX audio and video mixer and streamer. This work has been funded through NESTA’s Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

One of the other projects also funded by this fund is Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, a game-based app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad inspired by – you guessed it – Steve Reich’s Clapping Music. His piece has inspired all sorts of people from the famous percussionist Evelyn Glennie to David Bowie. The app also includes lots of additional content about Steve Reich and minimalist music, and unique recordings from the London Sinfonietta, including another piece by Reich, Electric Counterpoint.

The game has been developed by a team from three organisations – The London Sinfonietta, Touchpress, and Queen Mary University of London. It will be free for anyone to download from iTunes from late June 2015. You don’t need to be a musician to play, in fact the developers would love as many people as possible to download it and get tapping and clapping! You can find out more about the app here and the associated research project here.

The developers has asked us to help raise awareness of this new app. They would like you to play the game and complete three online surveys during the period from app launch to August 7th 2015; one before you download the app, another after playing for a little while, then another two weeks later. The surveys include questions about your musical experience, age and music listening habits and preferences. They will download your playing data from the game and look at this as well. As a thank you, they will draw 10 people at random from the participants who have completed and submitted all three surveys and enter them into a draw to enter one of 10 Amazon £50 gift cards.

Ready to sign up now? Send an email with the subject line ‘Sign me up to the research focus group’ to clappingmusicresearch@gmail.com.




My presentation to ALC's Access and Innovation event

alcI was delighted to give a presentation to the Access and Innovation event held at FACT in Liverpool today. Organised by the Arts Learning Consortium, I was asked to be provocative and speak on the themes of creativity, technology and education. I was happy to do so ;).

Here’s a copy of my paper which considered mindful creativity as a core theme.




El Sistema: A conference to explore and critique what it means for music education

The Venezuelan youth orchestra program known as El Sistema, founded in 1975, has attracted considerable international publicity and funding in recent years. Said to be an effective means of resolving a wide range of social problems and now operating under the banner of ‘social action through music’, it has inspired attempts to adopt and adapt it in dozens of countries around the world.

However, there are very few critical analyses of the program’s aims and no rigorous studies which demonstrate that it achieves them. Furthermore, its methods are poorly understood and obscured by idealistic rhetoric. Efforts to transplant El Sistema overseas have taken place without reliable written sources about its history and its pedagogical and philosophical program.

Despite (or perhaps because of) this intellectual vacuum, there is currently a global wave of enthusiasm for the Sistema model, and there have been many public events devoted to promoting it in Europe and North America. Overwhelmingly shaped by advocacy, their discussions have largely ignored a number of contradictions – for example, the fact that the program’s fastest expansion has coincided with rising crime rates in Venezuela. Similarly, there has been a failure to interrogate how an orchestral training scheme became rebranded as a project of social inclusion, or whether an expensive program underwritten by a petro-state is suitable as a global educational paradigm. The consequence is a paradox: El Sistema is both the best-known and the least-understood music education program in the world today.

This one-day conference will be the first event dedicated to critical thinking about El Sistema, its derivatives around the world, and programs that provide alternative models. We aim to stimulate deeper reflection on a shift in the function of the orchestra towards social inclusion and discipline. The combination of European art music, a rhetoric of salvation, and a proselytising approach invites comparison with older, colonialist conceptions of music education, yet the enthusiastic embrace of the program by business and financial organizations suggests a need to investigate its relationship with neoliberal ideology.

The keynote speaker is Professor Robert Fink (UCLA).

The conference will be held on the 24th & 25th April at Senate House, University of London.

Convenors

Geoff Baker, Reader at Royal Holloway, University of London, author of El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuelan Youth (OUP, 2014)

Gustavo Borchert, doctoral candidate at the University of Turku, Finland, researching the renegotiation of the symphony orchestra as a tool for social inclusion and post-Fordist corporate management model

Owen Logan, Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, co-editor of Contested Powers: The Politics of Energy and Development in Latin America (Zed Books, forthcoming)

Further details and registration details are available here.




Musical Futures cited as a model of progressive music education

Geoffrey Baker’s new book, El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth, is a stinging critique of the Venezuelan instrumental and social music education programme. Baker’s research is far reaching, drawing on observations of the programme throughout Venezuela and interviews with key participants in the programme and students themselves. As a piece of qualitative and ethnographic research, it is beautifully constructed. Throughout his book, which I reviewed here for the Music Education UK websiteBaker is at pains to justify his assertions about the programme and, when necessary, points to the limitations of his research and the conclusions therein.

