Darren Henley’s Review of Music Education in England


Our Chief Executive, Jeremy Newton, responds to Darren Henley’s Review of Music Education in England.

When writing about Music, Darren Henley has a marvellously clear, concise, conversational style. His “Incredible Story of Classical Music – a Friendly Guide for Children” should be required reading for any child (or adult, for that matter) interested in learning about the subject. So it’s no surprise that his style translates well to the field of Music Education and sets a new standard for Government Reviews – a genre not noted for its literary merit.

The Henley Review of Music Education in England is a better read, for example, than Tony Hall’s recent Review of Dance Education, though it’s nowhere near as radical or visionary – because it doesn’t need to be. Hall was dealing with a field which had nothing remotely resembling the music infrastructure of county services, peripatetic teachers, curriculum status, world-class conservatoires and high levels of recent government spending. He had to build something from the ground up, where Henley has been given the arguably trickier brief of fixing something which, in many respects, ain’t broke.

Henley, therefore, has to pick out a delicate path between defending (and arguing cogently for the preservation of) those many elements of the status quo that have real value and making practical, cost-effective proposals to deal with those flaws in the current structure which do exist. To his credit, he succeeds well in this balancing act and has done the field an important service.

First, and most importantly, Henley argues passionately for the retention of ring-fenced central government support for music education around the country. It’s little short of a triumph that, at a time of widespread cuts, the Secretary of State for Education has already announced, in immediate response to the Review, that the current level of spending in this area will be maintained  (at least for the coming year). He similarly identifies a much less widely debated area at immediate risk – the Higher Education funding of conservatoires. It is to be hoped that the DfE takes equally swift and decisive action in response to this issue.

Coming to the key flaws in the current structure, Henley’s account of the situation today seems fair.  Music education provision is definitely ‘patchy’ and there is a huge amount of regional variation. From our own perspective at Children & the Arts, we’ve found that there are areas with little or no adequate music education provision whilst neighbouring regions are musically thriving.  Invariably it is the poorer areas and the poorer schools that lack the most.  Henley’s call for a National Plan, with Music Education Hubs in each local authority area charged with the Plan’s delivery, makes excellent sense.

He’s also right in lamenting the “fragmented and uncoordinated” patchwork of “too many organisations with overlapping areas of interest” and a plethora of charitable organisations working in the sector. As one of those very organisations, we absolutely concur with the need to rationalise this over-abundance of disparate voices and have already committed ourselves to working towards a far more coherent and integrated structure. The emphasis on partnership is timely and positive.  Our own projects rely on partnerships with arts organisations, practitioners, venues and schools across the country.  Sharing expertise and resources only improves the education that is provided.

One major issue which confronts us regularly (particularly in working with Primary Schools) is the overwhelming lack of teacher confidence in the area of music (and the arts more generally). Henley rightly argues for a greater emphasis on this area in Initial Teacher Training and CPD and also makes ingenious suggestions for integration of music into the Teach First programme and the development of a new and unified ‘Music Educator’ qualification. Equally cunning is the idea of bringing Local Authority Music Services into the remit of the Ofsted inspection regime, as this will undoubtedly assist the goal of cementing these services more permanently into the mainstream structure.

One of  the most significant aspects of the Review, though, is its status as a jointly initiated project from both the DfE and the DCMS. Not since the days, 10 years ago, of Estelle Morris and Tessa Jowell, have a Secretary of State for Education and her opposite number at Culture, Media and Sport been in sufficient harmony to allow genuinely joined up policy and action. There are signs, with this Review and elsewhere, that Messrs Gove, Hunt and Vaizey might at least be in possession of the same hymn-sheet and, with a revitalisation of music education, might even start singing from it.

Read the The Henley Review of Music Education.

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