The Music Education Podcast

Episode 13 - Charanga: Mark Burke

March 14, 2021 Chris Woods Episode 13
The Music Education Podcast
Episode 13 - Charanga: Mark Burke
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Chris speaks to one of the founders of Charnga.

thank you so much for joining me today mark um can we start off with a little uh intro from you on who you are and what it is that you do okay well i'm mark burke um i'm a founder of uh charanga and a present-day director i'm aware that doesn't really tell you about much about what i do there today i think um to explain that well Charanga has various different aspects to it we've got a music team so there's music teachers uh producers composers musicians we've got a tech team all sorts front end back end um app developers web people we've got service team communications uh commercial all that kind of stuff and i'd my job really not being an expert in any of those things is to really uh try working well together and people are supportive um as a director of course you've got your your kind of corporate stuff you know you you always work at a strategic level to develop relationships partners around around the place that's kind of international and national um and then there's the kind of other corporate bits or the uh the kind of governance side of it compliance liaising with investors and stuff pretty eclectic kind of uh life so i mean i mean triangle basically sounds like a humongous conglomerate currently as you're describing of of some kind of um epic proportions but what is it yeah it's a yeah you know it's in the scheme of things it's a small uh company you know barely registering in terms of uh the company's size and what have you but in music education what we honestly really developed over many years uh an online platform where teachers can access programs to help them teach music and where they can connect with kids online to share materials for them

we've developed a teaching community of around just over 40 000 teachers who use the platform every week

and is that globally as well or is this very much uk it is but i i would say that the majority of those teachers are in the uk uh probably 90 percent in the uk um there's just over 11 and a half thousand schools uh use it every week again you know the uk would account for that um so it's very well used and you know people very engaged you know they develop generate millions of hours of usage every year so so it's pretty active and and how involved how can i unless you know huge user base and obviously it's playing a huge part in in schools how is it physically used by i mean i understand it's it's got many different uses but in its of primary not age group here but it's it's sort of main feature of use how as you describe it is used if there is any sensitivity i think that's it no they're totally i mean that's a really good question i think a lot of people when they um imagine what it is we do you know they they think you'll have a class of 30 children all at a computer using it music and it's really quite the opposite it's about a teacher at the front of a class certainly at a primary age group teacher at the front of the class accessing it online during a lesson to pull up brilliant materials uh to use in front of the kids so the kids are they're they're singing they're playing composing improvising listening understanding all the things that you would do in the music lessons but the teacher is uh using our resources which are kind of write or three newspapers i think to uh help them just give and teach great music see i suppose they just the flip side of that i suppose is the children then can between lessons go online from home and and do things for themselves either see new work that the teacher is set or doing new things that are more difficult okay so i in in a sort of a summary i'll throw it out and then you can tell me that i've got it completely wrong but so it's a resource an interactive resource and plan um the teachers can access to deliver lessons that then um the children interact with in different ways from singing to playing to like games or this kind of thing and then they can then continue to access it at home yeah that's that's a really good summary i think just on the uh kind of curriculum side of it we plan side of it we we offer really two ways through it and uh one of them is a kind of planned career which some people like to follow and it kind of ensures everything is important but we have an equally popular kind of free style approach where teachers can make some match materials can build their own lessons their own units of work they can upload their own materials create all sorts of few things so so depending on where the teacher's kind of coming from they can use it a lot in a very prescriptive way or they can just use it as part of a kind of bunch of tools that they have

