National Review of Music Education in Schools

In 2016-2017 the Australian Government conducted the National Review of Music Education in Schools. Whereas it is common for a government review to receive one or two hundred submissions at most, this one brought in 6000! In itself, this unprecedented participation by the public demonstrates that Australians give music high priority in the education of children but are not satisfied that schools give it the same importance.

The Report

On the basis of the review, the government-funded Seares Report presented a plan for boosting the status and provision of music in schools. The document made 99 recommendations. But from the document itself and debate following its release it is obvious that the most crucial area for action is the provision of specialist staff and resources in primary schools.

Government Response

In August 2016 the Federal Government set up the National Music Workshop – a summit convention of music educators and organizations – to design an action plan for putting the Seares recommendations into practice. The Minister is considering the plan. However, since then several concrete funding measures have been taken by the government. Ten teachers’ awards and three principals’ awards for excellence in music education have been made, each valued at $5000. The organization Musica Viva has received $2 million to extend its excellent program of performances in schools and provision of materials and professional development for teachers. The government has also funded the Australian Children’s’ Music Foundation to extend its program among isolated and disadvantaged children.

Awaiting Crucial Action

School Music EducationAnnouncing this latter funding, Education Minister Julie Bishop stated: “The educational success of our children depends on our creating a society that is literate, creative, and imaginative. Music education is an integral part of developing these key skills.”

If that is true then it follows that other key recommendations of the Review must be put into practice. Most importantly, every child in every primary school should have access to an effective music education. To be effective, the Review says, it must be continuous, sequential and developmental. Provision of specialists to all schools is the key to quality music teaching.

Music Excluded from Essential Curriculum

If music education is essential for each child’s development, then the core curriculum of Australian schools – primary schools in particular – should reflect this. Currently about 90% of Catholic and independent schools in Australia provide effective music education, compared with about 20% of public schools. Music is absent from the national curriculum proposed by governments in Australia. Nor is it in included in the core curriculum put forward by primary principals in their national Charter on Primary Schooling.

Prognosis for Music Education

The National Review of Music Education had an unprecedented response from people enthusiastic about music being taught effectively to every school-child. Even the Australian Chamber of Commerce has publicly stated that every child should have a chance to learn a musical instrument in school! Yet the Australian Primary Principals Association says that its Charter has had enthusiastic support from 90% of the groups and individuals consulted. According to its President whether or not Music would be taught in a particular school “will depend on an assessment of the needs of students, and the capacity of the school – including the availability of staff members with the expertise to teach the subject, time available, resourcing, support from the local community, and the tradition and profile of the school.”

If the Charter is formally accepted as a basis for policy by the Australian Government it will have to reject the recommendations of the Seares Report – unless it pours huge resources of staff and professional development for music teaching into the primary schools. It seems that the future of music education is in the hands of the Australian Government.

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