Educational Excellence Everywhere – an opportunity for improving music education still further?

Richard Hallam, Chair, Music Education Council. April 7th 2016.

The Music Education Council is a non-party political organisation that simply strives to ‘promote and advance the education and training of the public in music’.

There have been a number of responses to the Government’s white paper recently. I have finally managed to read it from cover to cover. It strikes me that there are opportunities and important pointers that music educators and the MEC can take into account as we develop our vision for music education in 2030.

First we need to be realistic. We punch well above our weight but there are some things that even collectively we are too small and insignificant to influence on our own. Of course, we can work with others to make a difference; and we can gather evidence so that unintended consequences or misinformation can be challenged. Sometimes all we can achieve is damage limitation.

Second, we need to positively seek out opportunities. We need to do our best, in the current climate, to ensure high quality musical experiences – of the kind that can transform lives – continue so that eventually they are available and affordable to all. There are still numerous examples of excellent practice and we need to celebrate and share these more effectively. The MEC Music Education Awards provide an opportunity to do just this by spotlighting practice from each academic year. Application forms for the 2016 Awards will be available by the beginning of May.

This blog is about looking for those opportunities and pointers in the White Paper remembering that the National Plan for Music Education created a role for hubs (name checked together with the MDS on page 90 of the white paper) and that the hubs still have central funding for their four core roles.   ‘Hubs and schools (or clusters of schools) will work together to determine what high quality music education looks like in a local context, and who will be responsible for the delivery of each aspect’. (Page 16).

One hundred and twenty five pages cannot be distilled into a few words. But here are some of the positives and potential opportunities I took from the white paper.

  • The DfE Strategy Overview sets out to ‘provide world-class education and care that allows every child and young person to reach his or her potential, regardless of background’. This vision is based on five principles: Children and young people first; high expectations for every child; outcomes, not methods; supported autonomy; and responsive to need and performance (p124).
    • We can work with this
  • ‘We are unapologetically ambitious for every child, no matter what their background, prior attainment or needs. The best possible education for adult life in 21st century Britain is one that equips children and young people with the knowledge, skills, values, character traits and experiences that will help them to navigate a rapidly changing world with confidence’ (p88) and ‘every child deserves a high quality education, no matter where they live or what their background or needs’ (p100).
    • Music education, in all its guises, has a role to play.
  • ‘The government believes strongly that culture should be an essential part of every child’s education and the new national curriculum aims to broaden access to the arts for all children (para 6.7). Academy status includes freedom over the curriculum as long as (my italics) a ‘broad and balanced curriculum is taught’ (para 6.8)…we also want academies to use their freedoms to innovate and build more stretching and tailored curricula, to meet the particular needs of their pupils or their local area or the particular ethos of the school‘ (Para 6.9) and we have given teachers much more professional freedom to choose how to teach and how to assess in the classroom (para 6.10).
  • The EBacc represents a core academic curriculum – it should not squeeze out wider study (p93).
    • We need to use these words to challenge schools that do not give sufficient importance to music.
  • There are also opportunities in respect of Character (p95) and through the National Citizenship Service (p96).
  • Ensuring the needs of all pupils are met and championing parents and families, including the growing functions for Local Authorities relating to Early Years provision; identifying, assessing and making provision for children with SEND; listening to and promoting the needs of parents, children and the local community; and an expectation that academies will ‘put in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with parents, to list to their views and feedback (pp69/70).
    • Again, surely there are appropriate roles for music education here and for engaging parent power to challenge schools that do not provide adequate music education.


  • The importance of the quality of teaching and CPD and the role of Specialist Leaders in Education, who will spread best practice and high quality professional development, including direct mentoring (p13/74).

    • Given the limited number of music specialists, hubs can help here.
  • An acknowledgement that ‘different parts of the system develop at different rates’ (p84).

    • So, by implication, hubs will develop at different rates. We need to celebrate and learn from the most successful with implications here for the MEC’s Music Education Awards and our own CPD.

It is not possible to do full justice to all of these elements here. Through its fourteen working groups MEC will continue to discuss these issues and facilitate a sector-wide approach so that we get the best possible outcomes for all. There is much to be done, but by working together we stand the best chance of continuing to make a difference. Look out for the regular monthly news updates to learn more.


So What?

How can we sustain and improve the access to and quality of music education over the next 3 years? If this question interests you do read on!

