Towards quality and equity in music education.

     “For me, the Classical 100 encapsulates 2 vital principles for music education in our schools. Firstly, ensuring that it is of a high quality. And secondly, ensuring that it is made available to all children, irrespective of birth or background.”

Nick Gibb in his speech at the London Mayor music Summit explains why both equity and quality need to be at the heart of music education.

Nick Gibb is right of course. Everyone deserves a quality music education. However his speech indicates his view of equity is narrow and simplistic whilst his view of quality promotes a belief in a Eurocentric, male, white hierarchy.

The government wish to believe that getting more poor people or ethnic minorities to play classical music will solve problems of equity in music education. I am concerned that we neglect how history and power (inequalities of gender, race and class) have worked to exclude many diverse ways of musicking and as a result positioned many millions of musical people as unmusical.

So what are the issues around quality and equity in music education – what can be done?

Recently Musical Futures tweeted:

“Tone Deaf: Reflections on the National Association for Music Education | Fresh Ed”

The article outlines a recent controversy in the states over issues of diversity in music education organisations.

In Keryl McCord’s original blog She writes:


“Representing my organization – Alternate ROOTS, where I am Operations Director – I was seated at the table with Mr. Michael Butera, Executive Director and CEO of the National Association for Music Education. Each of the organizations at the table articulated how we were attempting to deal with issues of equity, inclusion, and diversity within our boards, staff, membership, and our fields.”


Mr. Butera told us that his board was all white and that he couldn’t diversify his board because they aren’t appointed but, rather, they are elected by the membership. Further, his membership isn’t diverse because, “Blacks and Latinos lack the keyboard skills needed for this field.” He also intimated that music theory is too difficult for them as an area of study

Its shocking to read such a statement and hard to believe that this was made only a month ago. Its good to read that many organisations are recognising the need to open up discussion. So for example here:


“This is a process that calls for national arts leaders to step up and engage with one another and not give in to the forces that would divide us. “

Over in England it seems to me similar issues of diversity are even more entrenched and rarely discussed – although I find it hard to imagine anyone coming out with a statement like the one above.

For example consider Music Mark: “Music Mark is a subject association for music education, representing and supporting Music Services and over 12,000 instrumental and classroom music teachers, tutors, consultants, advisers, inspectors and lecturers in Initial Teacher Education.”


You would imagine that the association would contain a range of musical interests with a diverse board then?


Its team consist of:

Patron – Charles Hazlewood: “His primary and tireless mission is to bring orchestral music alive for a new audience. “

Graeme Smith

Graham Bland

James Dickinson

Professor Martin Fautley

David Little

Richard Morris

Diane Rivaud

Tim Sharp

John Thomson


It’s a male dominated board and very white. It’s hard to see this as a diverse mix of people. Nor are they, if the admittedly brief biographies are anything to go by, a diverse group musically. Over at Musical Futures (the team and board consist of 17 people) there is more of a gender balance – however it’s still a very white organisation.

Or consider the Hub leaders for Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Lambeth – all multiculturally diverse boroughs, served by a white leadership.

Or consider: “The South Riverside Music Partnership (SRMP) comprises six partners Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the music hubs of the four boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham, Royal Greenwich and Southwark. “

Actually I don’t know the make up of this board as I couldn’t find it on their website.


Or consider the Music Excellence group, which I am about to start working with – a group of mainly white music educators and leaders. Again, whilst a very talented group of dedicated teachers are we in danger of become quite narrowly focused in our concerns?


Or check out the recent list of speakers at the Music Education Expo – out of nearly 100 it was difficult to count more than a few non-white speakers.


I’m probably stating the obvious – I’m sure the above organisations are very aware of the lack of diversity – but I think it would be good to hear more of how they are combatting this at the very top as well as how they are aiming to bring diversity of musical experiences to our students.


In a previous blog after the Westminster Education Forum I noted the narrow social circle that attended the event: “there seems ideological differences that need more exploration and issues of who gets to speak on behalf of others.”

A theme of this event was the importance of bringing classical music to our young. (Stop me if think you have heard this one before.)

Considering the Mayor of London’s Summit on School Music (22nd March 2016) Dr Elizabeth Stafford wrote:

“Other cultures have equally long-standing and artistically significant musical traditions. Why are we not making room on the pedestal for these? Why are we not encouraging white performers to get involved in ‘minority’ music? Why are we focusing on raising the participation of minority musicians in (white) classical music? I have to confess that I find this uncomfortable.

 YES classical music needs more ethnic diversity. But music education also needs musical diversity.”



In The Handbook of Social Justice in Music Education authors Roberta Lamb and Niyati Dhokai talk about the role of feminism in developing our understanding of Social Justice in Music. They write:

“The music education profession tends to take an image of the moment, erase the historical traces and social relations that brought the image into focus, and present the moment as if it had always, and already, existed.”


In the article Musical Futures tweeted Jamie Erenfeld argues:

“I question the integrity of a paradigm that feeds the creative modalities of an oppressing group to their oppressed, and I question the social consciousness of those constituents genuinely wondering why they’re not here for it.”

But with limiting and alienating notions of what music is valid, or worth making or honoring, we squander any potential for music to serve as the powerful healer it can be in our most marginalized communities. We’ve told them we’re not listening before we even ask them their names, with the centering of white musical traditions and ignorance of cultural context that brought about some of our most celebrated music, created by people of color about their experiences of violence* in the United States.”



It seems to me that when organisations and pressure groups once again make a claim for more classical music in the classroom they do so without considering the students on whose behalf they speak. They would be better served I think looking at their own organisational structures and starting with some diversity there. It seems to me that it is difficult to know what inclusion might mean and how we can improve Social Justice in Music Education if we are unable to recognise the way our music organisation privilege certain voices. We might be better off considering history and how narratives of superiority and complexity have worked to exclude as a necessary counter balance to the ahistorical claims of classical music’s transformative powers.

It’s great to hear Nick Gibb championing initiatives like Music Excellence London. I hope Music Excellence London is able to articulate why a commitment to a version of equity as understood by this government does more to undermine equity than improve it. I hope that Music Excellence London is able to champion a vision of equity that moves beyond correcting a perceived lack in the culture and values of young people who no longer embrace classical music. I hope Music Excellence London is able to listen to young people and their music making not in terms of what it lacks but for what it is. I hope Music Excellence London is able to ask difficult and challenging questions of the many music organisations that still have an incredible lack of diversity on their own leadership and governing bodies. I hope we can shed more light on what is meant by equity and quality in music education by asking difficult questions rather than seeking easy answers.




One thought on “Towards quality and equity in music education.

  1. The music hub report a few years back was very clear that Classical Music is not being taught in schools as many teachers think it is too hard. If you think that it is the main way Music is taught in the present day, you are mistaken.


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