Getting into the rhythm of things

9th February 1996 at 00:00
It's not really a cascade model," explains Jed Holmes, head of Middleton Junior School in Peterborough. "More a bidet model really." Middleton has three teachers with music qualifications. In the past, many schools so favoured would have run a timetable which enabled the specialists to teach every class. These days, however, many schools like Middleton "cascade" expertise to support the classroom teachers. Jed Holmes explains, "I've been in schools in the past where one person is a wonderful musician and the music in that class is excellent. That's a philosophy that worries me. I want to develop a whole-school programme that will benefit all of the children."

At the root is the school's written music policy and scheme of work, set out in detail with helpful "jargon-busting" pages telling teachers that, for example, "dynamics" just means "loud and soft". As Rachel Jewell, music co-ordinator at Middleton explains, composing starts from the moment that the teacher encourages children to explore clapping different rhythm patterns, or to strike three chime bars in different permutations. "They are certainly composing even though you haven't started the lesson by saying 'We're composing today'. It's something that can come from any part of the work. The children can record their work at first by means of a graphic score, with symbols, later with more formal notation." It is possible, she considered, to link composition to cross-curricular topic work.

Deputy head Michelle Siequien, a non-specialist, was working with a class on compositions, using voice and classroom instruments on the topical theme of cold weather. They discussed words and ideas, they split up into groups, they chose percussion instruments, working on sounds, they presented the finished product to the rest of the class. All done by someone with no musical training, helping the children to enjoy producing excellent work.

There are areas which non-specialists would find more difficult. Rachel Jewell is aware, for example, that "the tendency is to do lots of rhythm at the expense of work on pitch, partly because of a reluctance to sing". Miriam Forbes confirmed this, "It's all very well doing clapping games and talking about Mozart, but getting teachers to sing to the children is still an issue".

Unsurprisingly, therefore, class teacher Anne Havercroft confirmed that she found pitch most difficult: "I'm not a good singer." The written scheme and the specialists on the staff had helped her around her reluctance, by explaining techniques using chime bars, and by showing her that singing itself need not be all that fearful a business.

Margo Buckley agrees. She is a teacher of the deaf; the school has a number of children with varying degrees of hearing impairment. "I come from a musical family, but I'm the one my father gave up on. Even so I have a whack. I have to sing in front of my helpers and I gave up being embarrassed long ago. I just go for it."

Another aspect of music which can sometimes be neglected is Listening and Appraising. As Rachel Jewell says, "Too often, schools have to depend on whatever tapes and CDs the teachers can bring from home". At Middleton a school CD library of more than 60 discs linked to the scheme of work has been created.

The listening programme focuses on a different instrumental group in each year. Year 6, for example, focuses on brass, and I sat with a class listening to the Grimethorpe Colliery Band playing "Sweet Georgia Brown". Each child keeps a music diary in which to jot impressions and to summarise ideas from discussion. In one diary I spotted perceptive comments on pieces by Mozart, Lennon and McCartney, Glenn Miller and Lloyd Webber.

But how would all this work if all the music specialists were to leave? Says Jed Holmes, "It would mean buying-in the expertise to set it up - spending money to show us how to develop within our school. It's a matter of how you use your Inset money."

He pointed to the example of dance, which the school is developing without the aid of any in-house specialists. "We've had a professional in, working with children and spending time with teachers, tackling concerns as a team."

Margo Buckley perhaps summed up the attitude when she described how she had worked on music with a deaf child. "Can you imagine it? Someone who couldn't hear being taught by me, a musician's nightmare. But we had a go!"

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