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Curriculum review delayed but with good news for music

23 December 2011

The government is to delay the launch of its new national curriculum until 2014 to allow for further debate as part of its current curriculum review. The review, of the primary and secondary national curriculum in English schools, was launched by the Department for Education (DfE) in January 2011 and was scheduled to be published in January 2012 for implementation in 2013, but is now expected to be published at the end of 2012.

Despite the delay, music is generally deemed to have done well in the recommendations so far. The Expert Panel responsible for the curriculum review has recommended that music should be a statutory part of the curriculum, not just in Key Stages 1 to 3, but at Key Stage 4 too. The subject is to stay as a foundation subject in Key Stages 1, 2 and 3, while at KS4, music and art have been designated as ‘the Arts’ and will be a compulsory part of the basic curriculum of the school, with the school free to choose how it is delivered. The increased provision at Key Stage 4 has arisen from the view of the Expert Panel that students in England focus too soon on too narrow a range of subjects.

However, there have been criticisms that the number of teacher training places will be insufficient to support the increased provision. ‘While the curriculum review is announcing that there will in future be more music in the curriculum at Key Stage 4, the publication of teacher training allocations provided for fewer teachers to teach it,’ said James Garnett, chair of the National Association of Music Educators (NAME). ‘Music, along with eight other subjects, is having the number of teacher training places cut by 13% in 2012, following the 32% cut in 2011.’

But in spite of these concerns, the new developments have been broadly welcomed. Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), said, ‘This is promising news for music education and the whole music profession. The review panel’s comprehensive report should be taken on board by the government and headteachers in schools across England. Whilst there is more to do, this is an important step forward.’

Secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, has already hinted to the BBC that music will be included in the new national curriculum. ‘Anyone looking at the care and dedication that’s gone into the National Music Plan would assume that it would be eccentric of the Department for Education not to have music enjoying a prominent place in the national curriculum,’ said Gove, speaking on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters.

The DfE says it hopes the report will help generate ‘public discussion and constructive contributions’ to the curriculum review. An update on the Review of the National Curriculum in England can be found on the DfE website: www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/nationalcurriculum/a0075667/national-curriculum-review-update

RSNO praises Scottish community music project

22 December 2011

A community music project involving participants from the north east of Scotland is to be used as 'a benchmark for success' by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO). The resulting composition, Northlight, was put together by composer Cecilia McDowall, writer Alan Spence and musicians from the RSNO after more than eight months of work by participants of all ages and abilities living in the north east of Scotland. The work, for chorus and orchestra, took its inspiration from the geography and communities of the area.

Groups involved in the project included St Fergus School,  Aberdeen Youth Choir, the Burns Quoir, including members of the Junior Burns Project, Tullos Primary School, Aberdeen, and staff from the project’s sponsor, TOTAL E&P UK Ltd, in conjunction with Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council.

The work was performed by a community chorus, along with members of the RSNO Chorus and the RSNO at the Music Hall, Aberdeen. Organisers say the project will be used by the orchestra as 'a successful example of how arts organisations and local communities can come together in a meaningful way to produce long-lasting legacies'.

Director of Education and Community Partnerships, Ellen Thomson, said, 'it was a huge privilege for the RSNO to run the Northlight project. We set out to take the inspirational experiences of live music-making to the North East and to celebrate this with a full-scale orchestral concert with opportunities for people to take part regardless of their musical experiences.

'The commitment given to the project by individuals combined with the enthusiasm of all the choirs was a joy to see. We are looking forward to sharing the success of our work and the challenges we overcame throughout this eight-month project.'

Joss Atkin, head teacher of Tullos Primary School said her children 'really engaged with the project. It gave them the opportunity to be creative and original. I think they really enjoyed working as a team but also taking guidance from the professionals. The opportunity to work with other groups helped raise the profile of classical music within these communities.'

