The Arts in Education, Education in the Arts: Part 2

  • by HallamR

    Thursday, 17 January, 2013 - 08:51

Judgements, Perspectives and Perceptions: Quality is essential: who judges?

I asserted in Part 1 that the National Plan for Music Education (NPME) gives us the best opportunity we have for improving the quality of music education for all young people in England and that it requires us all to do two things: to challenge what is happening where provision is not good enough; and to support efforts that will lead to improvement. We can make it work and secure the future of music education, or we can contribute to its failure. The choice is ours.

Quality is essential. Everything in the NPME requires quality. There are examples of excellent practice already taking place in England for everything required by the Plan. If you disagree, please read it again and if you still disagree, contact me. ( Let’s discuss it. Hopefully, I will be able to persuade you otherwise – or maybe you will change my mind! It all comes down to judgements, perspectives and perceptions!

When we read something, our understanding is influenced by our past experiences . Often assumptions are made that are not actually stated because we see something through a particular lens. Often the divisiveness of ‘either/or’ is assumed rather than the more creative ‘and’, especially at a time when resources are scarce and funding is being cut. But we don’t have to end up with compromise being the worst of all worlds. We don’t have to accept the lowest common denominator. Finding the highest common factor can be far more creative, rewarding and motivating. And not compromising quality is essential if we are to succeed in the long term.

Yes, we do have to provide value for money and reach reasonable numbers of young people. But it is up to us as professionals to ensure that an appropriate balance is struck between quantity and quality. Poor quality is not neutral; it can scar a young person for life. And yes, all young people are entitled to a high quality music education. So how do we give every child that entitlement?
First, we must acknowledge that the primary responsibility for music education lies with schools, whether it is a statutory requirement as part of the National Curriculum or as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. Not only is it the school’s responsibility but schools are funded directly to provide this. Head teachers decide how much of their budget to give to music education, to Continuing Professional Development for their staff and to opportunities for the arts in education. Heads are accountable to their Governors. We must challenge and support schools  to ensure they are fulfilling their responsibilities adequately before we ‘augment ’ those experiences and that funding. Ofsted’s various publications are of enormous value in this respect  as are their music inspection plans for the remainder of this academic year .

Of course, we still have to come to some agreement around quality in education in the arts. Ofsted’s materials help. But some will argue that that Ofsted is addressing quality in teaching and learning, not artistic quality. Assessing the quality of art is another matter – who judges? And this is where I come once again to ‘judgements, perspectives and perceptions’ and the title of this series of short papers: the arts in education and education in the arts.

I would argue that there is a place for both the arts in education and education in the arts. It doesn’t have to be ‘either/or’. It needs to be ‘and’. But we have to be clear about how the two concepts complement one another. I would also argue that, in education in its broadest sense, there are also roles for the ‘professional artist’, the ‘professional educator’ and the ‘professional artist/educator’.

When I write ‘the arts in education,’ at one extreme I am referring to those opportunities when young people are exposed to what we might express as ‘professional art’ and to ‘artists’ fulfilling their role as ‘professional artists’. The ‘artist’ is not setting out to act as an ‘educator ‘in any way. The ‘artist’ is simply plying their trade as a ‘professional artist’. For example, when students go to a public performance or visit an art gallery. The purpose may be to inspire and motivate. The experience may form part of an educational experience or be intended to build audiences for the future or both. A ‘professional educator’ may have prepared for the event in advance and build on it afterwards, helping the young person to learn from their experience. But essentially, it is the arts in their own right being accessed as part of an overall educational experience.

At the other extreme, when I write ‘education in the arts,’ I am referring to the opportunity for a young person to learn about and participate actively in the arts as part of his or her education, to be able to progress within and across art forms - in music, learning to be a better musician, composer, performer, listener. For some, this will lead to a career including anything from a sound engineer or a music librarian to an arts administrator or a ’professional musician’. For others it will lead to a lifetime’s enjoyment in the arts as a consumer or amateur musician. The key lead professional in this instance is the ‘professional educator‘. 

Of course, these are extremes. The skill is recognising how these two concepts complement one another and how they can be interwoven in a meaningful way. Who takes responsibility for what? And what professional development is needed?

