Discord in the world of music

30th July 2004 at 01:00
It was with stunned disbelief that many of us read Evelyn Glennie's piece on the Government's music manifesto (TES, July 16). It is also doubly unfortunate, for those of us who work every day to see that music education is protected and supported in this country, to see this work reported on by The TES erroneously. The article gives the wrong impression, and particularly to those for whom it really matters.

It is with great sadness that we read comments by a colleague who commands great respect in the music performing community but is misinformed in almost every respect concerning music education. We are confused and upset by the message this gives.

Music is not, as Evelyn says, "a non-mandatory subject". It is a statutory part of the national curriculum. Furthermore, we have fought long and hard for more than 30 years to ensure that music has its rightful place in the curriculum, and to say that this is not the case overlooks the immense scholarship, philosophical understanding and plain hard work it has taken to get to the current position.

The Schools Council, The arts in schools, All our Futures and, more recently, Excellence and Enjoyment and Every Child Matters reports are just a few of the milestones which recognise the hugely important place for music in the individual's development.

Evelyn says, "the teaching of everything is entirely at the discretion of headteachers". So it should be. What matters is the achievement of the pupils, and a careless misinterpretation of the statutory situation is not helpful at all. There has always been freedom on the part of schools to interpret the national curriculum, providing the basic statutory requirements are met. I wonder if Evelyn is referring to the learning of musical instruments outside the classroom, in which case that is a different issue?

"As little as 0.4 per cent of the timetable (is allocated) to music".

Taking an average of 25 hours a week as a guide this means that each child receives six minutes. The recommended time is roughly 5 per cent or between 45 and 75 minutes a week and this can be observed in schools. Monitoring by the Office for Standards in Education and local authorities will clearly report on where this is blatantly ignored. If Evelyn believes this to be the case more generally then I wonder if she is confusing this with other musical activities or dividing a half-class size (around 15) by the number of children receiving individual attention? Clearly not a balanced judgment if so. It is true that around 25 per cent of students at key stage 4 are not required to take music to age 16 but then this also applies to other arts subjects.

We would firmly agree with Evelyn that "music ... is much needed when children spend so much time working and playing alone on computers" but that is not the main reason. As I said (TES, March 26) music is uniquely important for the development of the individual because it (like dance) involves complex, abstract and transient activity, which does not fully appear in other curriculum areas. Lack of space precludes the full thesis but all pupils from five to 14 perform, compose and listen to music.

We wholeheartedly support any minister who is prepared to focus on improving pupil achievement and the quality of music provision in our schools. David Miliband's music manifesto clearly supports those aims. We would urge colleagues to ensure there is clarity of detail and interpretation so that we do not take one step forward and two steps back.

Roger Crocker Chair, National Association of Music Educators Gordon Lodge Snitterton Road Matlock Derbyshire

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