The Music and Art Departments – 19.03.2016 – Quality Music Education Remains the Preserve of the Privately Educated21 Mar 2016, Posted by Michaela's Blog in
Posted on March 19, 2016 by The Music and Art Departments
Quality Music Education Remains the Preserve of the Privately Educated
I read this article earlier this week, and two statistics have stuck with me.
- “Despite the fact that music is taught at the majority of schools in the country, admissions at leading universities from state schools are on a par with subjects like classics and theology; both subjects traditionally seen only at independent schools.”
- “Music at GCSE and particularly A-level are the most under-subscribed of all elective courses by some margin, with only 1 per cent of A-level entries in England in music or music technology.”
Why is it that the academic study of music at GCSE and A-level is undersubscribed, despite being a compulsory subject in every school? Why is it that the academic study of music at university has admission rates comparable to subjects which are only taught to the privileged few, when all children have access to a music education in school? The answer is simple. Because the academic study of music isn’t really what’s taught in schools. Music, the rigorous academic discipline, is taught in private lessons. The children who enjoy studying music, who are successful at studying music and who elect to study music further are the children who learn music outside of the classroom, and unfortunately, they are the privileged few.
A typical child who is paying for music lessons will:
- learn how to read music.
- be exposed to and spend time learning an enormous range of music, particularly music written before the 20th
- study music theory.
A typical child who is studying KS3 compulsory music in a state school will:
- study ‘accessible’ music genres like film music, samba, reggae or calypso
- spend time listening to compositions made up in lessons by their peers
- create posters about music
The child receiving private lessons is learning music. The child whose only music education comes from compulsory music lessons in school is receiving a dumbed down and simplified version of the subject. We need to remember why it is that music education is compulsory in the first place: to make music accessible to all. We think that, by simplifying the content that we teach as part of the compulsory music curriculum, we are making music accessible. The sad truth is that, in doing so, we are ensuring that quality music education remains the preserve of the privately educated.
This fact may not sit well with some readers. But we have face the facts – music as a compulsory curriculum subject is failing. Every child in a UK state school studies music until they are 14. How many of them can read music fluently? How many of them have studied the scores of the great composers? How many of them know and understand the circle of fifths? At Michaela, we believe that being able to read music, being exposed to a broad and detailed history of music, and understanding the theory of music is what makes a music education, and those are the things we teach in our compulsory music lessons. Over the next few blogs we will go into more detail about what this looks like, how it works and why we do it. We drill pupils in reading music. We explicitly teach them music theory – up to grade 4 by the end of year 9. We don’t make music accessible by lowering expectations; instead we make music truly accessible by actually teaching every one of our students a rigorous and academic curriculum.