And the band played on...

25th September 1998 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh visits three schools determined to keep music alive in a broad and balanced curriculum despite the pressures on the timetable Composing - the part of the music curriculum about which teachers feel least confident - is one of the strengths at Meadow Vale.

Led by music co-ordinator Mary Sefton, teachers - including non-musicians - have been given the confidence to work on creative music projects with pupils. As a result, music is woven into the fabric of classroom activity, and both Mary Sefton and head Sandra Thornton do not contemplate any retreat from it, despite the demands of the literacy hour.

"We certainly will be keeping it alive," says Sandra Thornton. "We have a comprehensive scheme of work from nursery to Year Six, with lots of support material and videos and tapes." There are, she says, many obvious links between music and literacy in any case.

Mary Sefton has been involved in a project to encourage brass playing in her school. "We had percussion up and running, and we thought that brass might appeal more to boys - we have picked up quite a number of them. The Berkshire Young Musicians' Trust have loaned us instruments and the children have lessons, which are cheaper as they learn in groups."

The loan instruments and reduced-rate lessons mean there are children learning brass who would not otherwise have been able to and some parents are buying their children instruments.

Sheringham primary, Norfolk Head Christina Kennedy says: "We think that a child is a whole person and that it's important to give a child as many opportunities as possible. Music is important in its own right, giving a spiritual dimension to life."

This school, too, has a strongly supportive written scheme and co-ordinator Jane Grint mentors teachers less experienced in the subject. "They will come and talk if they need help," she says, "and I find resources and support them by showing and demonstrating."

Last term she collected Co-op tokens for an offer to provide classroom percussion instruments. By making instruments readily available she hopes that it will be easier for teachers to use small amounts of time for music.

Sheringham has a "showpiece" group - a team of handbell ringers, much loved in the community, who keep music in the public eye, and emphasise its social value. "Handbell ringing is a real team activity," says Jane Grint. "Everyone emphasises sport for team building, but music is equally important."

She adds: "We are keeping our peripatetic teacher. The school is committed to paying, but there are schools in the county that stand to lose instrumental work. There's a danger that it could go out of the window in some places."Claremont infants, Moss Side, Manchester Head Pat Lee says: "At this age children are learning how to learn, and there are so many skills involved in music - co-operation, listening skills, counting to the beat. The research shows that children who have access to music achieve better."

Her feeling has been strengthened because Claremont has a large number of pupils for whom English is a second language. "We've always given top priority to language work and I don't dispute the need for that, but I don't think it should be a matter of eitheror."

She is also conscious of the emotional effects of music. "We play music when the children come into assembly and they know if it's sad or happy. You can use evocative music if you're doing art work and it can create an atmosphere.

"Class teachers do their own music lessons using the Manchester scheme of work, which is excellent." Ingredients for success

* Support from the local authority. Where resources are thin, simple acknowledgment from county hall of the quality of the school's work can be enough. Meadow Vale, for example, is supporting the newly-created authority of Bracknell Forest by putting on some courses led by the school's music co-ordinator. By accepting this support, the authority recognises the school's achievements and also provides further professional opportunities for the co-ordinator.l A belief at all levels in school that music and "the basics" are not competitors for curriculum time, but that music education directly benefits learning, motivation and social attitudes.

* A highly visible "showpiece" group - such as a choir, orchestra or steel band. This promotes pride throughout the whole school and builds both community and governing-body support for music in the curriculum and as a part of school life.

Staying in tune

The schools where there is a commitment to music and the arts, display common factors: * Real leadership by the head, of a quality that has the teachers and governors convinced that the subject is important.

* The presence of a co-ordinator with good personal classroom skills and the ability to organise, help and mentor less-confident colleagues.

* A music policy that uses the expertise of the co-ordinator while involving colleagues in teaching music. When this works, every teacher enjoys teaching music and becomes a lobbyist for it.

* A strongly defined written scheme of work, supported by appropriate instruments, tapes and other resources. The more substantial this structure, the more difficult it is to dismantle it.

* A scheme, a teaching team and resources that all promote flexibility so that music can complement other subjects - percussion to support science; Tudor music for history; Indian music to accompany an art lesson on Indian patterns.

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