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Wednesday, 15 August 2007
Page: 54

Senator KEMP (1:26 PM) —Just over three years ago, in March 2004, Brendan Nelson, the then Minister for Education, Science and Training, and I, as the Minister for the Arts and Sport, launched a National Review of School Music Education. The review was chaired by the distinguished academic and educator Professor Margaret Seares. The review created great interest and attracted a huge number of submissions. I am told that the 6,000 submissions received by the review was probably the largest number ever received by a Commonwealth inquiry. There was huge public interest in this review. In November 2005, Margaret Seares presented her report to the government. The review itself totalled over 200 pages and made 104 recommendations. Let us not mince our words. The review pointed to a major crisis in music education right around Australia. It pointed to the numerous barriers facing the development of an adequate music education, including inadequate curriculum resources, lack of teacher training in school music and the difficulty for schools without an existing music program in starting one up from scratch.

The review made comprehensive recommendations on how to deal with this crisis and carefully outlined the responsibilities of the federal and state governments. Dr Anne Lierse, a highly respected music educator, has summarised the position effectively. ‘The review,’ she said, ‘points to serious issues relating to the poor status of music in schools, including its limited provision and variable quality.’ It is true to say that music education, has been in decline for some 40 years or so. State bureaucracies and their ministers have simply been prepared to make fundamental changes to music education without taking any time to explain to parents and students the thinking behind what has amounted to an effective downgrading of music education. But there is plenty of clear evidence that parents want their children to have school music programs and the option of studying to learn a musical instrument. Research has been conducted, and it is well known that it shows clear links between music and literacy and numeracy and also social development.

In reading the review, I was struck by the discussion on state music curricula and the problems that had become apparent. Astonishingly, it was sometimes difficult for the review team to access curriculum documents in certain states. If it was hard for the review team, how much more difficult it must be for many teachers. How often does one hear the argument that music has suffered because the school curriculum has become too crowded? But many schools in Australia are able to combine a sound academic program with a first-rate music education. Let me quote some examples which were mentioned in the review. In Victoria, Blackburn High School, McKinnon High School and Ringwood High School all have excellent music programs. Similarly, there are strong programs in South Australia at Fremont-Elizabeth City High School and Murray Bridge High School, as well as at Lyneham High School in the ACT, Rosny College in Tasmania and a number of high schools in New South Wales. The strength of the music programs in many of these schools was explicitly referred to in the review.

But these are just some shining lights in what is generally a very depressing picture. What has happened since the review was tabled almost two years ago? There is no doubt that it has helped energise and focus many of the groups that are interested in promoting music education—for example, the Australian Music Association, the Australian Society for Music Education and the Music Council of Australia have all been active, I am advised, in promoting the review. I am very pleased to see in the visitors gallery Ian Harvey and Sara Hood from the Australian Music Association, who have been briefing me on these matters.

Senator Webber —Did you bring your own fan club, Senator Kemp?

Senator KEMP —It is a very important issue. I do not say that I have got an extensive fan club like yours, Senator Webber, but thank you for the interjection. Workshops have been held, government bureaucracies have been engaged and some useful initiatives have been announced. At the conclusion of the Victorian workshop earlier this year, an action group was formed to promote the recommendations of the national review and the Victorian workshop. Among other things, the Victorians point to—to summarise some of their concerns—the poor state of music education in schools, in particular in primary schools; the need for specialist music teachers and adequately trained generalist teachers; the need for all students to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; and, finally, the need for accountability structures to be put in place.

I am delighted that the Commonwealth government Minister for Education, Science and Training, Julie Bishop, has announced in recent times important initiatives stemming from the review. I am very pleased to hear reports that Commonwealth funding is helping schools to improve their level of resources.