Mike Rathbone reports on developments to make every child’s music matter

On 16 and 17 January, 2007, the Music Manifesto State of Play conference took place at the Roundhouse in the London borough of Camden. Over 1,000 music professionals, students, educators, administrators and policy makers attended the festival-style event and representatives from all over the country were able to exchange ideas and approaches to music education with the aid of performances, demonstrations, forums and practical learning experiences.

Manifesto update

The conference included a ministerial address by education secretary Alan Johnson in which he unveiled a £10m government initiative. This was in response to the report Making Every Child’s Music Matter which calls on public, private and community sectors to take part in enriching the lives of schoolchildren across the UK. Alan Johnson said that, ‘as well as being a worthwhile activity for its own sake, music is a powerful learning tool which can build children’s confidence, teamwork and language skills. A better musical education for pupils can also help them hit the right note in their studies.’

The main themes of development highlighted by the conference were:

  • to accept and encourage young people’s creative input into the design, content and implementation of music education programmes, including the use of modern digital technology
  • to offer additional support for the development of central hubs within local areas, to assist in the coordination of both formal and informal music education between the various providing bodies such as schools, music services, community music organisations and the music industry
  • to promote further expansion of relevant training and professional development programmes for music teachers and professionals with particular focus on the Key Stage 2 Wider Opportunities Programme
  • to allocate £10m to promote singing in primary schools supported by the appointment of Howard Goodall as ‘singing ambassador’ and the development of a 21st-century songbook containing 30 songs nominated by schoolchildren and teachers with the focus of the 2012 Olympic Games.

While the composer, broadcaster and choral scholar Howard Goodall has all the qualifications to make a fine ‘singing ambassador’, it is possible to question the allocation of £10m for singing in schools if only on the grounds of gender preference. Boys, particularly in urban areas, may not react favourably to the new scheme, and with a limited purse, could government resources have been spread over a wider musical remit? It will be interesting to see which 30 songs end up in the 21st-century songbook. But with the whole world watching in 2012, it is hard not to imagine some national characteristics being given preference over others.

Re-engaging with music

Only as recently as 1997 Keith Swanwick wrote that young people found music within schools to be a ‘quaint sub-culture separated from music out in the world’. This is slowly changing and there is presently a broader and more inclusive approach to music education than ever before, with over 10,000 professional musicians currently working within music education through local authorities, music services and independent community organisations as well as a further 6,000 full-time QTS music teachers working in secondary schools.

To assist this large workforce in their coordinated delivery, initiatives are being put in place to tie together the various centres for provision, independently from government, in localised hubs. This will provide the opportunity for larger, community-based organisations to increase their status. It may also help to build the relevant pathways for some marginalised young people to re-engage with education, at the same time as influencing the way in which music can be taught in schools. Further to this, the expansion of training and professional development programmes will help to ensure that professional musicians, music tutors and classroom teachers alike, are in a better position to provide the most effective and relevant learning experiences for students.

Musical futures

The music industry has also had an important part to play in the development of suitable training programmes and other pathways such as apprenticeships for young people wishing to pursue a musical career. Over 90,000 people work within the industry in the UK, which provides around 16% of the world’s commercially distributed music. It is a powerful body and it is interesting to see that another issue raised during the State of Play conference was the proliferation of illegal MP3 file sharing and the need to educate young people in the realities of intellectual property rights.
All agencies must have their agendas. But it would be fair to say that many of the current developments in music education are coming from the ground up. This is partly in response to technological advances and partly due to valuable educational research. It is also due to the infectious enthusiasm for music displayed by pupils and their teachers.

Community music

Music education in the UK is undergoing some significant and positive changes and young people’s creativity is increasingly being given space and support. The incorporation of modern music technology into education programmes has proved to be popular. For example, New Avenues Youth Project in London’s Westminster has enabled many young people, often with difficult backgrounds, to develop into confident and mature members of society who have gone on to college and to take up jobs through music. New Avenues has its own record label, TAP Records, facilitated by three recording/production units in its music suite. The project also runs its own radio station AvenuesFM on a restricted licence. Members, staff and volunteers are responsible for every aspect of the live broadcasts from sound engineering to radio training. AvenuesFM is currently broadcasting on the wave-band 87.7 fm – tune in!

Swanwick, K (14.11.1997) ‘False Notes’, Times Educational Supplement.

Mike Rathbone is a professional drummer/sound engineer with a special interest in community music. He is based at New Avenues Youth Project, London W10 www.avenues.org.uk and www.avenuesfm.com.

First published in Learning for Life, March 2007