What is Music Education For?

Music education and those who operate within it can be broadly (lazily/stereotypically) split into two camps. Traditionalists: those who believe the score is paramount and that all music should be taught via it and Progressives: those that believe that music should be taught via sound first and that the traditional staff notation can come sometime after, if at all.

Now, as a guitarist by training, it may be assumed that I fit in the latter camp, however that is not the case. Infuriatingly I sit somewhere in the middle with a lean towards the traditionalist archetype. Staff notation is not perfect, and various compromises have to be made for instruments not strictly of the western tradition, but it is a shared language that, with finesse, can be applied across schemes of work in any secondary school.

Where I differ from a (again extremely stereotypical) traditionalist viewpoint is what music education, especially at KS4 is for. I still have yet to come to a settled viewpoint, but what drives my thinking at the moment is the role of music education in schools and it’s increasingly limited space in the curriculum.

Are we playing the game properly? The paradigm of our education system is one of attainment in GCSE level exam subjects, yet only 8% of pupils take GCSE music. This number will only decrease as the emphasis on EBacc subjects grows. Is a drastic, two-pronged approach to music at GCSE needed to ensure music as a subject is seen as a metaphorically hard currency in school?

Is the role of GCSE music to exclusively create high quality musical pupils who are ready to take the next step in their music education? If so, should this be the case? Not every triple science pupil will be embarking on a career in the sciences, but rather they are developing a literacy in the subject, and concurrent skills of analysis, that will benefit them holistically as they move to KS5 and beyond.

Do the new GCSE specifications allow those pupils who have a broad interest in musical study to succeed? Or is it the case that only those for whom music had been a dominant part of their upbringing, through lessons and graded examinations, are best suited to KS4 music study? If so then is the implication that music now at KS4 is only accessible to those pupils whose parents have been able to afford instrumental lessons in the past?

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