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Music Education Expo is firmly established as the UK’s largest conference and exhibition for music teachers. Now in its third year, and with next year’s event moving to a larger space at Olympia Central, the Expo offers two days full of free professional development sessions, and an extensive exhibition showcasing the latest products, services and expertise from across the sector. The event is a focal point for classroom music teachers, peripatetic and private instrumental teachers, hub leaders, head teachers, workshop leaders and administrators across the sector. The 2015 event took place on 12 & 13 March 2015 at London’s Barbican.
With the election looming, Schools Minister Nick Gibb and Shadow Schools Minister Kevin Brennan gave speeches at the Expo, setting out their visions for music education, and taking questions from the floor in a bid to win votes from school teachers. Nick Gibb asserted that: “Music shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it”, mentioning that in 2009, 18.6 per cent of pupils who achieved an A grade for music A-level went to Oxbridge, with only five subjects achieving a higher progression rate.
When asked during the question-and-answer session why Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had played down the value of music, Nick Gibb replied that a job shortage in the science industry had led to the government’s emphasis on the value of science A-levels. Nevertheless, his speech made clear that these subjects should be on an equal footing. He commented: “A strong and rigorous music education is as important a part of being well educated as learning about science, history and literature.” Nick Gibb concluded the session by arguing that too much talent is going unexploited, and that more state-educated musicians deserve opportunities to thrive.
A different view
Shadow Schools Minister Kevin Brennan offered a rather different picture of the government’s effect on music education, pointing out that the number of primary school children taking part in music has fallen from over a half in 2010, to just over a third by 2013. Brennan stated that: “There are still real issues around inequality in music education because there is little or no private education in poorer areas. The position is particularly dire in the primary sector where some of them have no access to specialist music teachers”.
Kevin Brennan pledged that a Labour government would strive to undo this damage. He said: “We will ensure that publicly funded schools, regardless of type, collaborate to meet the cultural needs of children. Not only will that lead to a more vibrant democratic society with more citizens able to contribute positively, but it will also help us to sustain and grow our creative industries which are one of this country’s greatest exports.”
Expo seminars were numerous and varied, with other highlights including Robin Hammerton, Ofsted’s National Lead for Music, giving a keynote on curriculum and assessment, and a panel discussion on the new GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels, with representatives from each of the major examination boards.
The Expo also offered delegates the opportunity to explore the huge variety of businesses working to enrich the world of music education. There are well-established businesses and relative newcomers; those who cater for a niche market rubbing shoulders with those taking a much broader approach; and high-tech innovation alongside hand-made craftsmanship.
By far the oldest business present at this year’s Expo was the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, winners of the Expo Award for Best Small Stand. Founded in 1570, the Foundry is Britain’s oldest manufacturing company. Key to the company’s success is knowing their market and sticking with it, favouring consistently high quality and a judicious avoidance of expansion, keeping within budget by refusing to over-reach itself. Schools Minister Nick Gibb was so impressed that he said of their chimes set: “Every school should have one”.
The Ocarina Workshop, unveiled the winner of the Best Music Education Product at this year’s Music Teacher Awards – the 4-hole Oc. The Ocarino is an economical way of introducing children to music, building their confidence, and helping them to read and perform music individually and as a group. This inspires and prepares them to pursue music on other instruments or with their voices.
The charming Dogs and Birds stand showcased their range of books and accessories, based on an inventive system of notation in which conventional patterns are demystified using dog and bird symbols. Already, children as young as three are taking to the Dogs and Birds system, which gives them a head start in their music education.
One of the most exciting businesses present at the Expo was pBone, makers of trombones, trumpets, and other ‘brass’ instruments using colourful, lightweight glass-reinforced plastic (GRP). These plastic instruments look set to revolutionise music education by offering inexpensive, light versions of familiar instruments, giving younger children and those unable to afford brass instruments the opportunity to learn on an unprecedented scale.
With around 175,000 sold in four years, pBone are the market leaders in this field. The business is expanding too, with more products on their way, including a newly-designed instrument not based on an existing brass model.
Shaping musical learning
The Expo has become an essential part of the educational calendar, with its unique opportunities to allow delegates to quiz key figures from the world of education, and to gain insight into new qualifications and the direction of education policy. By showcasing a range of innovative products, the Expo also aids teachers in helping to shape the learning environment. It will be fascinating to see how these different aspects of music education evolve over the coming year. As Chris Shea of Tromba puts it: “Anything is possible.”