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Change from GCSEs to EBacc leads to fears for secondary music

18 September 2012

Michael Gove, secretary of state for education, has announced that the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – which excludes music – will replace GCSEs from 2017 onwards.

The announcement sees the upgrade of the EBacc from a controversial performance measure to a fully fledged qualification. Currently, the EBacc is awarded to students who score six C grades or above in the following GCSEs: maths, English, two sciences, a humanity and a language. But from 2017, it will be awarded to students who achieve English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) in each of those subjects. These will be developed with a view to making syllabuses more 'rigorous', with much more importance placed on the final exam. ‘After years of drift, decline and dumbing down, at last we are reforming our examination system to compete with the world’s best,’ said Gove.

MT criticised the original incarnation of the EBacc and condemns the proposal to upgrade it to a qualification. Christopher Walters, MT’s editor, said: ‘In the name of supposed rigour, the EBacc has encouraged schools to divert their energies away from several vital subjects – including music – without which it is impossible to offer a rounded, modern education. Now that this arbitrary six-subject benchmark is set to replace GCSEs, schools will have little incentive to invest in music, art, technology or any other subject excluded from the EBacc.’

At present there is little information on what will happen to the subjects excluded from the EBacc. One government spokesperson said that GCSEs in those subjects could continue to exist in a ‘toughened up’ form, while another said that the GCSE ‘brand’ had become ‘tainted’ and new qualifications in the non-EBacc subjects could be developed.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) – with whom MT campaigned against the EBacc in its original form – has also condemned the proposals and believes that they will increase pressure on pupils to drop creative subjects in favour of the six EBacc subjects.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the ISM, said: ‘These proposals represent a missed opportunity to reform our education system. Michael Gove will ensure with these so-called reforms that the UK loses its competitive edge in the fields in which we are world class. It is as if the Olympics never happened. Design – gone, technology – gone, music – gone.’

Annetts added that the CBI, Creative Industries Council, ISM and Cultural Learning Alliance will all continue to push for reform of the EBacc to include ‘at least some of what the UK economy is good at: creativity and culture.’

Diana Johnson, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education and a former Labour education minister, said: ‘The secretary of state for education has clearly forgotten all his warm words about music education in the past to launch an assault on music in secondary schools. Music education in the UK is world class, contributing hugely to our economy. The government should at least include music in the English Baccalaureate.’

Wallace and Gromit school composition competition launched

14 September 2012

A new competition has been launched to give primary school children the opportunity to create new soundtracks for specially selected clips starring Wallace and Gromit.

The competition has been designed to celebrate the BBC’s Wallace and Gromit Prom this summer and is being run by BBC Proms, BBC Learning and Aardman Animations. It is open to children in Years 3, 4, 5 and 6.

In teams of between two and five, children will compose their own short film scores with the help of online resources produced by BBC Learning. These resources provide teachers with videos, ideas for use in class and printable worksheets, scripts and storyboards. Organisers hope the Wallace and Gromit Soundtrack competition will 'inspire boys and girls to become composers of music that complements the antics of two of the world’s best loved animated characters'.

Class teachers can submit team entries in either video or audio form and the deadline for entries is 3 December. All shortlisted teams will be invited to Aardman Animations’ Bristol studios, while the two winning teams will also travel to BBC North in Salford where their soundtracks will be recorded and broadcast on Blue Peter.

Concern over budget cuts as music education hubs launch

10 September 2012, Christopher Walters

Regional music education hubs, the new infrastructure for music education in England prescribed by the government’s National Plan for Music Education, have come into operation.

Hubs, an idea first suggested by Classic FM boss Darren Henley in his government-commissioned Review of Music Education in England, will ‘take forward’ the work of local authority music services by formalising existing partnerships between schools, instrumental teachers and professional musicians.

This follows the government’s statement in the National Plan for Music Education that the best music education involves classroom teachers working in partnership with instrumental teachers and professional performers, and that every child should get the chance to play a musical instrument and sing.

In practice, the vast majority of the 122 new hubs will be led by existing local authority music services, following a bidding process managed by Arts Council England. This involved prospective hub leaders outlining how they would provide the musical opportunities prescribed by the National Plan. It also required them to show how they would factor in central-government cuts to music education. Funding currently stands at an annual £82m, but is set to fall by a quarter over the next three years.

On the ground, there is scepticism about how much difference the new infrastructure will actually make, as well as concern over the funding cuts to come. The latter is a particular concern, and the Arts Council has been charged with ensuring that all hub leaders’ business plans are watertight, although many people remain sceptical that the new hub leaders have sufficient business nous to accommodate such large cuts. The Arts Council, however, is adamant that all the hubs have solid financial plans in place.

