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Rip it up and start again

Groundbreaking research shows that starting a department from scratch can have a far-reaching and democratic effect. Dorothy Walker talks to former QCAofficer Tony Knight, and (opposite) meets a teacher who has made his mark on two music department start-ups

"If you are starting a music department from the ground up, the big challenge is trying to provide music education for all." So says Tony Knight, former music, arts and culture consultant at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, who has been instrumental in reshaping ideas on music education.

Tony Knight recently took up a post at Ofsted and played a key role in the QCA's groundbreaking research into the future of music in schools. The work has provided major pointers for any school planning to create a new music department or considering a new approach.

"First, a school has to be crystal clear about what it wants to achieve, and that should be expressed in terms of real, concrete outcomes that you can spot at 100 yards on a dark night," he says. "We are moving away from the idea that music is only for the elite, so schools need to think about how to ensure that every child benefits."

Research has identified three types of outcome from music education, and he believes it is important to plan for them all. "Clearly there are the musical outcomes - understanding, skills, knowledge, expertise, techniques - but there are also personal and social outcomes, which are just as important for musical development. Personal motivation and enjoyment are a part of good music, and you need to work out how to ensure they are being achieved.

"And doing good music not only means learning to work with other people, but also learning to respect what others can do. I have seen some lovely work in schools where a child may only play one note, but still achieves that feeling of camaraderie and shared experience that comes from being a respected member of a group."

He says: "There is growing recognition that we should be helping everyone to be able to make the most of music in their lives, and the work we have been doing is breaking down the barrier between music for a career and music for life. There is so much recreational music work going on now, and people are using the same skills as they would if they were professionals."

He believes that starting from scratch provides a wonderful opportunity to re-define the concept of music education, and to help students build on all their experience of music, in and beyond school.

"We have got to get away from the idea that music education is one class, one teacher, one lesson. It is a whole range of experiences - lesson time, extra-curricular activities such as bands and choirs, as well as concerts and instrument teaching. Our research shows that children also spend hours listening to music - and are increasingly making music - at home. Karaoke is a big thing, so let's not knock it.

"As part of a new programme I would build on all of these, viewing them as part of an integrated package of experiences. In that way the time available for music education could be enormous, even though students might only have one hour on the timetable every week. You don't have to provide everything all the time. You could define a range of experiences you want children to have during a key stage, or in the course of their school career. And developing a broader arts programme for the school can help to ensure that children who don't belong to bands or choirs are still involved in a range of musical experiences."

He stresses that a good record-keeping system is essential to keep track of what children are doing and to ensure no one is missing out on opportunities. To eke out scarce resources, Tony Knight believes hard-pressed specialists should call more regularly on the talents of colleagues who demonstrate a flair for music. "Very often when schools have an arts week you find the maths teachers leading the jazz group," he says.

"You can create a much bigger team for music by making the most of these skills, not just in one-off events. As the only music specialist in a school - and I have done this myself - you can find yourself going flat-out every minute of the day, trying to do absolutely everything. But you shouldn't be expected to, and you need to find ways of involving instrumental teachers in ensembles, and enlisting the support of other staff."

The findings of research into young people's perceptions of music make encouraging reading for any new department. "We found that all children want music. Nobody didn't want music at their school, they just wanted better music. So it is about making sure that every child feels they can succeed, and providing a range of experiences in which they can and do succeed.

"We also asked what it meant to be good at music. Children listed things like performing. But the next question was the really important one: if you are not good at that, can you still be good at some parts? We expected the answer to be no, but every child said: 'Yes, if I am not good at what people usually think of as being good, I can still be good at some parts.'

That is what we need to build upon, by giving them the chance to take the bits they want to do further."

He says that the Wider Opportunities initiative, with its aim of giving all primary children the opportunity to learn an instrument, will have a major impact on pupils' secondary education. "More students will be able to do more things, and we have been looking at the possibility of new key stage 4 qualifications, which will give them new opportunities to specialise.

"The important thing about Wider Opportunities is that at the end of the experience, all children should be able to say, 'I did that once, it was good, and I decided whether or not to take it on,' rather than, 'I tried it and couldn't do it.' Their perception should be that they can still do something in music."


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