A newly published Ofsted research review into music education contains some stirring phrases about the value and importance of music, not least in its opening sentence: “Music touches the very heart of our humanity and a sense of the wonder of music has touched human societies throughout history.” At the same time the review confirms evidence in other reports about how music is being squeezed in many schools and is realistic about what is possible — making a virtue of the fact that less is sometimes more — given the shocking lack of time often allocated to music in school curriculums: “These yearly allocations of time are mostly less than a typical adult working week.” Life-Based Learning (LBL) values music as an intrinsically important subject and because it is a tremendous vehicle for developing a range of key skills that support children’s learning and development more generally.
The review estimates that typical time allocations in primary schools might be 15 to 20 hours a year, rising to perhaps 20 to 40 hours a year up to year 9, at which point large numbers of children ‘drop’ music as a subject, though of course they may still be involved in music in some other way, for example through a choir or a creative production.
These figures support other findings, such as a BPI survey of 2,000 teachers, which indicated that music provision in state schools has been getting steadily worse in the last decade.
These Ofsted subject reviews are technical and do not shy away from discussing research into how learning happens in a particular subject. They are written very much with the subject specialist in mind. This TES article summarises the main point of the review in terms easier for the non-musically minded to digest.
The review stands up for the value of music education in its own right and challenges the extent to which music develops transferable skills. “[W]hat can be said with a degree of certainty is that learning music is good for becoming more musical.” Becoming better at singing or playing an instrument or writing songs “are wonderful things in and of themselves and need no further justification.”
By contrast, in our recent blog Music education is too important to be allowed to disappear we highlighted some of the evidence of the ways that music can support children’s learning, everything from “helping with behaviour and confidence to encouraging creativity and learning skills that can be used across many subjects”. This video on the BBC website captures it nicely.
We have also argued here many times that effective communication is much more than being able to read and write well and that music, along with the other creative arts, has a key role to play in developing children’s communication skills. “The expressive arts, in particular — art, dance, drama and music — increase the breadth of children’s communication skills and strengthen their connection to the cultural and creative spheres.”
The ISM Trust, supported by the Schools Music Association (SMA), has developed a practical toolkit to support primary school teachers in developing and delivering music provision. The Primary Music Toolkit won at the 2019 Music Teacher Awards in the Excellence in Primary/Early Years category. It is extremely user-friendly in terms of its layout and language, relevant to any country not just England, and also easy to implement in non-school settings, such as for home-schoolers.
Image at the head of this article by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay