John Hutchings, Schools’ Instrumental Music Lead Officer, attended the Westminster Education Forum where discussions included the current state of music education and the refreshed National Plan for Music Education.

Read John’s report and thoughts below:-

On Monday 7th October I had the pleasure of joining 150 other music education professionals in a meeting of the Westminster Education Forum, focusing on and discussing the current state of music education, and priorities for the future. I went with two hats – one in my role as Schools’ Instrumental Music Lead Officer for Essex, and the other as teacher for GCSE and A level Music at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. The conference generated a large number tweets under the hashtags #WEdFEvents and #MusicEducation.

The Education Forum has been running since 2004; around two conferences per month on a variety of topics (use of data and evidence in education, provision for care leavers, early years education, the new Ofsted inspection `framework, improving social mobility).  Around 150 people attended this conference, including education representatives from Music Hubs, organisations including the ISM, Music Mark, the Music Teachers’ Association, Charanga, Drake Music, Sound Connections and the Voices Foundation, alongside the Barbican Centre, Opera North, Glyndebourne, London Sinfonietta, National Youth music, Nordoff Robbins, Royal College of Music, Royal Opera House, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a number of universities.

This conference consisted of two sessions, the first on the current state of music education and the forthcoming model curriculum (chaired by Lord Watson of Invergowrie), and the second on priorities for the music education teaching workforce, and the refreshed National Plan for Music Education (chaired by Lord Black of Brentwood).

Deborah Annetts (Chief Executive, ISM) gave an overview of the current state of music education and her hopes for moving forward (including a move back towards singing in every school), and Bridget Whyte (CEO, Music Mark) gave an update on the proposed model music curriculum to tackle growing issues around KS3 education; like those for four other subjects, it will be advisory, and is more complicated than first thought (should it suggest repertoire for teachers to use, or does that run the risk of providing ‘set works’), and it should equip teachers with the knowledge and skills to choose how and what they teach in creating curiosity and learning in their students, rather than giving them a checklist of facts and figures.

There were a number of presentations from a variety of music education professionals:

  • Academics Dr Ally Daubney and Dr Martin Fautley gave facts and figures around music education, including a fall in GCSE Music (18.6% from 2014 to 2018) and also in A level music (42% from 2010 – 2019), and that in 2013 there were 7,300 secondary classroom music teachers with 3,209,055 students, compared with 6,525 secondary classroom music teachers with 3,326,755 in 2018;
  • Philip Flood (Director, Sound Connections) and teacher Kelly-Jo Foster-Peters stressed the importance of not forgetting SEND requirements, and the great joy and improvements made in music-engagement for students in recent years;
  • teaching professionals including Emily Crowhurst, Kelly-Jo Foster-Peters and Jimmy Rotherham (whose school in Bradford was featured last year on the BBC) gave first-hand experiences of what music education looks like in their settings;
  • Simon Toyne (Executive Director of Music for the David Ross Education Trust academy chain) spoke in his role as President of the Music Teachers’ Association, and gave a very positive and encouraging presentation about what teachers can do to help themselves, and where help is available – practical tips that work.

Perhaps most importantly, we heard the voice of young people who have had recent experience of the English Music Education scene. In Essex we ran a Youth Voice consultation last year, and the findings were eye-opening and have encouraged the music-making and offer that we look to provide. At the conference, we heard from Xhosa Cole (BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018) who spoke with such wisdom and honesty that if he hadn’t had music, the alternatives for his peers are drugs, gang culture and limited career prospects; and Hannah Stell (Principal Trombonist of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain) spoke of how having had a poor experience and engagement with music at school, it was the local brass band tradition that encouraged her and she is now a student at the Royal Academy of Music.

One area that was touched on but we ran out of time was provision for Early Years. The National Plan for Music Education sets out that Hubs cover ages 5 to 18 – what scope is there for this to change (notably in funding and goals), how can music be used for school readiness and development, and what examples of excellent practice can be shared. I will be following this up with an article about this as part of the Forum’s final publication of the event.

In terms of outcomes from the conference, key questions and statements for us all included:

  • To what level are schools aware of the current National Plan for Music Education and the responsibilities and opportunities arising from it that can encourage and improve music in their settings?
  • What is the difference in schools between ‘doing music’ and ‘learning music’ and how is that perceived by school management?;
  • Helping school leadership teams understand the nuances between the roles of a ‘director of music’ and a ‘music teacher’, particularly when combined in one role;
  • What do young people think ‘being a musician’ means, and how do young people consider their own musicality;

The most important statement for me was:

  • “There is no such thing as a one-person music department: their local Music Hub – which is a concept, not an organisation – by its design includes them, supports them, limits the isolation the teacher feels, and schools are partners as much as any other in their Hub”

 In our role in supporting students, parents and carers, teachers and schools across Essex, our team is always here to support and encourage you in your role in providing the best music education possible.


John Hutchings, Schools’ Instrumental Music Lead Officer