Gail Goodwin looks at a website that aims to put quality arts work in the curriculum
For hard-pressed teachers facing the challenges of a new academic year, the idea of spending time on work-related activities that aren't essential may not be tempting. But a few minutes is all it takes to enthuse music teachers about their subject, and to remind them that music, along with other arts, makes a huge difference in schools.
That's the claim that Tony Knight makes for Arts Alive, the inspirational website set up under the umbrella of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Its message is simple - that schools and pupils benefit significantly when there is quality arts work in the curriculum. It outlines how the arts can transform schools, and gives practical tips on ways to introduce more arts into the curriculum, backed up by interesting case studies.
As well as celebrating schools' achievements, the site is a useful resource for sharing expertise and best practice: "If music provision in your school isn't as good as it could be, these case studies can help you convince your headteacher that more needs to be done," Tony says. The website is constantly refreshed to include new case studies, and Tony is appealing for any school where the arts are making a difference to put their experiences on the website so that others can learn from them.
In one primary, underachieving Year 5 boys used a new music-technology suite to create music for their own dance routines; as a result, they became much more motivated in their work across the curriculum. In another, pupils from diverse cultural backgrounds were given taster lessons in musical instruments to bring them together; they gained confidence and self-esteem, and the shared cultural experience created a friendly, supportive school environment. One head summed up the views of most participants: "Our pupils grew in stature, were very proud and positive about their performance, and gained an immense sense of achievement."
The site isn't merely about success stories; it also explores possible problem areas and what could have been done better. The accounts demonstrate a steep learning curve for all involved; more time at the planning stage, regular progress meetings, setting clear targets and identifying specific outcomes at the start of the project are all important - as is colleagues' understanding of the work and sharing the commitment, values and enthusiasm. And the need for resources is a near-universal issue.
It also has suggestions on how schools can forge links with people with a music qualification, to help children learn an instrument. As part of its Wider Opportunities Initiative, the Government has pledged that all primary pupils should have the chance to do this, and the QCA, working with the DfES, is developing sample schemes of work that illustrate ways in which class teachers can work with instrument teachers, to extend national curriculum music through instrumental and vocal skills.
"You might have the instrument specialist taking out groups of pupils to develop their musical skills, which are then incorporated in classroom lessons by the teacher," Tony explains. "Or the specialist and the teacher create a class orchestra together, with youngsters performing on all sorts of instruments." He suggests that music teachers should spend a little time thinking about what they would like to achieve and who can help them. The sample units of work that show how classroom teachers can work with instrument specialists will shortly be made available.
So, after working out how to improve music education in their school, what else should teachers be doing? Simple, says Tony. Make the most of the many arts-related activities that take place throughout the year at all sorts of venues, including galleries, stately homes, museums and parks. Like many of the case studies on the QCA site, these often incorporate several art forms, and are bound to be enjoyable and thought-provoking.
And for music teachers, he advises: "Go to a concert. Lots of teachers never hear live music, because they're simply too busy - but it's worth the effort. It's easy to forget that music is one of the most enjoyable human experiences, but it is important to remind yourself why you're teaching. So make the most of everything you can to become inspired and enthusiastic - both you and your pupils will benefit!"