A pretty sorry state;Subject of the week;Music and the arts

13th November 1998 at 00:00
Nigel Williamson highlights the findings of a report on materials for teaching music

Resources supporting the teaching of music in the national curriculum fail to reflect the multicultural nature of society, according to a report from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The survey also finds that teachers are concerned about the lack of suitable published materials to support live music in the classroom and that there is little provision for pupils with special educational needs - whether for those with learning difficulties or for those with outstanding musical aptitude.

Although the QCA report is written in typically measured language, the alarm bells it rings add to the already gloomy picture surrounding music teaching in English schools. At primary level, the report found that most teachers have little or no musical experience, and only one in five schools enjoys the services of even a part-time specialist music teacher or pianist. The QCA report follows a warning from the Youth Music Trust, set up by culture secretary Chris Smith during the summer, that it will take at least a decade to turn around the decline of music in schools.

Teachers in the 250 schools surveyed expressed concern about a lack of adequate materials to support:

* composing and improvising work * an understanding of music from different cultures * singing activities designed to broaden the repertoire * an understanding of musical notation * instrumental skills and performance activity.

Deficiencies in resources are compounded by the lack of specialist training. "Because many teachers rely on published schemes of work and assume that the national curriculum requirements are fulfilled within them, they are often unaware that they are not meeting the demands of the national curriculum," concludes the report.

As ever, the survey found that financial provision around the United Kingdom is patchy. Resources allocated to music ranged from pound;10 to pound;2,000 per annum in primary schools, and from pound;20 to pound;4,500 in secondary schools. Provision depends on "whether music is a priority area in the school that year and whether it features in the school development plan".

Yet some of the report's strongest criticisms are reserved for the narrow cultural definitions of available resources. It highlights a particular deficiency in materials fostering "the teaching and learning of music from different times, places and cultures" and reports "difficulties" over the availability of "recordings and information on the work of women composers".

The report urges publishers to place more emphasis on world music and to expand the repertoire available on supporting CDs to reflect different cultures and also the contribution of women musicians.

Earlier this month, Gavin Henderson, principal of Trinity College, London, and chairman of the Youth Music Trust, issued a tough warning that there are no easy fixes in restoring the position of music in schools. "Our job is to repair some of the damage inflicted on music over the past 15 years," he says. "But I'm afraid there's a backlog of neglect, which means it will be another 10 years before we feel the impact." The trust, whose members include Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Elton John and Mick Hucknall, has been awarded pound;10 million of lottery money to distribute over each of the next three years.

Mandy Macfarlane, education officer at Womad, which publishes a series of curriculum-linked programmes relating to music from different parts of the world, welcomes the report. "We had to fight to get world music included in the curriculum in the first place, so we are encouraged that the QCA should now be saying there should be more. There clearly isn't enough material available, particularly at primary level," she says.

With Heinemann, Womad has produced Exploring the Music of the World, four resource packs on the music of West Africa, India, the Caribbean and Indonesia, aimed at secondary level. "We hope to make available some cheaper, accessible materials for primary schools," she says.

Mark Emney, composer-in-residence at Millfield School in Somerset, says that most publishers are "apathetic about music". Emney is working on a curriculum-linked music theatre work, Rhythms of Life, with the intention of making it available as a multimedia CD-Rom for use in schools throughout Britain. "I don't use already published materials. I create new stuff every term," he says. "Obviously most schools don't have the luxury of an in-house composer and I'd like what we are doing at Millfield to be available for use in other schools. But the major publishers just don't seem interested."

Roger Durston, head of music at Wells Cathedral School and also chairman of the Music Education Council, believes that the problem is twofold. "Most teachers in primary schools are not music specialists and they need in-service training to build up their confidence," he says. "Sadly, they aren't getting it. What we want is a combination of good materials and proper training in how to use them."

For further details of the QCA anlysis of music resources, contact Sue Bennett

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