2018 Northern Music Education Hub Conference Report

9th March 2018 - Sarah Mumford

The Northern Music Education Hub conference went ahead at Leeds Civic Hall on Wednesday 28th February 2018. Despite the snow, representatives from more than 20 different music hubs gathered to discuss issues relating to music education.

For those who made it the conference was a rich, informative and thought-provoking day with a focus on innovative strategies for tackling the increasing squeeze on music provision in secondary schools.  Presentations were interspersed with opportunities to discuss issues raised in the context of Mark Robinson’s “Inside, Outside, Beyond: Artistic Leadership for Contradictory Times” model. (Sadly Mark was unable to make it due to the weather).

The day began with a presentation from Julie Hollis, CEO of the Cranmer Education Trust. Julie stressed the need for investment in music education networks that help develop relational pedagogy as she felt that this was a strength of music teachers and an asset on the context of helping boys’ achievement and attainment in particular.

boy yelling into a microphone

Martin Ainscough, Director of Creative Learning at Fred Longworth High School, Manchester, was up next. Their recent 2017 OFSTED report included the following: ‘Pupils benefit from a broad and balanced curriculum. The expressive and creative arts inject the curriculum with vigour and vitality’.

His truly inspirational presentation highlighted music leadership as the key to a successful music offer in secondary schools. He said that music isn’t just going – “it’s gone” in many schools and quoted Jim Collins:

“When you turn over rocks and look at all the squiggly things underneath, you can either put the rock down, or you can say, ‘My job is to turn over rocks and look at the squiggly things,’ even if what you see can scare the hell out of you.”

Jim Collins, From Good to Great, 2001.

He also quoted Robin Alexander:

“We know, don’t we, that at their best the arts excite, amaze, inspire and move us; that they illuminate and enrich our lives; that they deepen our awareness of who and what we are; that they compel us to step out of the here and now into the realm of the possible and barely apprehended; that they nurture essential and transferable skills; that they confront conventional wisdom and speak truth to power; that they encourage us to think and feel more deeply; that they are unique and powerful ways of making sense of ourselves and our world; that they embody much of what it means to be civilised. In short we know that the arts are truly and profoundly educative.”

Robin Alexander, The Arts in Schools: Making the Case, Heeding the Evidence, 2017.

laptop and turntable

Martin shared their approach to music at Fred Longworth School. They believe that effective learning in the arts takes place when students are immersed in practical, hands-on learning activities that use the same tools, skills and approaches that professional artists use in the real world environment of the creative industries. Their KS3 curriculum is designed to develop confident dancers, instrumentalists, composers, painters, photographers, printers, actors and theatre technicians.  Martin cited the following as key elements in achieving the vibrant, successful music offer in his school:

Martin referenced the multiple critique and quality formative assessment they use from “Austin’s butterfly” – https://modelsofexcellence.eleducation.org/projects/austins-butterfly-drafts.

percentage of pupils enrolled in arts subjects at Fred Longworth High School

Some other points from Martin’s talk include:

The third speaker of the day was Duncan Mackrill, Senior Lecturer in Education and Secondary Initial Teacher Education Music Curriculum Tutor, whose presentation was entitled: “Is Music in the Curriculum Facing Extinction?” He gave an overview of the findings of research based on over 700 questionnaire responses from secondary schools in England, giving a longitudinal view of music education from 2012 – 2017.

Factors impacting on children and young people’s music education within and beyond the classroom were considered including potential pressures such as accountability measures. Results were concerning.

Duncan quoted Amanda Spielman, OFSTED Chief Inspector, who said recently that children should study national curriculum content to the end of year 9 and that “It is a risk to social mobility, if pupils miss out on opportunities to study arts subjects.”

adult with headphones on

Duncan’s research found a direct correlation between pupil premium numbers and music as an option – the higher the pupil premium numbers the more likely music is to be optional in Year 8.

The research showed that GCSE curriculum time was holding well at 150 minutes a week. Music GCSE take-up however dropped down by 7.5% to 38,740. 90% of schools teach music in school time, 10% out of school time, and of course we all know that is not possible for every student to opt for music GCSE as a result of impacts of the EBACC. At A Level in 2012/13 the average number of students was 5 in Music. In 2016/17 it was 5.2.  Likewise A level Music Technology has seen an increase from 4.4 students in 2012/13 and 5 in 2016/17. However music teacher numbers are falling. 1900 fewer music teachers 2010-2016/17 are being recruited.  Duncan ended his presentation with ‘some glimmers of something positive happening via Ofsted’ but that whilst Nick Gibb says that the arts are important nothing seems to be being done about their demise.

Jeremy Sleith, Head of St Helen’s MEH , gave the final presentation describing how his hub are currently  delivering GCSE music. The decision to offer music GCSE was made after the Hub had calls from parents pleading for them to get schools to re-consider their withdrawal of music GCSE. They also had a Headteacher and school SLT pleading for hub to offer it. Barnet MEH offer A level music and Hertfordshire MEH are delivering GCSE music in schools in curriculum time.  St Helen’s MEH chose to offer Edexcel. Pupils get 2 hours of music each week out of school time at a local Music Centre. Lessons include all 3 elements. Contact with a tutor is maintained throughout and they are also offering Arts Award as a complimentary qualification. The main challenge is not knowing pupils’ backgrounds for moderation purposes and having them coming four different schools. Jeremy mooted that part of the problem is music teachers themselves, echoing Martin’s focus on Music Leadership as being key to turning this demise of music juggernaut around.

The conference drew to a close with a collective suggestion for all who are concerned to get behind a Manifesto.  The Northern MEH conference attendees agreed to work on a document that outlines what a school should be providing and what a hub should be providing.

For more information visit our Music Hubs page or sign up to our newsletter.

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