'The public performance offered pupils a unique opportunity to perform live with professional musicians, where they were supported by a large turnout of family members.' said Ruth MacKenzie, headteacher at St Fergus Primary School. 'Participating in this project was quite inspirational and we'd love to do something similar again. It really was a community project.'

Live Music Bill makes progress

22 December 2011

The Live Music Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, could improve the fortunes of live music in small venues, including schools and student productions.

'This Bill, which will deregulate small live music events, could not come at a more critical time said Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). It is vital that it makes it into law before Easter. This is about protecting musicians' rights.'

Since the introduction of the 2003 Licensing Act, live music in small venues has seen a decline, with, according to the ISM, over-regulation and the cost of getting a licence putting musicians and their venues off putting on small scale events. The ISM has helped lead campaigning against the Act and in support of the Live Music Bill to help remove these restrictions. The Bill now needs to pass through its final two stages before it becomes law.

Annetts added, 'This will free up musicians, audiences and venues across the UK. It will boost the small live music event economy which feeds our wider music economy and it will stop unfair and unnecessary regulations and costs from restricting music making. It is good news for the economy and we are delighted that the government parties and opposition are backing the Bill.'

Music education sector responds positively to National Plan

1 December 2011

The music education sector has broadly welcomed to the government's National Plan for Music Education, published last week, but has several areas of concern - most notably regarding the funding.

Virginia Haworth-Galt, chief executive of the Federation of Music Services, spoke for many when she said she was 'pleased that the ambition of the plan focuses on core music service principles of first access, progression, ensembles and singing.' She added: 'We believe that hubs can build on the work of music services and schools, and will improve the opportunities for all children and young people.'

Making Music, the umbrella body for amateur music-making, says it would be delighted to assist voluntary groups who want to apply to become part music education hubs. 'We hope the Arts Council will consider the strength of voluntary sector relationships when assessing hub applications, and will be on hand to promote the cause of voluntary groups during the application process,' it said. 'We note that the Arts Council will be acting as fund holder for the hubs, and like the Music Education Council we feel that the new funding mechanism must be transparent and accountable if it is to be effective.'

Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, emphasised that 'music education hubs will play a key role in ensuring that every child in this country has the chance to experience the richness of music.' He went on to say: 'We value the wealth of knowledge and experience that many music services have and the excellent work they deliver throughout the country. We look forward to working with them, ensuring that more children and young people have access to high quality music education at a local level.'

As ever, finances are a key issue of concern. According to John Summers, managing director of the Hallé in Manchester, 'The aspirations are terrific, and it feels like a move in the right direction. But the most disappointing thing is the money. There is a 20% reduction between now and 2014 without even factoring in inflation. That's massive. It's all very well to have great aspirations, but if you haven't the money to fulfil it, what is the point? We are all having to absorb cuts, but this is a dramatic one. The funding is dreadful.'

Money is an issue regarding the plan's proposed teacher development initiatives too. 'While we welcome the recognition of the need for continuing professional development for music practitioners to develop the workforce, there are significant costs involved here and it's not clear how these are to be met,' said Richard Crozier, director of Professional Development at the ABRSM.

Darren Henley, managing director of Classic FM, originally outlined two main areas of concern in his Review of Music Education in England: the need for an overarching strategy for music education and the need to eradicate patchiness in provision. 'The new National Plan for Music Education is a major step towards tackling both these issues,' he said, 'helping to ensure that all children receive the best possible music education.'

The need to ensure that all children have access to good music teaching was emphasised by Mike Welsh, past president of the National Assocation of Head Teachers and a member of the newly formed National Plan for Music Education monitoring board. 'Working in partnership with the new music education hubs, schools will have the opportunity to consider their provision and to ensure that they are not only catering for those children who have shown an interest or aptitude for music,' he said.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said he believes the plan will enhance his drive to 'make London a world-leader in music education'. He added: 'There is no doubt in my mind that learning music has profound benefits for young people, as well as our society. This plan will help us towards our goal of ensuring every young Londoner has the chance to learn a musical instrument in school, regardless of their family's ability to pay. London is already the best city in the world for music but to keep this status we must continue to invest in the talent of the next generation.'

