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Musical chairs

Keith Willis tries to work out why music alone among national curriculum subjects is not in line for more teachers.

In 1972, a reputable secondary school was interviewing me for my first music teaching appointment. On learning that my wife was also a teacher, the panel offered her a post sight unseen as long as she could teach maths. Unfortunately for them, she had already accepted a job as a primary teacher.

It was then I began to wonder why there was a desperate shortage of teachers for such central subjects. Since that day the mechanics of teacher supply have been something of a mystery to me. Was the prevailing strategy to wait for chronic shortages in particular curriculum areas and then increase the number of places at training colleges or on PGCE courses - often too little, always too late?

Recently, news has broken of the need to recruit a substantial number of secondary teachers over the period 1996-2001. Apparently there are complex models operated by the Department for Education and Employment for matching supply to demand. The puzzle is that music is alone among the national curriculum subjects not receiving allocations of extra teaching places (save for 50 places in 199697). But as pupil numbers increase in secondary schools where are the necessary extra music teachers to come from?

The Teacher Training Agency ought to have a strong interest in this, although the final responsibility for planning the five-year supply and demand model rests with the DFEE. The DFEE uses three criteria: curriculum changes, teachers training in subjects other than those in which they are highest qualified and reports from the Office for Standards in Education on the need to improve the quality of teaching. Let us consider these separately.

First, curriculum change. Music might have hoped to enjoy the same five-year armistice promised by Sir Ron Dearing at the time of the revision of the national curriculum in August l995.

The hard-won entitlement of all pupils to music during key stages 1, 2 and 3 with the option of further study at key stage 4 seemed to have broad support.

Yet if there is no political will to make fundamental changes to fulfil this entitlement, the effect of such support on teacher supply is nil.

If anything, the recent report from the Department of National Heritage, Setting the Scene, ought to have suggested a greater prominence being given to the arts with school arts policies, teacher remuneration, OFSTED scrutiny and National Lottery money all receiving mention. But what about teacher supply?

Next, there is the criteria of the number of teachers whose main subject qualification is music, as gleaned by the DFEE from a 1992 staffing survey. A more recent and pertinent indicator may be Table 23 of the School Teachers' Review Body l995 which shows that in 1994 the percentage of vacancies for secondary music was higher than for all other core and foundation subjects.

Clearly, there are more people trained to teach music than are choosing to do so. If significant numbers of music teachers are now teaching other subjects and many more posts will be made available in those subjects - but not in music - over the next five years, it is hard to see what would tempt musicians back to music teaching.

In 1995 the Royal Society of Arts brought together a wide range of evidence from school inspectors, official reports and independent research. It emerged that one in five people teaching music are unqualified to do so.

This brings us to the perceptions of OFSTED and the need to improve the quality of teaching in music as compared to other subjects. Anyone reading the annual OFSTED Review of Inspection Findings can indeed see many areas where secondary music needs to improve - but how does this relate to the numbers of teachers?

If there are brilliant and satisfactory teachers in any bunch of trainees with the odd borderline pass, by increasing the number of training places quality is unaffected as you are likely to have more of each category. Or is some critical argument eluding me here?

The bottom line of all this is whether the DFEE, using the crystal ball of their existing criteria, have got it right or whether, as many music educationists suspect, we are heading for a serious shortage of secondary music teachers.

We could do with some research to map the current situation accurately and see clearly how to plan for the future.

Keith Willis is chair of the National Association of Music Educators (formerly MANNA).

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