right okay because that was kind of a a realm that i wanted to delve into this idea of what type of teacher is uh is accessing this because there's uh in a lot of other discussions there's this idea of the rise of the non-specialist music teacher which you know on one side as a musician it's like wow that's a terrifying thing non-musicians teaching music what is the world coming to everything's going to fall apart this is terrible and then there's another side of thinking it's just well that's absolutely fantastic because the worst people to teach music is probably musicians really um and i think it's like somehow i sort of fit in between two and where does charanga sort of fit into that i can see you've obviously got these two sort of roots in there is is there kind of an offer for the non-specialist teacher in a way that you're providing here are the the tools of how to teach music because you don't you don't really know and we're going to guide you or is that not really the case or yeah um i also think there's you know it's always a it's a big debate isn't it the specialist versus non-specialist and i always like to kind of start a conversation like that by by just kind of drilling down on that a little bit and i think when people are really keen on this argument they think of especially when they think of a specialist they think of like the best specialist and when they think of a non-specialist they think of the worst special but the reality is you know there are there are specialists who aren't terribly good teachers and there are non-special that are great teachers so it's not a massively polarized set of people that there's there's kind of that the extremes and everything in between and i suppose what while people kind of demand the lack of uh specialist or or the lack of training um we're always keen to just work with you know the reality of what they're today you know we we always want to have the best teachers in front of our kids but i'd rather we help the people to become good and not uh just kind of disappointed written to the specialist around so in our usage of our program and generally uh our platform people who don't know a great deal about what we might uh assume that the majority of our audience and our users are non-specialists but it's not true and it every time we put a survey out to our teachers you know we will we're never responses and we always ask are you a specialist on specialists just over 40 percent describe themselves especially so we are really kind of catering for quite a spectrum of uh teachers here and really we've designed the platform in a way to enable teachers to make it their own that's too personalized you know if you're a specialist then you don't need the same kind of support as a non-specialist um specialist in surveys you know tell us their love you know and they'll get into the real nooks and crannies of uh the platform there's all sorts of stuff with non-specialists i mean we've we've taken that so seriously we've given them massively kind of in-depth help and support and we've developed a massive kind of training offer as well you know over the last of the last what five years we've trained well over twenty thousand uh uh non-specialist primary teachers um and we have a like training center built into the platform and access webinars and stuff to support them and you know our training team of 10 11 uh people you know they're all experts they're out there supporting people every day and you know we've got a we've got a vibrant community of eating music whether they're a specialist isn't that important we just want to help everyone be the best they can be and make sure children are getting the best opportunity

must equip teachers and but if teachers are a non-specialist well i'm gonna work with that you know let's let's just progress and you know um and you you can tell by the way you use the platform you know that while a specialist may sorry a non-specialist met staff off using the theme of work and following it for the letter of a time just by using it and the nature of the materials they actually do become better music teachers they understand more they get better at musical things and listening to what children are doing and interpreting that and you can see you can see that reflecting how they over time move on from just doing the kind of step-by-step approach and get into a more flexible way of doing things so i'm i'm really proud of what we do oh education but particularly for those i think i think it benefits right now

yep um i've got a lot of thoughts and i'm pretty passionate about uh this uh this this whole area of uh debate in a way but you know our you know absolute passion is to just help all teachers be the best they can be so that as many children as possible can benefit from great music i kind of don't really care too much whether it's a specialist everyone and and ultimately i suppose you're not necessarily dividing them into two camps so consistently because everyone's growing in different

and it comes back to what i said at the beginning you know the best specialist and the worst non-specialist well they're just there's many more people in between and um and you know among specialists uh you know there are people who are really open-minded and fantastic features and some something else and some non-specialists however how much help you give them maybe maybe they'll never be but actually we can help them

and i think um if that helps

what is the sort of key um to progression for teachers especially when you're working with such a wide range of types of teacher and the teachers as you said as we're saying who are non-specialist specialists teachers who believe they're specialist but they're not really that specialist or they're far too special yeah what's this what what's the um unifying thing that helps all those teachers seem to develop

yeah i i think it's having a um a starting point that you know maybe it's assumed that they don't really know