I do not blog regularly, but I hope that colleagues who take the time to read my occasional blogs find in them food for thought and realistic opportunities for meaningful and worthwhile practical action.

So many wonderful things are happening, often in the face of significant challenges. Last month I was privileged to hear some phenomenal singing and playing as I adjudicated at a young musician of the year final with candidates from all of the secondary schools in one local authority area. Also, following a visit by a colleague to a First Access programme, I heard and saw a really moving recording of a primary school with great singing and instrumental accompaniment involving the whole school. Hopefully you will also regularly experience inspirational and motivational moments.

We all want every young person to have the opportunity to find the place of music in their own lives and to enable them to engage positively with music, progressing as far as they wish. Individually we have great successes. But how can we build on these to ensure we sustain and improve the access to and quality of music education? Somebody should do something about it! Well the good news is that some body or rather bodies are doing something about it.

Just to give some examples of current work undertaken by Music Education Council members: the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Inspire music programme is collecting examples of effective practice to share via a web portal. Music Mark is researching examples of good teaching in first access programmes, taking account of the context. Youth Music is hosting the Youth Music Network with several discussion forums. The ISM is leading the fight on the EBacc. MEC itself has a strategy with includes working groups addressing Early Years; First Access; Curriculum in schools; Music Technology; Singing; SEN/D; HE/ITT; and Adult, with other groups ensuring coherence with the ‘client’s voice’; research; quality; progression; and CPD.

So how can we sustain and improve the access to and quality of music education over the next 3 years? By getting involved. By sparing a moment to celebrate and share what you are doing with others and finding out more about what they are doing. None of us has all the answers. None of us can do it alone. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts.

Through the MEC we are collectively articulating a vision for music education for 2030. Practical steps for each of our four UK nations are in process now towards realising that vision. The ISME world conference in Glasgow in July 2016 will be a place to put our thinking in an international context and through the MEC you can get a special first time ISME membership rate to reduce the cost of attending!

If you are doing great work and are happy doing it alone – fine – good luck to you. But if you want to play a part beyond your own personal sphere of influence, or wish to help secure the future for music education and are not sure how to do it, contact me and maybe I can help. (Pro Bono). ( 07850 634239). Dick Hallam, Chair, Music Education Council.


Music Education for All

The next step towards turning a vision for music education for all into a reality took place last week with two MEC summer seminars in London and Leeds and an Inclusive Excellence conference in Bristol. Don’t worry if you missed out. The task continues and you can still get involved. If you are interested in doing so, please read on.

It does need to be acknowledged that, although we were looking to progress our aspirations with a phased approach over a period of 15 years, in reality, by the time we get to 2030 our hopes, aims and objectives will have evolved to meet the needs of all, assisted by new technologies. The personal, social, educational and musical contexts will have changed. What remains constant is the importance of music education and music’s power to impact on all our lives.

Sue Hallam was careful to remind us that the evidence from research shows us that, whilst there are some things that only music can do, many of the social benefits can accrue from collectively participating in a range of activities, which for some people will include musical ones. We should start young, have sustained programmes and, for music to have the desired outcome, in all cases the activity has to be a quality experience. If this is not the case, far from not achieving the intended outcomes, the result may even be detrimental. And of course, our definition of quality needs to take account of what is trying to be achieved.

Kathryn Deane developed this concept further with the Music Education for All wheel of understanding. This is the who, which, what, how and why of what we are doing. The joy of Kathryn’s wheel is that it doesn’t matter which order or in which direction these questions are addressed as long as they are all addressed! Who is the client group? What are the purposes? Which musics are involved? How is this experienced educationally? And why are we doing whatever it is that we are doing? If this has been thought through then music education does not have to be ‘either/or’, it can be ‘and’. Music education will be different in different contexts. Valuing a musical activity because it brings well-being and improves the quality of life for an elderly person does not detract in any way from the importance of music as part of the school curriculum; or the importance of music to the very young; or to those who have special needs or disabilities.

So first let us strive to improve the quality of all music education experiences; continue the professional dialogue to agree what ‘quality’ is in a particular context; and provide the professional support to develop our work in that area. We can do this by celebrating and sharing our practice and articulating why a particular activity is being celebrated and why it is thought to be good.

