Back to School in 2020: What’s different?


Martin Fautley, Professor of Education in the School of Education and Social Work at Birmingham City University, and co-author of the ISM’s National Curriculum assessment and progression frameworks for music, explores what awaits music teachers and students as they return to school in the ‘new normal’.

The new normal

It’s that time of year again already; the new term is about to begin. This year will be different, however, as many of you left schools a long while ago, back in March in some cases. For some pupils, the new school year is a time of uncertainty, and of the familiar being different. They will have to adjust to that phrase ‘the new normal’. And it is not only children and young people that this applies to – it is also the case for teachers. Schools and music education hubs are working out what they can do to restart music education and music making, and things are changing rapidly on an almost daily basis.

What does it mean for music education?

Music education is, in many ways, in the eye of the storm of these changes. Is it safe to sing? How far apart do we have to be? Who is in our bubble? Can we play instruments with groups? There is much uncertainty out there for schools and teachers, which our subject associations, the ISM and Music Mark, and campaigns like #CanDoMusic, are helping to address. We all want our young people back making music together as soon as we can.

Music in the curriculum

In schools, we know that there have been contradictory messages. Some schools want to get back to what we might call the ‘old normal’ as soon as possible; others have talked about focusing on the ‘core’ subjects, as children will be ‘behind’. But is dropping music so kids can do more maths a good thing? Well, clearly not for music – and for the children and young people for whom the music room is their second home. We need to keep an eye on this.

The ISM has long campaigned against the EBacc measure of schools, and the damaging effect this has been having. We need to watch out that the COVID-19 crisis isn’t used as a cover in some quarters to ramp up the EBacc by concentrating on the ‘core’ subjects even more.

Staying positive and alert

On a more optimistic note, during lockdown we saw some tremendous examples of isolated music making being joined up by the wonders of technology into amazing musical performances. What we didn’t see was videos of massed long division – we need to keep the power of music firmly in our minds as we try and navigate our way through this situation.  

Those of us in music education know that there have always been some who will dismiss music making. Sometimes these people have a vested interest in promoting their own subject area or ideology. We know too that musical talent is not confined to the well-off, and we don’t want children to slip through the musical net because of the lack of financial means of their families, or because it has been decided that they need to ‘catch up’.

We must stay positive and alert – not just for the symptoms of the virus – but for music education too! Getting involved in campaigns like #CanDoMusic and the ISM’s Bacc for the Future are positive, initial steps that you can take to help ensure that music isn’t further eroded from our classrooms.

This is an edited version of a feature that will appear in the September/October issue of the ISM’s Music Journal magazine. You can read the full feature from 1 September.

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