so so we make sure you know we're always giving people great stuff a way to learn more about it all the time the more specialist you are the less you kind of need the support of the kind of on screen out of you in the more flexible um you know so so i think it's just attention to detail yeah we we leave now stone unturned in hoping that come to that class skills to start with well you know great apps great materials great training and a really really solid step-by-step uh fantastic so but it's really cool to sort of hear how it's charanga is is working across the board and yeah hear how it's uh supporting all different teachers and all different levels i'm interested to sort of backtrack a bit to its birth um and i mean you could give us the the whole story if you want we're presuming it's it's a it's an interesting exciting one

if it's a 20 minutes of administration that you know uh is you know where did it where did it come from what was there this burning need for charanga to happen that you know you saw on the on the horizon and go on yeah well i mean um you know we've i started charanga with

my best friend actually uh from from school um 25 years ago you know two with two uh clubs from bolton and um i'd i'd been studying at the royal college of music um in london there and for four years and was a professional musician my friend he was um educational technologists really fantastic field and we you know where before we started drawing we'd always thought about learning really and how how to progress learning before when we felt um as we talked inevitably with his background technology we started to talk about technology and education and um and he just you know just came to a point in around 1996 where we thought look why don't we do something together here why don't we start something and um in those days you know you the internet really wasn't a thing and certainly not a thing to rely on commercially um it was all a cd-rom

box software thing so we really cut our teeth producing uh buildings and literally building um cd-rom uh trucks and uh materials uh and uh really thought you know and that's how we built the business early early doors but for at least the what five to eight years or so uh we were producing guitar keyboard piano uh cd-rom tutorials uh products uh and you know but we even that was pretty pioneering in the early days there and and we we managed to sell those all over the world license them and and you know kind of learned on the job really about about business and health but you know i was a music academic really so so if that was the best basis really the big i thought giving you the whole story you know around 2005 really that boxed software wasn't the way to go and the internet was starting to solve opportunities and we what we'd always wanted to do uh as a company was actually working more for education and with a much more flexible kind of platform rather than fixed cd-rom across which was you know it's great if you just speak yourself guitar but as an educator it wasn't satisfactory and so as early as 2005 six we developed started what was trying to become today which is a cloud-based um music platform and you know nobody was talking about cloud-based they saw that in the oh but that's what it was you know it was something that was flexible and that that people did customize for their own needs so it's pretty ahead of its time in a way um and it had really asked suppose from those from that time for the last 15 years or so it's been about improving it improving it and obviously the more teachers you talk to the more you work with and partner with the more you understand about people's needs and um it's almost we probably thought in 2006 we could crack it in a couple of years but of course as i said the more you thought the more you understand about it you find the more there is to do and we're still learning so um it's it was probably before it's time when it started but no i do think it's

the right time so um you know nobody sets up a business in music education because they think they're going to make a load of money that's that's not ever going to happen it's never happened but is it a satisfying thing

it sounds like quite an organic sort of growth to where it is rather than oh we've got this specific idea it seems so you seem to have learned on the job a bit sort of thing as well is that sort of fast yeah well i mean i mean it's been through different iterations you know the we from rhonda is when really the that kind of business disappeared you know so everything we've grown almost um we've almost went back to square one when we took everything online and that

and then even again in 2011-12 you know it was we were slightly getting ahead of ourselves you know investing in the technology before we're really having the amount of users we needed to make it kind of work out financially so that was a tough part but then i've said for the last six seven years it's been pretty solid uh uh grow and

how i mean i can imagine covert is obviously playing a part in that but we'll get into that um hopefully in a bit but with um the growth and understanding if you like maturity of schools in a technological way um because sometimes and this i think this is fed so you don't have to agree with me here um even if you do because i imagine it might reflect badly but you know some schools can be pretty backwards in a technological way you know far removed from the real world if you like for many reasons partly i don't know even safeguarding you there's more barriers isn't there and it's has that sort of been held you back if you like way way you two are you know having these great ideas this the work and this technology but schools are going we can't do that that's crazy you know well you're absolutely right to to point that out and i think what we were doing with music was really pushing the what was possible you know interactively you know online in a classroom um in the early days you know because schools just didn't have the access and the you know consistent access to broadband and let alone you know equipment the hardware in the classrooms to be able to um use what we have but you know music whatever we like to think um it's not the thing that tends to make schools change uh behavior and it was more i suppose as as other literacy numeracy products with them available and relied on internet that was really what pushing school to be a bit more proactive about it and we were able to of course then benefit from schools

