‘Music is a moral law’ but don’t let that stop you Mr Gove!

It has been interesting to read the twitter comments and blogs which have been posted by colleagues over the past 24hrs about the announcement by the Secretary of State for Education – Mr Gove – about the replacement of GCSEs with the English Baccalaureate.  At the risk of repeating what the many respected commentators have said before me, here is my penny’s worth!

Back in November 2011 the Department of Education (DfE) launched the National Plan for Music Education.  Yes, there was less money and a new way of applying to get it, but the fact remained that the government had recognised the value of music education and were continuing to ring-fence funding for its delivery across the country.  It was great to see a consistency in government policy (for once?) as the plan reflected a statement by David Blunkett back in May 1998 (!) – ‘All schools should have the resources to teach music.  Every child should get the opportunity to learn an instrument’.

Turning to the first page of The Plan one sees just two quotes:

Music has the power of forming the character and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young (Aristotle)

Music is a moral law.  It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind and life to everything…. Without music, life would be an error (Plato)

Surely if the Secretary of State was prepared to sign a document which starts with these two powerful statements he must agree with them?  Indeed the next page goes further ‘Most children will have their first experience of music at school.  It is important that music education of high quality is available to as many of them as possible:  It must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition.’  Why, oh why, oh why then do we seem to be heading for a curriculum which has such a strong focus on a set of ‘core subjects’ – Maths, English, Science, Languages and Humanities – that, at best, there will be marginalisation of music in schools and at worst head teachers will remove it as an option for formal study completely. (And of course removing it from the classroom, as Howard Goodall points out in his article today, will remove the music teachers from the staff room and therefore there won’t be the staff to run the school choirs, orchestras, bands etc)

At the launch of ‘The Plan’ the DfE press release included this great quote from Mike Welsh (past President of NAHT and a member of the newly formed National Plan for Music Education monitoring board):

Good schools recognise the importance of music for every student and ensure that it permeates the whole school. The national plan for music education highlights the role music can play in the lives of children and young people and provides schools with a framework within which to provide a high quality music education. 

So is the new announcement a covert U-turn?  And what of the Cultural Education Review Darren Henley undertook following his successful Music Review and in response to which the DfE promised to produce a National Plan for Cultural Education?

Let us hope that the two years which now follow before the proposed changes are to be made will be used wisely – listening to the nation’s teachers, music leaders, and the young people themselves – so that disaster can be averted and that music can remain at the centre of a rounded education for all.  After all, if as Aristotle states, music is character forming, surely Gove would be crazy not to have it as part of a ‘rigorous education’?!

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