Skip to main content

Bob Dylan song that changed my life

Task force chief explains why he believes in the transforming power of music. Adi Bloom and Michael Shaw report

Until the age of 14, Marc Jaffrey, the man now responsible for the Government's music task force, was not interested in music.

Then, walking past the drama department at his Surrey school, he overheard his drama teacher practising riffs on his bass guitar. Half an hour later, he was in the classroom with him, playing the bassline to the Bob Dylan classic, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.

"My father had a stroke when I was 10," Mr Jaffrey told a conference of music educators earlier this year. "Bad things were beginning to happen to me as the shock of it played out in my teens. I was unfocused, disruptive and struggling. My drama teacher knew I was in trouble. But he also knew the value of the arts, its therapeutic value."

It is this belief in the healing value of music that led the 42-year-old to call for the return of whole-school singing lessons this week. And it was behind his appointment to the oddly-titled post of "music manifesto champion" in November last year.

From 1997, Mr Jaffrey worked for the BBC education department. Between 1999 and 2001, he directed the BBC instrument amnesty, which collected pound;1.3 million worth of unused musical instruments, which were distributed to education projects. More recently, he was BBC learning executive for music, developing a series of music-education radio initiatives. He also helped set up the Fame Academy bursary, to support young talent.

The job, created by David Miliband, then schools standards minister, was to implement the music manifesto and improve music education in schools.

The manifesto, launched last July and backed with pound;30 million funding over three years, pledges to provide every primary pupil with free or discounted instrumental lessons.

The job was initially part-time and Mr Jaffrey planned to combine it with his BBC work. But this proved to be impractical, and he now works full-time on the manifesto.

He is setting up a national singing strategy and hopes to change the way music is viewed in many schools.

"The stereotype of the typical music teacher is still a dominatrix who wants you to learn the recorder," he said. "Why, when teachers are so inspiring?

"Children are left cold by what the music curriculum has to offer. But a passion for music can benefit learning across all subjects."

From September, he will be working with sports education experts, observing how they celebrate excellent performance and motivate disaffected pupils.

"When you have great musicians in school, they tend to be seen as nerdy kids," he said. "But when you have great sports people, you celebrate them, and use them to coach others."

The manifesto's first annual report concludes that the teaching of music remains a lottery in schools. Fewer than one in 10 pupils receives regular individual or small-group tuition, and inspectors ranked music as one of the worst-taught subjects at secondary school.

Only 20 of 2,172 specialist schools are music colleges. The report said:

"Some sponsors consider music to be elitist."

Mr Jaffrey said: "We should have an ambition to do much better: better than 8 per cent taking GCSE music. Better than 8 per cent of pupils learning an instrument."

Classical cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber said: "Some heads take music very seriously, but some don't. We need to make sure the whole thing is less patchy. Marc Jaffrey has recognised that. He's thorough and has already gone round and met all the music authorities.

"It's still early days. But I'm optimistic."


Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you