you know we i i say that you know but i'm just so um thankful really for all the people in the early days who did persevere with it and it you know really tried to make it happen and we actually i mean even today everything on the platform well while it's it's all kind of live usage online we still offer download facilities for offline usage for parenthetic features and so we so we were pretty pragmatic in the way we we looked at the technology you know we we needed to make it work for as many people as possible so we did develop interesting bits of technology

so yeah at schools uh use of wider educational technology has grown

obviously we're quite sort of focused on um internet and broadband and moving from cd rom what about things um more hardware based things like um smart boards or has that sort of played a significant change you know and again has it been you guys seeing that coming and thinking okay well this is where we've got to go but actually only 10 of the schools have got it we've got to kind of second-guess it or i mean we i suppose you're always ahead of uh you know if you they're one of the reasons probably we you know think widely used today is that we were doing things before it was really viable to do it yeah and so you're ahead of you know you you're you're always thinking

what's out there and what will be out there but i suppose it's about getting a balance of that you can't be you know there's a huge cost to being pioneering and there are lots of things to pioneer other than the technology you know the teaching methodology that is awful so you always want to be careful about how much pioneering you're you're doing so much actually there today so i think we've got bet judging that experience we're not always trying to push the boundaries what technology

we we're almost i suppose these days investing more into making the technology you have be better in a way and not not to be in keeping using new stuff people use technology they come across in everyday life and the common things that they were doing every day and then make sure they can apply that in their profession and they're used to drawing it so

sorry sorry i think there's a delay there what about the you mentioned the methodologies the teacher methodologies or pedagogies um how has how have you in your long time of doing this you know how what have you seen change and what's impacted you or you know what have you had to do to change with it or vice versa yeah i mean it's it in some ways um when we started out we were probably uh following you know because um teachers were you know were used to one way of doing things and and if we didn't really fit into that way it was like we were introducing them or asking them to do two things we were asking them to adapt and use technology which they hadn't done before and to possibly change the way they teach that's a big app but

wouldn't do that so in the early days we would have been fairly traditional i think in terms of methodology however as time goes on what you find is with the technology you have things are possible that weren't possible when people just started things with books which means you can i think take a a more uh holistic view of learning and teaching learning and i think as time has gone on we've developed the methodology to take full advantage of what technology can offer um and i think you end up with a methodology that's flexible and and more and class of real life experiences of music in a way and uh so we've probably gone from followers to more taking on a more kind of um well leadership for our own community

but people i think like this style approach as their tellers anyway they're all children they're much more able to kind of engage all children and progress where we do things and at the end of the day that's what we you know that's what we want um so yeah so these days i think uh thinking on methodology um and all always bear in mind you know i've got a really brilliant education scene uh at tarana but we also were in touch with thousands and thousands

i think people underestimate that they don't people who don't use chiranga day today don't really understand why um

because they don't understand

so we're talking about that uh community if you like who are sort of informing the methodology informing the content what are your thoughts and feelings around the the responsibility if you like because you're sort of creating you're almost creating the music curriculum for the nation you know in a in a way um and yeah what do you have sort of processes in how that comes about so for example right now um the idea of diversity within curriculum across um cultures or even gender with composers you know presenting um ensuring that it's not just completely biased you know here's my musical experience how how do you sort of get around that or has it been something that it's now you're going okay we need to think about this like many many institutions or do you think it's always been quite built that you've put forward something that's i don't know considered you know and reflective or i bet you know what everything we've developed in the last 10 years has come from um having an ethos of diversity in england it's just where we are oh you know whereas i i see not just the music but in all subjects people talk about the curriculum i think while our curriculum and definitely needs uh constant attention on that one i think i think it was never that colonized in the first place and when you look at our team do you mean sharanga's curriculum yeah i do yeah yeah no chirangas uh definitely um and i think people have have told you know said this to us you know you just said it's one of the reasons people have adopted in the numbers and it does because it connects with people and it connects with all all kids it doesn't um

