The Music Teacher desk is groaning under the weight of sheet music, plastic instruments and reams of promotional material. The iPad is filled with recordings and jotted notes that jostle for attention. My filofax (remember those?) bursts with business cards and my inbox refills the instant it is emptied. And I couldn’t be happier. Welcome to the post-Music Education Expo haze.
The two-day conference, held at London’s Barbican on 12 and 13 March, has given us much nourishment. I do hope that you found the event as energising as we did; as ever, please share your feedback via the avenues listed on the top of this page. It was testament to the Expo’s growing reputation as the UK’s leading music education show that both the schools minister (Nick Gibb) and shadow schools minister (Kevin Brennan) chose the event to appeal to industry professionals for their support.
With the election less than eight weeks away, this was an invaluable opportunity for music teachers to ask questions and we ran a Twitter campaign using the hashtag ‘#quiztheministers’.
Gibb gave a staid account of his experiences of the sector; although he identified many excellent examples of music making, he failed to grasp the challenges that teachers grapple with on a daily basis. The minister called for ‘all children to be able to read music’ and raised a supportive laugh for his admission that he could play the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata – but only the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. Gibb defended his party’s attempts to protect STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), claiming that ‘it doesn’t mean we don’t want more historians and artists’.
While protocol restricts this column from displaying political bias, it is fair to say that Gibb’s counterpart appeared more at home in front of an audience of music educators and practitioners. Wearing a tie adorned with sheet music and making early reference to his Musicians’ Union membership, Brennan made a powerful case for music: ‘If you believe in a more equal society, then access to culture is essential. It is not an alternative to academic work.’ Brennan highlighted problem areas such as funding cuts. Crucially, he stated that the Labour Party would change the rules to ensure that no school could be deemed ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted unless it provided a considerable cultural offering, including music. Brennan also revealed that although it is on record that he is ‘not a fan’ of the Ebacc, Labour has no intention to simply start ‘tearing everything up’ because feedback from teachers suggests they crave stability.
Stability, yes, but as the Expo indicated, the chance to think creatively is equally important. A manageable workload and a supportive environment go a long way. Music teaching isn’t homogenous or prescriptive and together we must forge new ways to convey that to politicians and the wider public.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support during my brief – but enjoyable – tenure as acting editor. It was a great pleasure to meet readers at the Expo and I will be sure to pass on your feedback to the incoming editor, who I am delighted to announce is Alex Stevens. Please join me in wishing him the very best of luck.