‘Slow Education’ and Music Education

I wrote the following article for the Slow Education movement’s website: http://sloweducation.co.uk/

600 words

Parents, teachers and head teachers are increasingly attracted to ‘slow education’ as the schools they are involved with become more limited in their outlook: a narrow curriculum (e.g. the E-BACC in secondary schools) feeding a test-driven system (e.g. SPAG tests and high stakes SATs in primary schools) where there is little room for reflection and experimentation and, as if to highlight this, a devaluing of the creative arts.

To take the example of music education in particular, the recently published ‘Musician’s Union Hub Report’ (April 2016) states “Music education within schools is already suffering as arts subjects are increasingly given a low priority.” The local authority cuts only add to this destruction.
The following email (April 2016) is from a music leader working in primary and secondary schools across England.
For the first time, this year, on a day to day basis I am afraid to say I am becoming increasingly worried:
• a Music Ed course (teacher training) with 1 applicant
• secondary schools no longer providing music GCSE or only as extra-curricular
• a head teacher of a grammar school saying to me, “There won’t be any music here soon” because he thinks STEM is the only way forward (and it has superb music currently)
• a primary school not doing any music until SATs are out the way
• hardly any Year 6s taking part in our arts project this year (normally there are about 150 schools involved across UK)
• KS3 and 4 students dropping out of central youth choirs and professional performances because they can’t cope with school work; yet parents begging them to stick with being in the choir
• Early Years teachers telling us they have had no training in music or singing; yet they are desperate for it for their children
• a seemingly increasing number of KS2 teachers who don’t get it at all
…and I could go on. I worry this is going to have not just an impact on how children (and then later as adults) are able to access and enjoy music but that the impact is greater than that – music is so important for being something in school where it is about others not yourself.
This last sentence is telling. With increasing marketization of the education system the values underpinning this system are changing. For example an unwillingness to engage with a school’s social responsibilities is evident in a recent study (by Kingston and Oxford Universities) on behalf of ‘The Centre for High-Performance’. In this paper, entitled ‘How to turn around a failing school’ we are told that ‘step 4’ is simply to exclude “poor quality students”. Here, very plainly, is an indication of the two tier system that is being created.
At the Lord Mayor of London’s Summit on Music Education recently Chi-chi Nwanoku, MBE, Founder of Chineke!, Principal bass of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and professor of historical double bass studies at the Royal Academy of Music said “We need to save music.” Considering that a two tier system will ensure a continuation of excellent provision for some this really needs re-phrasing: “We need to make sure that there continues to be music education for all.”
Teacher morale is currently at an all-time low with a recent survey of 13,000 teachers revealing that three quarters of them had seriously considered leaving the profession! Slow Education has grown in popularity as a reaction to the extraordinary attack on education over the last 10 years and more. Teachers right now are looking at losing their hard-won national Terms and Conditions. No other ‘high-performing’ education system has de-regulated in this way. The sorry state of music education outlined in the email above is yet another reason why Slow Education needs to continue to bring proper pedagogues together and create a vibrant world of meaningful educational experiences.