At the moment I am in the middle of one of my regular work trips to Jersey. This is lovely for many reasons – the people, the scenery, the food, the weather (not this week, admittedly!) – but fundamentally because unlike in England, the place of music in the curriculum is secure.
There is no question of music being ‘cut’ from schools in Jersey – it’s in the curriculum, therefore it’s a statutory requirement. Yes some secondary schools opt for BTec rather than GCSE – and vice versa – but they are all DOING music. In the primary sector the majority of schools are teaching music enthusiastically and, with the help of the fabulous JMS Music Development Partners Katy and Gina, with increasing levels of confidence and skill. Many primary schools have a music specialists teaching throughout the school, giving them an enviable overview of progress. Even those primary schools where music isn’t their foremost priority have access to a comprehensive development programme for all staff through the MEPAS initiative.
Now obviously Jersey is a much smaller place than England, they have their own Education Department so are not governed by the vagaries of DfE policy, and one suspects that they have a bit more money to play with. However, their commitment to music is in my experience not drawn from these factors, but from the understanding that music is in the Jersey Curriculum (their equivalent of the National Curriculum), and is therefore a statutory right for all children. Music in the curriculum is supplemented – rather than replaced by – a vibrant programme of extra curricular projects and ensembles, and as a result pupils are able to progress and develop regardless of their socio-economic background.
With all the focus on ‘inclusion’ in music education in England at the moment, I think perhaps we could learn from the Jersey model. There are multiple meanings of ‘inclusion’ but at its most basic level it surely means ‘access for all.’ It is right and proper that we should strive to make our extra-curricular music projects and ensembles accessible for differing needs and abilities, but I think we may have lost the idea that however ‘accessible’ we make our projects and extra curricular offers, they can never be truly inclusive. Projects and ensembles are always going to have a limit on the number of participants that can be involved. The time and place that they are run will prohibit attendance for some. Many projects are finite and therefore at some stage will cease to be accessible to anyone. Many have a cost implication that precludes poorer children from attending, or even if they are free they rely on funding which may eventually run out. And ultimately, even with the removal of every single accessibility barrier, children and young people can simply choose not to attend.
The only place that we can truly guarantee an inclusive music offer is in the curriculum. Every child has to go to school and attend curriculum lessons*, and there is no danger that we will decide to close all the schools! Extra curricular provision whilst important can never by its very nature come close to this level of inclusivity in the purest sense of access for all.
So this is why the Jersey model makes me happy. All children are experiencing music in the curriculum to some degree, and some choose to engage further through extra-curricular activities. I think that in England the messaging that we sometimes receive from on high is that extra-curricular music provided through centrally funded initiatives as part of the National Plan for Music Education is somehow ‘the same as’ or ‘instead of’ music in the curriculum. It isn’t. We need both. Without curriculum music there would be limited participants for extra curricular music, and without an extra-curricular offer there would be limited progression routes for those who want to extend their learning.
Imagine what could be achieved in England if we worked together to revitalise and secure the place of music in the curriculum as the bedrock of our music education offer, and then built on this to create a symbiotic relationship with extra-curricular provision. Now that really would be inclusive in all senses of the word!
Dr Elizabeth Stafford, November 2018
*Yes I realise it is possible to home school! However my experience of working with parents who home school is that music and the other arts are emphasised more rather than less than in schools!
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