and we're very proactive about that you know when our team of writers we've got experts from very very diverse backgrounds and we do that proactively also we you know in the past few years we've we've developed partnerships um across education really that have helped to kind of inform what we do and we set ourselves a really high bar on this so i i don't know i mean no way complacency that i know the attention detail we put in to developing new uh materials um but i think we do everything possible to really give you the best kind of a truly kind of contemporary

you know where and you know and i have my own personal musical face but does that mean i i i inflict them on the nation absolutely

diverse musically diverse diver everywhere background because that way you get the best um end result you know put out there i just think it's a really good quality and getting better all the time you know we improve it every day and i mean at the moment you know just for example for example we've got we've got around 20 people were working on curriculum development alone actually we've got various developments we've got going on uh around the world actually but

all of that work that's being done at the moment going to find its way into our curriculum offering the uk over the next 12 months um and it's i think it's astonishingly i don't know people like what we do today um you know do do people outside of chiranga and our user best really kind of understand the you know that aspect what we do i'd say no we know we've nobody ever really asked us for our opinion on any anything you know when you have a kind of you've got almost in the country two things you've got to kind of bottom up and i i like to see think of us as being kind of at the bottom with people if you like and you have a kind of top-down national initiative by generally small groups of people you know trying to almost impose on your curriculum and

that's interesting that you don't isn't it really yeah that's sort of so so your your curriculum um is or methodology maybe it's better to say right it's is informed by the national curriculum and what what is your opinion then mark as honest as you can possibly bear bear in mind that they don't ask your opinion currently so actually you could just say what you want really because it won't change what do you think what what do you think about the the national curriculum specifically around music you know and the arts what yep yep well look i mean people um have a go at the national curriculum the music uh in this country i think it's brilliant i love the national curriculum in this country because it's actually not very prescriptive and it it's very open it says what you want to achieve but it's not prescribing the material that you have to use and that's a good thing now the argument is put forward oh but but this leaves teachers with not enough uh or for planning how to create that curriculum well that's what we do and you know we we that we fill if you like anymore so but i i'm kind of i mean i would say certainly that's because of prime unless i think as a secondary curriculum not that um academies for example need to even apply their national curriculum and so certainly at a primary level i i think the the open-ended nature of it is a huge benefit and i think when you look around the world um increasingly in the working different countries you can see that many kind of more prescriptive national curriculums actually become a barrier you know to social change if you like you know they're they're they're steeped in the past and and they're being they feel dated and unconnected to young people so so i'm a supporter of the current day curriculum so you know what happened in this country over the last year well was um department for education you know set up a working party on you know trying to develop a model curriculum to to forgive teachers well okay that that may turn out to be great and and what not to like other people creating that model curriculum are they are they kind of are they close to the people you know i'm not sure um and certainly you know we wouldn't i'd love i've often offered our help to uh with that if anybody wants to know we've got so much data on youtube you know just interesting stuff about behavior but um you know nobody uh

we'll just see what happens i think we've got a great way of doing things at the moment music well a bit controversial but i think it continues gives everyone a chance to see great music great well i know that's that's that's cool controversial is good um what about then when we just look at more where so i completely understand this the fact that it's not prescribed it's it's an opportunity for freedom and to i don't know going back to inclusion or um uh reaching uh the the wider community it gives us an opportunity to do that but what about when we end up in gcsen a level where in order to you know go through this barrier you need to learn this very specific thing how do you feel about that