‘We have been working very closely with the music education hubs to develop their proposals and business plans,’ said an Arts Council spokesperson. ‘The funding is linked to payment conditions which include providing a viable business plan which demonstrates how the music education hub will ensure that all children have the opportunity to take part in musical activities. The majority of hubs have developed strong business plans.

‘Those who are not yet there have shown great improvement and we will continue to work with them until their business plans are satisfactory. The Arts Council will continue to work with all the music hubs as they implement their plans and we will monitor them closely to ensure that they are delivering the best value for money. Funding would always be withheld from any hub which provides an incomplete or weak business plan.’

The Musicians Union (MU) is concerned that the cuts will mean many peripatetic music teachers being forced into self-employment. Diane Widdison, the MU’s national organiser for teaching, said: ‘The MU will be fighting against any erosion of terms and conditions for dedicated music teachers whose commitment continues to ensure that our young people’s music education continues to be the envy of the world.’

With this in mind, the MU has brought out a hub resource pack, which aims to advise hubs on issues such as child protection and employment. The pack is intended for directors of hub-leading organisations, but it is also being sent to arts organisations, instrumental teachers and politicians. It can be downloaded free of charge at

MU teachers' conference to take place on 19-20 October in Cambridge

6 September 2012

The Musicians' Union is to hold a teachers' conference on 19-20 October in Cambridge.

For a cost of £60 (or £75 for non-MU members), delegates will get two days of sessions and debate and a chance to network with MU officials and fellow teachers. The price includes meals from Friday lunchtime till Saturday afternoon and overnight accommodation.

Sessions will be led by Lincoln Abbotts, ABRSM's teaching and learning development director; Richard Crozier, recently retired from ABRSM and an expert in professional development for music teachers; Chris Gray, an orchestral trainer and educator who also chairs the Glasgow Strategic Music Partnership; and Andy Gleadhill, head of Bristol Arts and Music Service. The keynote speaker will be the renowned music educator and author Paul Harris.

The closing date for application forms is the 30 September 2012 and places are limited. The venue is Menzies Cambridge Hotel and Golf Course, Bar Hill, Cambridge.

National Youth Orchestras of Scotland overhauled by new chief exec

5 September 2012, David Kettle

Joan Gibson: new structure should 'offer more opportunities to more people'
Joan Gibson: new structure should 'offer more opportunities to more people'

The National Youth Orchestras of Scotland has revealed changes to its orchestral structures and age limits that will lead to a greater number of young people being involved in a larger number of courses from the 2013 season.

The National Children’s Orchestra of Scotland, which admitted young players aged between 8 and 14, will cease to exist, but it will be replaced by two new orchestras: NYOS Junior Orchestra (age range 8 to 13) and NYOS Senior Orchestra (for players aged 11 to 18).

Furthermore, the flagship National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, which admits members from the age of 13, will increase its upper age limit from 21 to 25. The new Junior and Senior orchestras will meet for three courses per year, and NYOS will increase its activities from one to two courses per year, plus a summer tour.

NYOS is dealing with a dramatic 50% cut in its funding package from Creative Scotland, a move which was announced last year and which came into force in April. The cut was described by then chief executive Julian Clayton as 'an attack on what we are doing', and by Creative Scotland as 'an opportunity now to re-focus the organisation on [NYOS's] core activities'. Clayton has since left the organisation.

Current chief executive Joan Gibson, who took on the position in May, explained the thinking behind the changes: ‘When I first came into the post, I looked at the orchestras we had, but there seemed to be a gap in the middle: we’d lose players if they didn’t progress from the Children’s Orchestra to NYOS. I’m a great believer in educational pathways, and we needed to create a set of building blocks for the young players to aspire to.

'The age ranges of the new orchestras overlap so that if you are young and particularly able, we won’t restrict you by saying you have to stay in the younger orchestra, and likewise if you’re older but maybe don’t make it into the flagship orchestra, there are still opportunities for you to enjoy music making up to a high level. Hopefully it will offer more opportunities to more people.’

The NYOS age range extension brings the orchestra in line with other youth orchestras around the world, Gibson argued, and it is also intended to set even higher standards for the ensemble. ‘It should encourage higher-profile conductors to come and work with us,’ she said, ‘and hopefully we can also push things further in terms of the repertoire we take on.’

NYOS’s extensive jazz strand will remain as previously, and its two pre-professional ensembles – Camerata Scotland (now renamed NYOS Camerata) and contemporary music group NYOS Futures – will continue to invite members from the other orchestras.

‘Application forms are out now for 2013, and young people applying will be working in this new structure,’ explained Gibson. ‘It’s a very optimistic story – we’re flying the flag for young musicians in Scotland, and we’re looking forward to working with them.’

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