Choir success masks the true state of music

12th September 2008 at 01:00
As more than 350 music teachers prepare for the third Welsh Music Education Conference at Cardiff City Hall on October 17, it is worth looking at the state of music in the curriculum.

The introduction of the play-led foundation phase marks an exciting new dawn, and educators are keen to develop the contribution music can make to the creative development of young children. How sad that such a positive initiative has been overshadowed by funding debates.

The focus on skills in the revised subject orders for key stages 2 and 3 is most welcome. But there is in fact little change to the orders for music as the subject has always been skills-focused and content-light. The new orders usefully clarify the key role music has to play in the development of speaking, listening, ICT and thinking skills.

There are, however, a number of concerns about KS2 and 3 music provision. Let's hope that the wonderful success of Welsh choirs in the BBC's Last Choir Standing does not disguise the fact that large numbers of Welsh schoolchildren are not getting quality choral and singing experiences. Many primary teachers lack the confidence and skills to teach aspects of the national curriculum, and two significant Assembly government circulars in 2006 omitted music from the list of subjects that initial teacher training students should have knowledge of, preferring to refer to performing arts.

Music teacher recruitment is a problem for some secondary schools, particularly in more rural and Welsh-speaking areas.

As secondary schools work towards becoming accredited centres for awarding levels at the end of KS3, many music departments have been successfully involved within the pilot.

The move away from Sats and towards teacher assessment levels is a welcome one. Music and other foundation subjects are now on a par with the core subjects, but the effect that the vocationally led 14-19 learning pathways could have on music departments is a concern.

Is post-14 provision in music sustainable in all schools, and what are the long-term implications? What of music service provision?

The pyramid structure that supports the five high-quality ensembles of National Youth Arts Wales is still in place. School, local education authority, cross-boundary and national musical ensembles benefit mutually from a structure that aims to ensure that young musicians contribute to music-making at all levels.

The years 1999-2004 were exciting ones for Welsh music services because of the impact of the Assembly government's music development fund. Sixty thousand more young people were introduced to musical activities, more than 200 new music ensembles were formed, 230 musicians found new employment with music services, new provision was developed, and the numbers opting for music beyond KS3 increased significantly.

Today, Wales looks with envy at England and Scotland. While London and Edinburgh seem to appreciate the powerful contribution that music makes to the development of young people, the Assembly government has chosen to disregard the cries of 32 distinguished Welsh musicians - including Bryn Terfel and Karl Jenkins - for a music manifesto for Wales. Since the demise of the full music development fund in 2004, services in Wales have been struggling to maintain levels of provision. Is there a will to address these issues and, if so, what is the way?

Emyr Wynne Jones, Music adviser for Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, and chair of Cagac, the Welsh authorities' music education association conference working group.

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