yeah i mean um i think uh say ale you know gcse and a-level music you know is is what it is and if you if you as those examinations are um this today you know you have to build up up to that uh i think they're becoming more feasible i think the introduction of music technology uh is a big uh bonus and that's exactly something bodies of that new technology pathway really you find numbers are going up um it's only in the more traditional areas but you've got structural things like the eback which kind of take away that some of that natural pathway um so you know i i think i think secondary definitely hugely under pressure um what we're our response to that is really to try to we're working currently on a um i think a brilliantly kind of inventive 12 to 14 obviously curriculum uh offer across that takes in two times uh the whole discussion side all kind of uh a music curriculum kind of for the modern world if you like you work and things that are kind of contemporary so i think if there are definite issues at that secondary level i don't think we we can affect things deeply perhaps you know without some structural support from

government and having better priorities i think but what we can do is to make sure that throughout particularly the 12 to 14 we're moving pulsary we can make sure that students are you know getting into music culture and developing a real kind of knowledge and love of it that will last a lifetime and i think out of that people can come the people who will their students who want to specialize a little bit more and get from a good base um but i think our immediate priority is wonderful okay mark so to sort of draw our conversation in the in the way of a close could we talk about uh the future um and what you see happening maybe for sharanga maybe just for the wider sort of music classroom um and yeah what what do you what's your prediction if if you could throw in the other points on my notepad of covert and 5g then then you know that that's that's super awesome yeah well um i think um you know the the future who knows i mean who would have predicted where we would be uh today um i i think really is as technology moves on i think as the workforce uh moves on as dual priorities move on you know we just got to keep music right in the mixable and i feel a great responsibility

i would say primary music for me i think is in a good place you know i think people who side of our community tend to talk about but it being a bad place but i think it's in a good place and we can help it get better and better and we you know make a point of almost thinking of our teachers and our primary heads as being you know the people who are most important

a lot of what we do so i think the primary space for us and children at that level are just going to benefit from better and better um

music learning certainly from perspective i think music hubs uh i think musicals do a great job sometimes they get a bad press i think they're fantastic again they're close to the people you know they're they're massively more lucid than they were and years ago well before when they were i think the whole music landscape supported um i think the challenge is at that secondary level where i think there's a danger of music and are just falling off the agenda and you know we're going to be releasing in the next something to really try to counter that and to make music really i mean in some seconds just really remember that but in schools where it's being pushed and squeezed we want to try to get back secondary schools they've lost their way a little bit with it

um in terms of you know the the bigger picture you know you talk about um online learning and

last um our you know our numbers of kids children young people online learning through the stranger platform you know it it's it went up and it went up from around eighty thousand uh

young people and we've had uh nearly 600 new students wow you know so so we have a we have a huge number of children doing that it i think it's only part of the picture and it should only ever be part of the picture but we're investing a lot at the moment in working with some partners including some brilliant uh individual learning plan approach and we're introducing children's online learning we're looking at content partners we're looking at um examination partners as well all uh and integrating all

uh that we do so as a i haven't got a i've probably learned not to think too far ahead um in terms of you know down the track uh but i would say a lot of the changes in behavior that have happened in the last year and some of those things will survive you know and it won't go back to her in the same way that um do a video consultation you know if you'd have said gps will be doing video calls versions there's eight percent of their work you've said that even 18 months ago and then that you would have been laughed at but no you know it's an everyday thing and okay you'll probably do less of it you know down the line but they will continue that would continue likewise i think education the online learning has a has a big part of life and he's just got to be better and more accessible and we've got to make sure that every child has advice access to the internet so they can access that and we've got to develop our our offering to be accessible on phones on every everywhere possible so um

music has got to move uh with where people are gotta stay relevant and

contributed to that certainly i think after 25 years you might have lost i might lost a lot of my passion for it and it's quite the opposite i'm never been more engaging

my beard will probably be a you know a lot longer by the time i hang up my uh

that's kind of a bit all over the shop in terms of the view of the future but uh it's a little bit wider it's wonderful it's wise like your beard as well so thank you mark thank you so much for your insight and thoughts um it's been wonderful to chat to you great thank you