Music in Schools: What Ofsted Must Do.


This weekend, the Telegraph published an open letter signed by music and education luminaries, suggesting that our National Plan for Music Education is not being met. Also in the Telegraph, an article appeared, which seems to be referring to the aforementioned letter, although it contains quite a lot of other details which I couldn’t find reference to in the letter itself, so perhaps it represents the views of one of the individual signatories?

The campaign appears to have been spearheaded by James Rhodes (Don’t Stop the Music), which may explain why the article gives the impression that the only purpose of the national plan for music education is to give children the chance to play an instrument. This is misleading and we do not do ourselves any favours as a sector by suggesting that our plan is ‘failing’ based on just one component. Another worrying trend is that we once again see value judgements placed on the type of instruments and musical traditions taught, with Rhodes making yet more disparaging remarks about ‘African Drums’. Yes, it is worrying that in some areas disadvantaged children are not being given access to instrumental learning, but that does not make our National Plan a failure, particularly since we are only in year 4 of 8! I agree that we should address this issue, but I seriously worry about the tunnel vision that seems to be developing in some quarters.

Where I wholeheartedly agree with this latest campaign however, is that primary schools by and large will not improve the quality of their music provision unless Ofsted explicitly instruct them to do so. Many times in our consultancy work with schools we come across head teachers who say that they have to focus on Literacy and Numeracy to the detriment of all other subjects because ‘that’s what Ofsted want’. It is no good Ofsted instructing hubs to do their dirty work for them in improving the quality of curriculum music – schools are not afraid of music hubs! HMI for Music Robin Hammerton has done a commendable job of dashing all over the country to speak on the subject of curriculum music, but inevitably he’s only ever going to reach the head teachers who turn up to these events. Many head teachers will of course be too busy with literacy and numeracy to attend…

We need a clear message from Ofsted direct to schools about the importance of not just music, but all the foundation subjects; and this is where I really vehemently disagree with the move outlined in the Telegraph article (although again no reference in the letter itself) to call for “Ofsted rules to be changed so that a school cannot be rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ unless it offers good or outstanding music provision.” For years we have been complaining that music is overshadowed by literacy and numeracy, and now we want to raise music above all other subjects to, presumably, do unto them as has been done to us?! Imagine the furore amongst musicians if a similar move was called for from artists, athletes or historians! The whole point of having a national curriculum is for our children to get a rounded education, and this cannot be achieved if we are elevating some subjects above others.

That said, perhaps an inspection structure where a school cannot be rated outstanding unless every subject of the national curriculum is taught at an equally high level might be worth considering? This could solve the problem of the foundation subjects being viewed as the ‘poor relation’, and give our children the broad and balanced education that they deserve.

Over to you, Ofsted!