Our analysis of music education in England

Music education has not been funded by the former government

PetPeter Caswell told us in the interview that the former governmentís attitude towards music has been a great part of the reason that the music education in Britain is rather poor today. The former government was Margaret Thatcherís and a lot of people had something to say about what she did to the school system. We do not feel we have enough knowledge and experience about it so we will not comment. However we got the feeling that people were not too happy about the changes she made. Mr. Caswell said that the former government thought that music was not essential but desirable, a luxury. If they had this attitude that would mean that not every child would get the opportunity to learn how to play an instrument or have music lessons. This we feel is a shame; music is essential for children and a great way of learning. Some children even learn better when listening to and using music.

Another reason that the music education is poor today is that the former government, in an attempt to keep taxes low, gave the schools less money. The schools could not then afford to have educated music teachers. This shows today as the schools still does not have skilled teachers who only teach music. The music lessons the children get are from their own class teacher. The quality of the music lessons then seems to depend on the class teacherís own skills and interest in music. This means that the education varies from school to school and class to class in terms of both quality and quantity. Some teachers might know a lot about music and teach the children many things while other teachers have other specialties and just put on a CD and let the children listen to it, and that is the music lesson. This is something we noticed when we attended a music lesson with a teacher who was a graduate in music. The lesson was all about different skills in music. But what struck us the most was how advanced the lesson was. We think that the things they learned were too difficult for seven- and eight- year- olds. The children were very good but you could see that they sometimes had trouble following, especially some of the children who were then forgotten in a way. We felt we had trouble keeping up with the things they had to learn which were to learn pitches and scales and distinguish instruments from classical pieces of music, in this lesson it was the Nutcracker Suite.

We could however see that things were starting to change with the music education; it is making its way up from desirable and luxurious to essential and useful. More music projects are being created at the schools and we hope that music teachers will be seen as necessary.

We think that all Swedish children get a good education in music and great opportunities to learn how to sing or how to play an instrument. But we have faith that all British children will get the same opportunities. We got a feeling that Britain has great music schools but that there are only a few talented children who can go there. We want all the children to experience music!

Peripatetics are self employed musicians but not educated teachers. They have not read about how to teach so they might not know much about pedagogic. They are experts on music and they do not have much time to get to know the children compared to the class teacher. They often have choirs or orchestras with a large group of children, but sometimes they teach children alone or in pairs. They also work in the school for a short time in the week. In Sweden there are sometimes untrained teachers in the schools, but music is a single subject for primary teachers at University to learn, before teaching children in school.

The class-room situation that we saw in Britain is different from Sweden. The nursery and first school years were full with corners for subjects and the music corner had instruments to play with. The older children had a very good chance to learn music in a practical and theoretical way. The interviews we did show that music education is very different from school to school depending a lot on the teacherís enthusiasm. In Manchester there were two schools for children who were really talented. But we believe that children in Sweden have a great chance to learn music if they want to, both at a cheaper price and as an important part of how to learn other subjects. So musical children can, for example, learn better if they listen to songs. Today in Swedish schools we integrate different subjects to benefit the childrenís way of learning.

Pre-written lesson plans for a whole year and is music compulsory?

When we visited one of the schools we had the opportunity to attend a music lesson. The lesson was prewritten and the school had pre-written lesson plans for the whole year. We thought that the lesson plan did not give the teacher much freedom and space while teaching. We feel she could not ďlet the children inĒ and come up with their own ideas. She followed the plan very strictly and the pace was very fast. The lesson contained a lot difficult things for the children to learn in very little time. As mentioned above they had to learn pitches and distinguish different instruments from the Nutcracker Suite. This we found particularly difficult even for usÖ

We also tried to find out what the British curriculum said about the subject music and what the teachers were supposed to teach the children and how many lessons they were supposed to have in a year. But what we could find out was that in stage 4 the music as a subject is an entitlement which means that the school has to make courses in music available for the children if they want them.

The people we interviewed said that music could be taught in teams and sometimes it could mean that the pupils just listened to CDs and maybe sang to them. It was up to the teacher and head teacher of the school to decide how the subject should be taught. The teacherís own knowledge of music and of course her/his interest in music, decides what the children will learn. This means that the childrenís education in music will vary from class to class and school to school, which we feel is a shame. Not every child will get an education in music that is satisfying for them. We think that every child should get the same opportunity in all subjects.

We could not really find out if music is compulsory, different people said different things and we could not find any straight answer in the curriculum either. However we got the feeling that it is compulsory but many teachers choose to ignore the subject, or just play a CD every once in a while since it isnít their speciality.