And of course, artwork which is part of education in the arts must never be poor quality art just as the learning process should never be poor quality education. High expectations of young people’s artistic achievement, with support to enable them to achieve the highest quality, should always be part of the arts educators’ toolkit. But who judges?

We do. Ofsted, us as professionals, and the young people themselves. If we are to address quality, if we are to challenge and support schools and augment their provision, we have to discuss these issues and come to a shared view about purpose, priorities, value for money and quality. We have to decide when provision is not good enough and how to improve it. These issues will be addressed further in part 3.

Read Part 3 of this blog series.

Read Part 1 of this blog series.

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Matt Griffiths's picture

Couldn't agree more, thanks Dick. Assuming we're all agreed that ultimately we're in the business of providing transformative music making experiences for young people, then how we collectively go about achieving that goal is the urgent priority. So shared vision & purpose is the order of the day. This inevitably challenges and will further challenge orthodoxies and indeed language that have been in existence for a long time now but has to happen to ensure the best possible opportunities for the young people that we all serve. It can be done but requires trust, generosity and confidence from all of us to think differently rather than defend a 'stay as is' dogmatic position.

Lucy Stone's picture

Dick - do you have a secret camera in the Rhythmix office and at Hub meetings? So much of what you write about in this article is being discussed in and around Hub meetings be they Steering group or Challenging Circumstances Sub-Group level.
As well as quality of music offer we are considering other interrelated areas such as the diversity of the offer in and out of school, accessibility (in all it's different contexts), how we support those falling through the gaps, workforce development and what success for the Hubs, young people and partners actually looks like - and that's just the tip of the iceberg!
We keep having to remind ourselves how much there is to do but what early days it is.

HallamR's picture

Thanks Lucy, delighted to hear that these conversations are on-going and indeed, going on at all. Let's hope they are happening up and down the country too and that the systems will exist for sharing best practice. Rhythmix was, of course one of the early leaders anyway and I am hoping to still be of some assistance via my roles with MEC and the ISM. If I can be of help to you too, please don't hesitate to ask.

Darren Poyzer's picture

If there is a common problem that affects all young people (other than the offspring of the wealthy), it's the lack of resources, space, and time available to focus, concentrate and develop ... young people I work with outside of school, receive in school at most a 1to1 x20 minute lesson a week, but only if it's part funded by their parents, is this typical? ... music education in public schools is and always has been a minority interest subject because the provision falls way short of being the positive, resourceful peer group activity it needs to be to work for all ... furthermore in a money / status driven culture such as ours, there's always subjects deemed more important towards finding work in adult life, so music continually falls short, not only in the school itself but in the minds of parents ... the more I look at the changing social and technology landscape that affects us, the more I think music education might sit best within a strong, multi-arts plan, and wonder if the NPME, being a very strong and thorough document, could lend itself to this idea / approach?

HallamR's picture

Thanks, Darren. When I used to teach I found I enjoyed small group lessons both as a way of engaging more students more cheaply, but more importantly, as a way of having longer lessons - I found it more productive than the 1:1 20 minute version. Sometimes for younger students who are in the early stages of learning 20 mins is OK, but so much more can be accomplished through imaginative and creative small group tuition. I had thought that much of the 1:1 20 minutes had disappeared but I could be mistaken.

Every school should have a charging policy and a remissions policy as part of that to ensure ability to pay is not a barrier. We managed to get new charging legislation in 2007. Let me know if you need more info on this.

The NPME is light on the school curriculum because the curriculum review is still on-going. We are told that a consultation will happen before too long. In the meantime, pages 13 to 15 of the NPME gives a useful overview of the sorts of things young people should have access to in the broadest terms.

As regards a strong multi arts approach, again the awaited National Plan for Cultural Education may be helpful.

A significant number of music hubs are led by organisations that are arts or performing arts, not just music. Philosophically I am totally behind this. What we have to do is to be very careful about the funding. Relatively speaking music has been better funded than the other art forms, but it still needs at least the funding it is getting now if it is to achieve quantity and quality and begin to realise the vision in the Plan. I would only want to see a multi arts plan if it were properly funded!