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Music Mark members examine the crisis in secondary music at Symposium in Sheffield

28th February 2019

Music Mark’s Secondary Symposium on February 25th invited its membership to discuss the crisis in secondary music education provision and examine how Music Education Hubs can help to address the crisis.

The event took place at Sheffield Hallam University and was a lively day of debate and discussion amongst the delegates, representing the breadth of the membership, from Lead Organisations of Music education Hubs, Music Services, Hub and Corporate partners, schools, teachers, students, consultants and academics.

Following Music Mark’s statement in 2018 on the worrying trend of falling secondary provision, the Secondary Symposium aimed to bring the membership together to share different experiences and views on secondary education in their respective areas.

A Sheffield parent kicked off the day with a challenging and bold account of her experience looking for an adequate secondary school for her daughter. She described a postcode lottery in Sheffield and how too many tests and a dull curriculum had put her daughter off music in school. She felt she was letting her child down as a parent by not being able to send her to a school with a wide range of subjects on offer but her final message was clear: everyone needs to be challenging head teachers to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. You can read her full speech HERE.



To help set the scene further, Dr Ally Daubney and Duncan Mackrill from the University of Sussex, presented their latest findings on Music Education in England, with some damning statistics on the drop in music provision and testimonials from those at the chalk face. This was then followed by a debate chaired by Kevin Rogers, former County Inspector for Hampshire Music Service, looking at whether Music Services should offer GCSE and A-Level music. Jeremy Sleith, Head of St Helens Music Hub spoke of how by necessity his service felt compelled to provide music at Key Stage 4 to ensure young people had access to the subject. Head of Essex Music Service Charly Richardson argued against the motion, not wanting to let schools “off the hook”.



The day also included a panel of exams boards tasked to share their response to the current reality.  ABRSM, AQA, OCR, RSL and Trinity College London were all represented. In the afternoon, delegates were invited to hear and discuss the reality from the perspective of a Music Teacher, a Director of Academies that had to cut music due to recruitment issues, Croydon Music Service and their Star Class Awards and two students from Sheffield University, Florence Allwood and Daniel Johnstone, who gave honest and direct accounts of their experience studying GCSE music.





Two roundtable discussions scheduled into the Symposium meant delegates could further respond to the presentations and debate topics such as local hub work, curriculum and the “refresh” of the National Plan. Some of the comments were posted on a shared digital platform which can be viewed HERE and HERE.

To conclude the day, CEO of Music Mark Bridget Whyte offered some final remarks:

  • Isolation of music teachers in secondary schools is an issue surely the partners within the local Music Education Hub can address.  Schools should be part of the hub, but how do we build networks to support individual teachers?
  • Parent power – parents can be such strong advocates for music education – we need to harness that power!
  • We need to continue to have conversations with head teachers and leaders of Multi Academy Trusts – not ‘challenging conversations’ but cooperative/collaborative conversations.
  • More training of classroom teachers is needed – including ‘myth busting’ of GCSE and A-Level music exams.  The Exam Boards have said they can help, that they can deliver training to both classroom and peri teachers – we should take up their offer!
  • There is a challenge of ensuring academic rigor whilst providing a music education which is appealing to pupils – this needs a flexibility of approach.  What can we learn from teachers who seem to have got the balance right?


Delegates left feeling the Secondary Symposium provided an opportunity to better understand both national and regional challenges and explore solutions at a local level. Music Mark will continue to assist the membership to work on better supporting secondary school music within their hub partnerships.