In the final chapter of his book, Baker points to a number of projects that exemplify what he calls a more ‘progressive’ form of music education. At this point, it was lovely to find references to Musical Futures, a project that surely every music teacher here in the UK must be aware of that has made a significant and positive contribution to music education over the last ten years. This was what Baker has to say about Musical Futures:

One of the most radical and promising music education initiatives is Musical Futures, which began in the United Kingdom in 2003 and is spreading internationally. Musical Futures builds on Green’s (2002, 2008) work on informal learning and its application to the classroom. It’s central element is copying recordings by ear, and it integrates listening, improvising, and composing into the learning process, which is holistic and student-led (rather than sequential or drill-based) and promotes student choice of instruments and repertoire. Green (2008, 199-80) applies this informal learning pedagogy to ensemble playing and classical music, revealing that there is no inevitable bond between El Sistema’s curriculum, collective ethos, and conservative pedagogy. (Baker 2014, p.318)

He then goes onto draw a direct comparison between El Sistema and Musical Futures in terms of cost and instrastructure:

El Sistema requires an extraordinary and continuous outlay of money on infrastructure and instruments, primarily for the program’s elite students, and would fall apart without the continuous injection of huge funds. It also creates dependency through its educational practices and monopolisation of funding. Musical Futures represents a radical alternative: a genuinely new pedagogy, and a grassroots movement led by teachers and students rather than a central institution. With minimal funding required, it is not only much cheaper but also more self-sufficient and sustainable than El Sistema. (ibid)

Those of us that follow these things carefully will know that Musical Futures is going through something of a radical transformation itself, moving away from the financial support provided by its charitable funder – the Paul Hamlyn Foundation - and developing into an independent business. We wish them well at this key time and look forward to the continuing positive contribution they will make towards the development of progressive music education pedagogy around the world.

References

Green, L. (2008) Music, Informal Learning and the School: A new classroom pedagogy. Aldershot, Ashgate.

Green, L, (2002) How Popular Musicians Learn: A way ahead for music education. Aldershot, Ashgate.




'El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth' by Geoffrey Baker: A book review

This review was first published on the Music Education UK website on the 26th February 2015.

Geoffrey Baker’s new book, El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth, is a stinging critique of the Venezuelan instrumental and social music education programme. Baker’s research is far reaching, drawing on observations of the programme throughout Venezuela and interviews with key participants in the programme and students themselves. As a piece of qualitative and ethnographic research, it is beautifully constructed. Throughout his book, Baker is at pains to justify his assertions about the programme and, when necessary, points to the limitations of his research and the conclusions therein.

Following a general introduction, the book is divided into four main parts. Part One introduces the institutions of El Sistema and the various people involved, notably ‘el maestro’ – José Antonio Abreu, the conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra. Part Two addresses the issue of music education and pedagogy within the programme before Part Three considers the issues of whether or not the programme has made a positive social impact. Finally, Part Four considers the wider impact of El Sistema, including the political, economic and cultural impacts both claimed by proponents of the programme and evidenced through Baker’s research. The book closes with a fascinating set of alternative proposals for music education in the twenty-first century that might, Baker suggests, provide a broader, more inclusive and pedagogically rich experience for children than those found in El Sistema.

As someone with a broad interest in music education and an active researcher, but nothing more than a general knowledge about El Sistema drawn from listening to fellow educators and researchers talking about the movement within education conferences, reading publicity about the programme and commenting on evaluations of ‘spin-off’ programmes here within the United Kingdom, I was thoroughly engaged with Baker’s critique of El Sistema throughout all four parts. Baker’s carefully worded and eloquent prose is evidence indeed that all that glitters is not gold (and the elite Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra can certainly glitter!).