Second, we can adopt a mature, pragmatic approach to those matters that require public policy and/or finance in order for them to progress. The current government was elected on the basis of certain educational and austerity policies. We will be able to progress some aspects of music education for all within these policies. Other issues that matter to us as music educationalists will need to be chipped away at but our success criteria may need to be less ambitious. This doesn’t mean that we care less or that these may be less important. It just means that we need to be realistic.

MEC will continue to keep this work moving over the summer into the autumn prior to the next spending review. MEC members and delegates from the summer seminars will receive information directly. Others will receive it through their membership of MEC member organisations. So if you do want to be involved, make sure you are part of the communications network.


Choices - Richard Hallam Chair, Music Education Council

The recent news (January 2015) has focussed media attention on the need for adequate funding for national security and for the NHS. So where does that leave music education?

I was reminded that we have been facing funding challenges for at least 30 years; and of my time in Local Government where I found myself arguing for funding for the music service alongside proposed cuts to old folks’ homes, fire stations and libraries from the same overall budget. Insufficient funding and challenges about the choices we make remain with us.

Professor Sue Hallam MBE has just updated  her Power of Music paper ( and there is no doubt about the evidence that quality music education can and does change lives. Politicians ‘get it’ and music education has support across both Houses of Parliament and all parties. I am convinced that music education in England will still get funding over the course of the next parliament. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all face their own particular challenges and we are working on those too. Whatever successes we achieve in respect of funding across the four nations, we can be sure it won’t be enough to provide everything for everyone. So choices will have to be made as we continue the journey towards providing high quality music education for every young person.

John Finney’s recent blog "What is Music Education For?" states the music teacher is not so much one who is accountable but one who is ethically responsible for what they choose to teach and the questions that this gives rise to” and challenges us to address: “what is music education for?”

The Music Education Council is doing exactly that as it seeks to find consensus across the whole of the UK for Music Education for All in the 21st century. Only if we know what we are aspiring to can we decide the next steps to take us in the right direction from where we are now towards that goal. Those steps need to take account of national and local contexts and priorities; the choices of individual teachers; and have the best interests of the young person at the centre of decision-making.

So as we prepare for a new UK Government and gather our arguments for funding for 2016 and beyond I suggest we need to do the following:

  • Be clear about what we are trying to achieve, why, for whom and by when; and be prepared to be held to account for the decisions we take;
  • Aspire to providing high quality music education for everyone and try to exceed expectations, monitoring what we do so that we know how effective we are being; and so that we can learn what we need to do next;
  • Ensure that all funding is used effectively and efficiently and be able to demonstrate this; ensuring that public funding is used for the purposes for which it is provided.

If we each do this, then working together,sharing and taking account of each other’s effective and efficient practice, the situation will be significantly better by 2020 and the case for further funding in the next UK parliament and beyond will be even stronger. Then maybe we will finally achieve great music education for all. It will all depend on the choices we make.

R J Hallam MBE

January 2015


Actions, Attitudes and Expectations #2 - Richard Hallam

Despite the extended summer with record temperatures as late as October 31st, my hope to write several blogs on the subject of Actions, Attitudes and Expectations over the summer did not materialise.

Over three months since the additional £18m was announced for music educationin England for 2015/2016, and with just five months before this money will start to be spent, we still await answers to some of the questions I posed in Actions, Attitudes and Expectations #1. This issue was raised again at the DfE Hub Advisory Group meeting in October and we look forward to announcements soon.

Discussions continue around GCSE and A level with the aim of making the outcome for young people  as good as it can possibly be.

October also saw data returns completed by hubs for the 2013/2014 academic year. I will again be carrying out my ‘Music Service Trends’ research. Please visit if you wish to participate.

Last week over 150 teachers from around the world gathered in Raploch for an excellent International Sistema Teachers’ Conference. Sistema-inspired programmes are social programmes aimed at supporting the child, the family and the whole community through music, but there is much to learn and much to share – in both directions – for those involved in Sistema-inspired work and those who are working in music education. Last week was also the ISM/SMA professional development weekend.

Next week will see the Schools’ Proms and the National Music Council awards – both will celebrate more superb achievements. The week after is the Music Mark conference.

Funding and policy matter. But it is what we in the music education sector actually do that ultimately counts for the young people.There are many examples of excellent practice to share and opportunities for colleagues to support one another. If we are to realise the potential of music, each and every one of us needs to stand up for quality music education. We must agree what best practice looks like and emulate it, whilst, of course, taking full account of our differing local contexts.


November 2014