A remedial teacher I knew was scornful of resources and used to boast that he could "teach reading with a big stick and a Bible". Nobody thinks like that these days, of course, and most schools are rich in reading materials and at least adequately equipped for most other subjects. Sadly, though, many heads and governors still assume that music can be taught with two coconut shells and a copy of The News Chronicle Empire Song Book.
According to Edwina Sharp, one of three people (all trained teachers) who run mail-order specialists The London Music Shop, "a lot of heads do not think that they need to resource music in the way that they resource science and maths, for example".
Adding to the problem is the fact that the trained primary music specialist, whether based in school or working as an advisory teacher, is a dying breed. As a result, the quite sophisticated demands of the music national curriculum are having to be met by non-specialists who are often, according to Edwina Sharp, "terrified of the subject".
These teachers can be greatly helped if they have a good selection of classroom instruments and music books. They do, however, need help in making the choice. There are dozens of varieties of tuned percussion instruments xylophones, glockenspiels, metallophones in a range of sizes and hundreds of untuned instruments ranging from small finger cymbals to big and expensive drums. The influence of ethnic music has in recent years added greatly to the range of what is available.
The London Music Shop can help teachers make sense of all this by providing packages of instruments based on information supplied by the school. "We want to know what they already have, where they are going to use it, and, crucially, how much money there is to spend."
The firm will also help the school to make up a three to five-year classroom instrument buying plan, that can be built into the school budget and related to school development planning.
There are other support services all offered free of charge. Edwina Sharp will take an exhibition of instruments and materials to in-service days and courses, for example, and also does a popular free repair workshop for teachers, designed to help them rescue percussion instruments that are out of action for want of pegs, rubber mounts and the like.
Her understanding of the needs of the non-specialist extends to running a continuing campaign to get song book publishers to produce accompaniment tapes. "If the teacher can't read music, then the song books won't help them. Every book should have a tape one side to learn the songs from, and the other side with accompaniments."
She claims some success with this, and whether as the result of her crusade or not, A C Black, for example, is beginning to produce tapes for some of its hugely popular series of school song books.
Experience shows that far more non-specialists could teach music effectively, given confidence, support and good resources. Specialist music suppliers can make a valuable contribution.
The London Music Shop, Bedwas House Industrial Estate, Bedwas, Newport, Gwent NP1 8XQ.