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Research Shorts: What is music education for? A conversation with Martin Fautley

17th October 2023

This week I’m talking with Professor Martin Fautley, a well known figure in music education, about his work and his thoughts on the last decade as part of the #MusicMark10 celebrations. Martin is Professor of Education, and is part of at the B-MERG research group at Birmingham City University.Martin Fautley is presenting, we can see text behind his head. He is a white man wearing glasses.

We started off by turning our thoughts back to 2013 when Music Mark was just getting started. ‘2013 seems a long time ago! Michael Gove was still in charge at the DfE, and since then we have had nine other secretaries of state in that role. Gove and Gibb (Gibb having been there for much of the last decade) have influenced music education in many ways.’ Martin explained more about the changes: ‘the promotion of so-called ‘knowledge-rich’ education, (although when was music education knowledge-poor?) the artificial skills versus knowledge arguments which have bedevilled some aspects of music education, and particularly relevant to one of my research areas, the shift in the function of assessment from a focus on attainment of pupils, to a weaponised form of accountability for teachers.’

I asked him how his own research fitted in with this, and he reflected on his book Assessment in Music Education and how his research moved afterwards. ‘I spent quite a bit of time talking to teachers up and down the land about assessment in music education. I remember many of these conversations, but one in particular sticks in mind from a teacher who told me that reading my book had opened her eyes to the fact that she thought she had been assessing composing, but had actually been assessing performing instead!’

We discussed his other research strands that have run alongside this emphasis on the role of assessment. Martin described his work ‘with a research project entitled “Listen Imagine Compose” (LIC) with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and Sound and Music. When I first started teaching last century – a lot more than 10 years ago – there were battles about the place and role of composing in the curriculum. This was before the National Curriculum enshrined composing as a normal classroom activity. I now fear a trend whereby forces of reaction are ranging against composing in the classroom, and fear that these voices might be listened to. This would be a retrograde step in my opinion!’

I asked Martin what some of the most significant changes had been in the last decade. He told me ‘the shift to a music education hub landscape has been highly significant. Music Mark was created out of merger between FMS and NAME (I was a NAME member, and voted in favour of this merger) and my research has straddled MEH and school boundaries ever since. I think it is really important that as researchers we ask difficult questions.’ As Martin has made something of a career of asking these difficult questions, if you follow his work you won’t be surprised to read at least the first ‘What is music education for?’.

Martin’s other questions though remain just as important as what is music education for, ‘why is it being done the way it is?’; ‘Who is included – who is excluded, and how and why is this happening?’, and finally ‘What is quality in music education? Who decides?’ Questions that may just shape the next ten years!

Read more by Martin here in Music Mark’s Resources:

autumn leaves fall behind the music mark logo, text says "research shorts"