Music education must move into 21st century or risk failing generations of young talent – report

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The music education system in England is in danger of becoming rapidly outdated and ‘ill equipped to reach and support the passions of young music learners’, according to a new report published on 4 March 2019.

The Music Commission’s report, Retuning our Ambitions for Music Learning: Every Child Taking Music Further, argues that music is central in creating skills for a modern economy and society and that, beyond the significant economic value generated by the music industry, music further improves confidence, academic attainment and social skills, all of which are ‘vital for young people in the 21st century’.

‘Huge disparities in provision’

The publication of the report marks the culmination of an 18-month expert inquiry, chaired by Barbican managing director and former controller of the BBC Proms, Sir Nicholas Kenyon. The authors argue that despite some outstanding practice and results, there are huge disparities in provision between schools, a failure to recognise how young people engage with music today, and a lack of continued support once their interest has been kindled.

The Music Commission’s recommendations include:

  • Bringing the best new technology into music teaching and learning, with a new digital R&D fund and a technology in music competition to identify best practice and role models.
  • Universal free school-based music tuition with guaranteed four-year agreements for Music Education Hubs in England contingent on agreed outcomes for inclusion and progression
  • A new stipulation that schools can only be classed as ‘outstanding’ if they are found to have a rich, diverse cultural provision which recognises the importance of music education
  • The appointment of Music Education Champions to motivate and unite music organisations and educators and National Centres for Leadership in Music Education to develop skills for future music leaders
  • Dynamic local and regional online Music Maps allowing parents and learners to see the formal and informal music learning opportunities in their areas
  • New initiatives to give young people greater involvement in the planning and delivery work of music organisations.

‘Too much music education does not reflect the realities of how young people engage with music’

Sir Nicholas Kenyon said:

‘Every young person should be supported to achieve their musical potential, whatever their background. This is a basic issue of equality of opportunity. There is some great practice out there, especially in the early years, and we’ve shown that we can start them on this journey. The problem is that too often we are then failing them – and ourselves – by not supporting them to progress and realise the personal, creative and economic benefits of the initial investment that we all make.’

‘There is a host of pressures we understand on schools to meet targets and achieve results. But there’s a growing understanding that this is not enough. Part of this is about funding and connecting young people with the opportunities there are to progress, but we have got to do more to move music education into the 21st century.

‘People of all ages now learn and enjoy a hugely diverse range of music in many ways, at home, in classrooms, in communities and online. However, we’re concerned that too much music education does not reflect the realities of how young people engage with music. There is much to be learnt from best practice among teachers, and from the outreach work of our music and arts organisations, which needs to be better shared and co-ordinated.’

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