What makes a good music education?


After a week of INSETs all over the UK, and in the light of the publicity around James Rhodes’ Don’t stop the Music series, which airs this week, I have been thinking a lot about what makes a “good” music education.

As a sector we are united by our common understanding that music has the power to shape and transform young people’s lives. We want to pass on to children and young people our passion for music, remembering how participation in music activities (in most cases) defined our childhood and teenage years, giving us purpose, a sense of belonging, a goal to aim for, and ultimately set us upon the career path to becoming music educators ourselves.

What we are not good at as a sector, is agreeing on a common approach (little in-joke for you there, people!). Everyone has their own favorite methods, schemes and resources, which may to outside observers make our system appear piecemeal or patchy. However, the reason that we have so many different approaches, that different hubs work in different ways, with different partners across the country is that ALL CHILDREN ARE DIFFERENT.

Some children will respond really well to singing, some children love to compose, some children will thrive playing orchestral instruments, others will love nothing more to explore complex and intricate rhythmic textures through working with drums. As a sector we provide such a fantastic range of different experiences for children, and our only stumbling block is that perhaps we concentrate too much on “converting” others to our way of doing things rather than embracing all these varied approaches as “different” rather than “incorrect.”

My team and I have had the privilege this week to work with some fantastic educators from English Music Hubs and Welsh Music Services, on a whole variety of different topics. What made these sessions so wonderful to lead was the willingness of the staff involved to embrace new ideas and see how modifying and extending their own approach could provide new ways of engaging children and young people, maximising the learning possibilities within and beyond their teaching sessions.

We met singing teachers at St Catherine’s School in Guildford who, although classically trained themselves, were embracing Rock & Pop because they knew it would resonate with their pupils. We met instrumental teachers at Salford MAPAS who recognised the potential of using singing in their sessions, even though they weren’t confident vocalists themselves. In Oxfordshire we worked with teachers who were really keen to share their own, and learn from others’ experiences of group teaching. In Hertfordshire and Norfolk we trained teachers who wanted to value the “whole musician” in their pupils by delivering the Arts Award through First Access. And finally, in Cardiff we had a great session with RCT Music Service teachers on the benefits of group teaching and group assessment, in a country that as yet has not been “forced” to adopt either of these practices.

So perhaps the key to a “good” music education is the element of choice? Of knowing that there are a range of approaches which our children and young people can access to start their own journeys of musical inspiration? And perhaps good music educators are those who ensure that these different pathways are made known and available to our pupils? Because actually, does it matter how our pupils make the journey towards becoming musicians? As long as that journey is made, should we not consider it a job well done?

Elizabeth Stafford is Director of Music Education Solutions Ltd