This is the time to speak out if music AS-levels are to be a success, says Richard Hallam
One of the functions of a subject association is to give feedback to governmental bodies on the curriculum. As the first year of AS-levels draws to a hectic close, the National Association of Music Educators (NAME) has been gathering comments from members. Many of us were enthusiastic about the AS-level in music. It enabled more students to continue with their musical studies and interests beyond GCSE, and more students have been recruited.
However, many colleagues are reporting that their early enthusiasm was misplaced. Delays in finalising syllabuses did not help. Nor did the late production of course materials. Some colleagues have mentioned exemplar material that seemed to reward the more gifted students, leaving others feeling that it is not possible to achieve unless you are an outstanding performer.
There has been a lack of exemplar material to encourage guitarists, drummers, bass guitarists, jazz, rock, folk, world musicians, to feel that the course is accessible to them.
Previously, teachers could gauge pace and progression in Year 12, to bridge the gap from GCSE, and develop student understanding, fulfilling depth and breadth. This, we are told, is now much more difficult. A2 courses are under threat as it is no longer possible to combine Years 12 and 13.
Even the most able students are under enormous pressure from taking up to five subjects at AS as well as key skills. Studentswho have hardly had time to draw breath after being pressed to do well at GCSE are under relentless pressure to achieve again, and after only two terms. Timetable clashes are still being resolved and students have several exams on the same day. Much of the enjoyment of engaging with music is in danger of being lost.
Teachers are no less hard pressed. Finding time to rehearse and record performances, assess the final year of the old A-level, GCSE and AS is a massively time-consuming task of which many senior managers have little or no understanding.
Some of these issues are not unique to music. Some of the problems will improve with time. We can and must work together to ensure that music education is manageable, relevant and engaging. NAME members (and non-members) will have opportunities to discuss these issues with colleagues, and speak directly to representatives from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Department for Education and Employment and the Office for Standards in Education at our national conference.
Make sure your voice is heard. Music is too important to all of our lives for us not to find solutions. The NAME conference will be held at Ripon from June 22 to 24. Bookings can be made via the NAME website at www.name.org.uk or through the conference secretary, e-mail: S.J.E.Hennessy@exeter.ac.uk Richard Hallam is chair of NAME, 16 Pinions Road, High Wycombe, Bucks HP13 7AT. Telfax: 01494 473410. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.name2.org.uk