I note in other reviews of Baker’s book that his critics have argued against his research methodology and methods. I have no complaints on this front. Baker adopts a qualitative, ethnographic approach throughout and is entirely aware of the limitations of such a methodology. His methods too – formal and informal interviews, observations of the day-to-day business of El Sistema (including rehearsals, lessons and administrative activities in different regional centres, the study of documents and written evidence) – have their limitations but, again, Baker is completely candid about this. Throughout the book, you will find statements like this:

The scope of my research is limited. … This book is not a comprehensive or conclusive narrative but rather a critical, informed analysis of some of El Sistema’s key actors and core claims. … I can only open a window onto these complex realities; there is much more to explore, many other research methods to be applied, and a vast number of stories still to be told. (p20)

Whilst this opens up Baker’s approach to criticism, I take this as a major strength of the book, its author and its critique of El Sistema. Baker has very challenging things to say about the El Sistema model. For him, and many other cultural observers, El Sistema is testimony to Abreu’s mastery of the dark arts of politics and economics, driven by his autocratic management style, his intolerance of competing visions and a relentless pursuit of power (p47). Its benefits for participants are musically, socially and culturally compromised by this.

For example, as a social development programme, Baker argues, El Sistema is conceived as a cultural and educational continuation of mid twentieth century modernist theory. Its large, centralised and top-down development structures are characterised as paternalistic, authoritarian and exclusive. In all aspects, Baker argues, it swims against the tide of progressive thinking in arts education (p107).

In terms of music education, too, Baker is highly critical of the model adopted by El Sistema. He questions the legitimacy of the orchestra as a positive social, educational or professional environment for the development of young people’s musical skills. His research reveals that large numbers of classical ensembles are permeated by social dysfunction, questionable ideologies and pedagogical flaws (p132). All of these, and many more, are evidenced through the El Sistema and reach their pinnacle in the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra, which, he claims, exploits children mercilessly in pursuit of ‘excellence’ in its grand scale, staged, performances across the world.

Despite the significant and worrying nature of these assertions, for a music educator such as myself, Chapter 6 and its focus on learning and teaching in El Sistema is perhaps the most troublesome. Here, Baker exposes numerous aspects of El Sistema’s pedagogical approach and critiques them rigorously. Amongst other things, he explores:

  • The intense and exploitative work schedules of the young musicians that has resulted in a ‘work-centred’ rather than a ‘child-centred’ approach to learning (p134 & p139)
  • The sequential and repetitious nature of the lessons and rehearsals (p135)
  • Hierarchical and teacher-centred pedagogical approaches that underpin an old-fashioned view of teaching as ‘transmission’ and fundamentally undermines children’s own sense of musical creativity (p136)
  • The limited musical repertoire and the consequent effects this has on children’s ability to play more fluently across musical styles or engage with their own folk musics (p140)
  • Limitations in pedagogical approaches adopted by established teachers and through peer teaching, with an emphasis on ‘teach as you were taught’ rather than an openness to more contemporary approaches to teaching and teacher education (p142)
  • The lack of critical thinking, or any divergent thinking really, in El Sistema, which fails to give children the opportunity to stop and think for themselves and certainly does not allow for any dissent from students or teachers about the pedagogical approach that is inherent within the programme (p144)
  • The mono-dimensional nature of music education within El Sistema, which prioritises musical performance to the exclusion of everything else and leads to students having major gaps in their musical knowledge when they move onto other musical studies (p147)
  • The devaluing of Venezuelan traditional and folk music as legitimate alternatives for music education.

To sum up this important chapter, Baker states clearly, and I would agree with him on this, that El Sistema’s ideology and practices ‘lie far from much recent research on music education, equity, and social justice’ (p150). Furthermore:

El Sistema argues that learning to play orchestral music will make you a better person; critical educational theory suggests that focusing on orchestral music may curtail genuine education and lead to social oppression rather than justice. (ibid)

One of the most worrisome sections of Baker’s book comes in Chapter 10, Realities, Dreams and Revolutions. Here, Baker discusses issues relating to allegations of sexual abuse within El Sistema. Baker describes the ‘relative normality of sexual relationships between teachers and pupils’ (p227), reporting one ex-Sistema musician as describing the programme as ‘like a chain of secrets and favours – like a secret society’ (p228). Baker has found no concrete evidence that these allegations or suspicions are true. Here, particularly, he is open and transparent about the limitations of his study as a foreign ethnographer and musicologist. However, the regularity with which allegations surfaced across the data he collected through interviews, conversations and via document analysis of Internet forums was striking. Following on from numerous criminal prosecutions for sexual abuse of young children, from institutions such as Chetham’s School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music, and with further criminal prosecutions to follow this year within court rooms across the United Kingdom, it seems that the issues associated with sex and music education are, sadly, only just beginning to be uncovered both here and abroad.

