Both Nick Gibb, Conservative Minister for Schools and his counterpart Kevin Brennan took the stand and answered questions last Thursday at the Music Education Expo. I had been looking forward to hearing what they had to say for some time. The Rhinegold Theatre was packed.
Music education according to Nick Gibb sounded very rosy indeed. In fact I hardly recognised the world he described where music was well funded, thriving and valued highly by the Conservatives. Not withstanding Vicky Morgan’s recent comments which he described as having received “unfair flack”, he spoke of the added value music gives to intelligence and sited the high percentage of A level music students achieving Oxbridge places.
Maybe the audience was caught off guard by the glowing speech and comments that Nick Gibb “got off lightly” were to be heard after questions had finished. There were some reality checks. David Barnard’s question on the closing of Hubs indicated how at odds Nick Gibb’s idealistic view was with the actual state of music education.
Other incompatibilities were to be found. Whilst Mr Gibb pronounced the Conservative’s dedication to providing a high quality of music education, he argued against regulating for all peripatetic music teachers in schools to have a minimum qualification. His argument was that if peripatetic music teachers were required to have qualifications, it would preclude Paul McCartney from teaching in schools!
Whereas I believe Paul McCartney would be a fantastic inspiration to children and adults, I strongly doubt his ability to teach notation and the understanding of music in a connected way. Furthermore, the likelihood of Paul McCartney wanting to be a peripatetic music teacher on a pay rate of £22 per hour must be minimal.
Do glib replies show the true colours of politicians to be rather faded at best?
Kevin Brennan is the Shadow Minister for Schools. Predictably, his view of the present state of music education was not so rosy.
Setting out Labour’s case, Kevin Brennan said Labour would require transparency of music education funding, specifically of the Arts Council. A Labour government would guarantee access to the arts and culture for the majority as opposed to the Conservative’s minority and the majority would have access to a high quality of music teaching.
Nonetheless, when it came to the question of teaching notation in schools in order to give every child musical options, Mr Brennan was entirely dismissive. As he himself had never learned to read music, but is now enjoying being a member of the only “parliament rock band”, he saw no necessity for the majority to be given the chance of reading music. Neither was he aware of scientific studies of the profound neurological effects on the development of children’s brains and academic attainment specifically whilst reading notation and playing or singing music.
Soon, there will be a general election. Thursday’s party political broadcasts at the Music Education Expo have not made my decision easier.