Why does children's music participation decline
following the transition to secondary school?


That question is prompted by a Keele University report* of a longitudinal study involving over 1000 children during their final year at primary school through to their first year in secondary school. The findings are significant for they
  •  echo those of the 2000 Harland report, referred to elsewhere in this website in the "Power of Music" feature and the brief summary of the Harland Report "Arts Education in Secondary Schools: effects and effectiveness", and

  •  for that reason they are provoking an overdue debate among school music educators about how best to encourage young people to develop and sustain their involvement in musical activities.
This debate will focus on the preparedness and the ability of those who determine the content of the secondary school music curriculum and school music teachers to provide a diet of music opportunities which engages young people in school as much as their own music out of school. That probably means accepting the relevance and validity of the latter as part of the school music curriculum. For some music teachers that has always been their preferred means of engaging with pupils. Yet for others, given their own predilections and skills, it is neither possible nor desirable. That is not intended as a criticism. Almost by definition the popular music tastes of young people are unlikely to appeal to older generations, especially when they, the teachers, have been trained according to classical traditions.

It is not surprising therefore that the activities of Youth Music (NFYM) have struck a chord. YM's funding focus is mainly on music-making out of school hours, across a great breadth of musical styles and cultural traditions. Applicants for funding have to indicate clearly that they are in tune with what will engage with young people - not only music styles, but also the manner and context in which the music is made. In their applications "profile", whilst Western classical music is represented, popular styles predominate, together with a burgeoning interest in non-western traditions.

Most of the music-making funded by YM covers 5-18 year olds; some activities have a direct link with schools' curriculum delivery, but most do not. With practical examples of music-making successfully involving that age range, YM has been encouraging and facilitating discussion on the relationships between provision through the formal music education sector and that through informal routes. Those discussions have also included those services whose main purpose is to engage with young people, such as Youth Services. Many have indicated that the discussions are providing useful fuel for a long overdue debate.

The National Music Council and the Music Education Council are planning to hold a joint meeting to discuss ways forward.

The Findings

So what has the Keele study found?
First, it is important to remember that unlike many academic activities, young people have considerable autonomy in the way they engage in musical activities. Thus, questions asked directly of young people can throw some light on how and why they make critical decisions and especially the extent to which social factors can influence those decisions.

next page...

·Children's involvement in musical activities
·Frequently played musical instruments
·Music at school & Characteristics of continuers