The National Association of Music Educators (NAME) believes that the success of the plan will partly rest on the way organisations work with each other, as well as on the way that music services and other potential hub leaders will work with schools. 'These are all partnerships that have the potential to improve music education for young people,' said a NAME spokesman. 'However, there is no disguising the fact that there is less money available to make this happen, and some bold changes will have to be embraced if the potential improvement is to be realised.' NAME was particularly interested in the proposal to develop new primary music initial teacher training (ITT) modules, to be taken either towards the end of ITT courses or as Continuing Professional Development.

Diane Widdison, national organiser for live performance and teaching at the Musicians' Union, was also pleased. 'Music is notoriously a difficult subject to deliver for non-specialists and anything to boost confidence in this primary area is a bonus, as are the recommendations in the areas of music technology and SEN teaching, and anything that addresses issues of inclusion and progression.'

Some saw other problems. 'The plan is not without risk,' said Ivor Widdison, chair of the panel at the Jazz Education Awards. 'Arts Council England suffered draconian cuts in resources and staffing, yet under the plan it will assume responsibility for implementing a proposed new schools’ music education structure based on area hubs. That will entail assessing bids for funds from would-be hubs – an existing successful LEA music service will stand a very good chance of succeeding, of course – and then monitoring performance once funding has been granted. That’s a big new responsibility.'

ABRSM, while fully supporting the ambition to make provision more equitable, said the change from the current system of music education provision to the new system of hubs will be complex. 'Monitoring the new funding structure will be essential,' said CEO Guy Perricone. 'We would urge Arts Council England to ensure that the hubs' remit will include the monitoring of students' progression, as well as their participation, and recommend that its work is supported and reviewed by education professionals.'

The Incorporated Society of Musicians, while welcoming the plan, warned of 'the rapid pace at which the new music education hubs are expected to take forward the work of local authority music services, supposedly beginning to operate as early as September 2012. We already know that many music teachers’ jobs up and down the country are under threat as local government and other bodies make cuts.'

But in general, the sector seems to have given a thumbs up to the plan - 'rather to my pleased surprise,' as Katherine Zeserson, director of learning and participation at The Sage Gateshead put it. 'I do truly believe that this plan could work,' siad Zeserson. 'Skilful strategic leadership and entrepreneurial management aligned to a passionate vision for children and young people as autonomous music-makers could transform this plan into a meaningful musical revolution – I think it’s entirely up to us and our courage, wisdom and leadership.'

UEA music course to close following final decision from university council

30 November 2011

Campaigners at the University of East Anglia in Norwich have vowed to continue their fight to stop the closure of its music department, even though the University’s council has ruled that no new music students will be accepted and that the department will close when current students have finished their courses.

The council ruling followed a recent review of the future of the music school, which found the department was financially unsustainable.

'It is a sad day when a school is to close, but particularly one held in such affection,' said Richard Jewson, chairman of the council.

'But council members believe it would be irresponsible to ignore the danger signals highlighted by the review. The university cannot continue to subsidise a school where the future prospects are so challenging and this is the best way we can safeguard and strengthen other humanities subjects.'

He added that the university is committed to supporting the school’s current students and plans to continue to support and encourage musical activity among students and the wider community.

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition against the closure, including Jools Holland and Coldplay. 250 people also took part in a protest.

It is now planned to close the School in 2014 when the 149 current students have finished their courses.
Bill Vine, a PhD student and a member of the Save UEA Music campaign team, said he was disgusted with the decision but would continue to campaign against the closure.

'We had been hopeful that council members would listen to our arguments and consider both the arguments against the closure of the school and the offer from the Royal Musical Association and National Association of Music in Higher education to visit the school for free and assess the options for growth.'

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