Don't forget the teachers

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Sarah Hennessy salutes achievements in primary music, but feels some issues need to be addressed..

Recently we have lost two champions of education. Ted Wragg's voice will resonate long and loud in the hearts and minds of teachers; and the music education community in England has also lost an energetic and dedicated teacher and advocate for music in Derek Kitt, Cornwall's music adviser and a past chair of the National Association of Music Educators, who died last November.

The reason I mention them both here is that neither of them ever lost sight of the need to constantly beat the drum for every child's right to the best possible opportunities to learn and flourish. Making this message stick in the current climate of almost constant initiatives, strategies and policy changes is challenging and it seems especially so for music in primary schools, where the picture appears in the same instant to be rosy and bleak, depending on where you look.

The rosy picture is seen in the best of what goes on in schools led by committed and creative music co-ordinators and their colleagues. Where a school values music and has had the foresight (or luck) to appoint teachers with confidence in their abilities to teach music (and I'm not just referring to full-blown specialists) then the musical life of the school is healthy, permeates the whole community, and sits alongside and within other subject areas as a full member of the curriculum. It is not seen as elitist, scary (for teachers), a luxury, or the opposite of "real" work, but as meaningful, demanding, engaging and fun for all children. Often these schools know how to exploit their local music service and other resources to provide expert tuition in a range of musical styles, instruments and the voice for pupils (not "three children in a broom cupboard" but whole classes), and professional development for teachers.

A recent initiative coming directly from government funding (through the DfES Standards Fund) has been the Widening Opportunities scheme (now to be described as "whole-class instrumental teaching") which has enabled schools and music services to offer free instrumental tuition to whole classes in key stage 2 in some schools for one year. The recent survey of local authority music services recently published by the DfES shows that in February 2005 5 per cent of KS2 pupils were receiving such provision. This is not enough, but this initiative has been the most significant attempt by government for some time to invigorate the primary music curriculum and increase access to instrumental learning (see pages 26-27). Many music services have risen to the challenge to develop creative and inclusive approaches to instrumental teaching and have worked alongside class teachers (both specialists and generalists) in this.

This picture also includes Youth Music which has generated a vast amount of music making activity for young people mainly outside of statutory provision but in many cases involving schools and bringing together teachers and musicians in collaborative ways of working. Symphony orchestras, opera companies, community music organisations and individual musicians, especially when they work in partnership with teachers, contribute strongly to diverse, practical music making experiences.

Sustained projects can be hugely rewarding if not transforming for those who take part and can raise aspirations and expectations all round.

But there is another picture which is of more concern to me. In many schools, if there is no "champion" for music on the permanent staff, much of the fundamental provision and the access to enrichment are compromised.

Let me offer a picture from the perspective of teacher training.

Music in primary training suffers a double disadvantage in the present scenario. The emphasis on the core subjects may result in music having as little as four hours on a taught programme in which to introduce students to teaching the subject, and access to very little or no music teaching when in school. This can exacerbate the view that teaching music is difficult and best left to "experts".

The enrichment afforded by partnerships and special projects is only possible if there is something for it to enrich, ie what is expected through the national curriculum. Sustainability comes from embedding and developing knowledge, skills and values within the professional practice of the school workforce.

Dialogue between the different sources of policy, funding and expertise is beginning to take place but please don't forget the fundamental role and importance of the school-based teacher whose disposition towards, and confidence in, teaching music is crucial.

Sarah Hennessy is chair of the National Association of Music Educators and senior lecturer in music education at the University of Exeter

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