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Are we being snowflakes about Ofqual Chair’s comments?

The outcry against Ofqual Chair Ian Bauckham’s proposed re-purposing of music teachers as ersatz core subject teachers during Covid is predictable, but is it fair?

The outcry against Ofqual Chair Ian Bauckham’s proposed re-purposing of music teachers as ersatz core subject teachers during Covid is predictable, but is it fair?

Bauckham posited that teachers of ‘specialist’ subjects such as music should fill gaps in principal STEM subject staffing caused by Covid absentees to avoid students missing these vital lessons. The unsurprising response from the music community involved two fingers and a stream of invective.

Is this response reasonable?

With over 10 percent of the nation’s teachers isolated by the Omicron version of Covid, schools are clearly stretched to breaking. No-one would deny that our young people have suffered huge trauma to their learning of the three Rs over the last two years. The education sector is in a tight spot and emergency measures need to be taken. Bauckham says his suggestion would be short-term and that things will return to normal as soon as possible.

Disrespectful, ineffective and self-defeating

But the fact that the new head of the qualifications regulator considers cancelling music lessons acceptable seems akin to an artillery battery short of munitions stuffing the regimental band into their howitzers and launching them at the enemy trenches. It is disrespectful, ineffective and self-defeating and the backlash it has received is anything but ‘snowflake’.

If, as he says, music is a ‘specialist’ subject, how is a specialist music teacher expected to step into the shoes of a chemistry teacher? Is he really suggesting that students’ needs can be satisfied by being told to read the next chapter of their textbooks and not ask difficult questions? On reflection, this smacks of desperation from the business sector to avoid losing workforce because the kids have been sent home.

Bauckham’s idea is the thin end of a wedge

From the perspective of the arts, it is also deeply insulting. Bauckham’s proposal included not only music teachers but also teachers of relationships and sex education (RSE) and personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE). The latter two are not ‘specialist’ subjects. They are usually taught by teachers of other subjects already. So, he is not merely diverting teacher-power to STEM subjects, he is just cancelling these two subjects critical to a child’s upbringing. Music, however, is being lumped in with them as though it’s a sideline.

The problem is part of a trend. Bauckham’s idea is the thin end of a wedge that includes Michael Gove’s arts-free e-Bacc curriculum, last year’s casual breach of the £90 million Arts Premium general election pledge to secondary schools and the failure of many schools to maintain an adequate form of music curriculum during lockdown.

Many of those in charge today were subjected to early versions of this luddite curricular policy in their youths

In times of economic pressure (is there any other time?), all governments turn a blind eye to the long-term gains provided by a strong cultural education quotient. Far too many pen-pushers and politicians pass this off as peripheral: a little light entertainment to sweeten the pill of maths and literature lessons. As many of those in charge today were subjected to early versions of this luddite curricular policy in their youths, it’s little wonder they are so devoid of vision. But one might have hoped the disproportionate number who attended expensive independent schools would have seen the benefit of a well-rounded arts education, wouldn’t one?

The fear is that this is part of an inexorable downhill slide into minimal government, providing the staple subjects to create a viable workforce and leaving everything else to the market. You want little Katy to learn French Horn? Then pay for it.

As one would expect, all major musical institutions and many headteachers have railed against Baukham’s lazy thinking [paywall], demanding a retraction, though stable doors and bolting horses spring to mind. The Incorporated Society of Musicians has offered up a template letter for those who agree to send to Ofqual’s Chief Regulator, Dr Jo Saxton.

Mr Bauckman imagines music teachers as an educational Home Guard

Retraction from Mr Bauckham seems unlikely, and in any case would not change the mindset of those who regard music and the performing arts in general as an expensive waste of time. Sadly, this appears to include the man who has just started as the first ‘permanent’ (apparently a three-year contract is called permanent, these days) Chair of our nation’s qualification regulator. 

Winston Churchill is much misquoted in the world of politics. But he did say, ‘The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them.’ Mr Bauckham, instead, imagines music teachers as an educational Home Guard, an ill-equipped ragtag army of child-minders, there to assuage public fears and keep business turning over. How is that saving our youth’s education?