Given the scale of the ‘success’ of El Sistema, it is not surprising that there have been copycat models developed throughout the world. By late 2012, Baker cites models in around fifty countries on six continents (with over 70 projects inspired by El Sistema in North America alone). Whilst many of these projects are built upon El Sistema’s illusions as much as its realities, Baker is careful not to tar all these projects with the same brush. Rather, he claims that many have improved on the traditional El Sistema model in many ways, notably through a more rigorous and productive use of educational evaluation and public transparency. However, the traces of El Sistema are only too evident in movements such as Sistema Scotland which, he argues, is still in ‘thrall to the orchestra and classical music, and shows a dismissive attitude toward popular and traditional music (p306).

Baker’s book closes with examples of how the El Sistema has been genuinely superseded by other, more productive in his opinion, models of music education across the globe. Citing examples such as Sheila Nelson’s string project in Tower Hamlets, Peter Cope’s Scottish fiddle project and the Musical Futures initiative, he argues that more progressive models of music education such as these have significantly more value that the state-sponsored, modernistic, bureaucratic and tyrannical model found in El Sistema. Whist El Sistema has undoubtedly opened up ‘extraordinary space for music education’ (p322), it is suited to a bygone age, the nineteenth rather than the twenty-first century. Whilst its ‘elite’ performers stun audiences around the world:

… problems lie just beneath the surface; skeletons are rattling in the closet; and experts cannot continue forever to confuse propaganda and fact, or to ignore the gulf between progressive theory and conservative practices. (ibid)

Baker’s book is a bold and insightful exploration of El Sistema. The El Sistema lobby is powerful throughout the world and will not take kindly to his thesis. However, his words need to be heard and acted on seriously and conscientiously by policy makers. Baker’s book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in arts and music education, policy and practice. It is uncomfortable reading. But the clarity of his historical, political, cultural and pedagogical analysis is insightful throughout. I highly recommend it to you.




Making Music: A mixed bag from the ABRSM

making_musicMaking Music, the ABRSM’s latest piece of research into the teaching, learning and making of music by adults and children across the United Kingdom was published today. You can download it from here.

The report is a informative read, but generally a bit of a frustrating one. Starting with some positives, there is much to celebrate. Increasing numbers of children are playing a broader range of musical instruments than ever before; according to the report at least, the nation’s instrumental music teachers are ‘expressing high levels of professional satisfaction’ and are ‘remarkably fulfilled’ in their employment; technology is creating new opportunities for anyone to engage with and create their own music.

There are other areas where things are not so rosy. Children from lower socio-economic groups continue to be disadvantaged by the high costs of participation in instrumental music making; regional provision is variable and not helped by the fragility of funding for music education hubs;  50% of instrumental teachers cite schools and parents as being unsupportive of their work.

Schools come in for a bit of hammering. Comments such as ‘50% of teachers cite a lack of support from schools and parents plus poor motivation from students as among the most common negative aspects of their work’ are unsubstantiated or inadequately analysed. The benefits of instrumental music teaching and learning within the formal curriculum that school’s offer is also unacknowledged throughout the report. This is a great shame as there is plenty of other evidence to suggest that large swathes of young people across the UK are getting valuable musical experiences through the work of schools and their partnerships with music education hubs.

The report is tantalizing by omission. One example relates to music technology. Technology, is ‘creating new opportunities for anyone to engage with and create their own music’. So far, so good. How is it doing this? No substantial evidence or analysis is presented. There is no recognition at all that the increasing use of technology could be, on occasions, a detrimental thing for music education.

I was also puzzled that the ABRSM have done little to contextualise the findings or their report within the broader research done in this area. Other research done by partners of the ABRSM include Katherine Zeserson’s excellent report for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and other work completed by Music Mark, the ISM and others is ignored. There are also extensive data sets collected by Arts Council England through their work managing music education hubs that are not mentioned or explored at all. A more thorough contextual analysis of this data as a whole could, perhaps, have led to a more robust exploration of several assertions made within the report. In turn, this would have led to the construction of a stronger and more robust set of implications.

I was also disappointed that the report is unashamedly political. It states that ‘successive governments’ policies have helped bring about real improvement’. This is strongly debatable. There are serious arguments that the last four years of political mismanagement and incompetence have done irrevocably harm to music education in all sectors throughout the UK. The real costs of fragmenting, privatising and de-professionalising the sector may only just be beginning to be seen. The report is completely unaware of the damage being done to the structure of music education and its provision in many parts of the UK right now.