Wither music education?

Music education in schools

7th March 2020

In today’s schools, music has been marginalised. That is the conclusion arrived at by Barry Dufour in his paper Not enough music, 2020. Does it matter? The UK’s contribution to music is world-renowned and, as an industry, earns a very high level of income to the British economy. Dufour draws attention to the dire state of music education in schools in this country. This is not new. In 2012, Ofsted found that one in five schools were judged inadequate for music. Even back then lessons placed insufficient emphasis on active music-making, reported inspectors from Ofsted. There was too much talking about music and writing about it but no actually doing it. Have things improved since then? I turned to Barry Dufour’s work to find out.

Not enough music presents a critical overview of music education in English schools up to the end of 2019. He found substantial inequalities in access to instrument learning. Despite this, music remains important – to the individual’s education and culture as well as the economy, to which music contributes high levels of revenue. Music is a fundamental and major component of British Culture, Dufour points out. That applies across the board, as far as genres are concerned. He asks, given the importance and influence of music in the public sphere in England, how can it be that so little time and priority are allocated to music education in schools? The monograph presented by Dufour explains the policies of the government in some detail. What comes across from that analysis to me at least, is the government’s failure to ensure that music education is alive and well and flourishing in English schools.

As few as ten per cent of children and young people receive formal instrument tuition in schools. There is some education about music but, very surprisingly, ‘… not enough music in music lessons.’ Little attention is paid to funding music education. Music is a compulsory part of the national curriculum at key stages 1 and 2 (in 2019). Music is also part of KS 3, but not KS 4. Government policy, it seems, has waved the flag of importance at music education but had done little to support it in practice. What Dr Dufour has done is to draw much-needed attention to a highly important aspect of education and to the declining cultural life of our world.

Dr. Barry Dufour is Visiting Professor of Education Studies at De Montfort University.

Further reading

See my article on The Economics of live music.

Music education in Loughborough, 2016.

Barry Dufour’s complete monograph can be viewed or downloaded from the DMU website.