Politics and all that jazz

15th September 1995 at 01:00
TEACHING MUSIC IN THE NATIONAL CURRICULUM. National Curriculum Music Working Group. Edited by George Pratt and John Stephens. Heinemann Pounds 8.99. 0 435 81020 0

Aelwyn Pugh unwraps a parcel of teaching notes.

A former government adviser once reported that the only thing that Churchill wanted included in the 1944 Act was "how Wolfe captured Quebec". The only thing Kenneth Clarke seemed interested in including in national curriculum music was listening to jazz. Unlike Churchill, Clarke nearly got his way. Shooting from the hip, with little regard for any previous, thinking, experience or expertise of his advisers, he succeeded in producing widespread confusion.

It is a tribute to the diplomacy of John Stephens that, in the first chapter of this book, he ignores the Clarke episode almost entirely. Instead, what he presents is a concise tracing of the developments from the setting up of the Working Party to the publication of the 1995 Revised Order. Among the many positive aspects of the Dearing revisions, he highlights the shift of emphasis from assessment to teaching; the implied equal weighting of composing, performing and listening; the holistic approach advocated; the clarification of the relationship between curriculum delivery and assessment; and the simplification of language and layout. But he recognises that such flexibility can present problems of interpretation for schools and that "concepts are expressed very tersely and need to be unwrapped". It is to this process of "unwrapping" that the rest of the book is devoted.

The reader is given a clear overview of issues relating to performing, composing, listening and appraising; planning; equal opportunities; progression and assessment and support for the curriculum. There is also a very helpful guide to appropriate resources materials for use at each key stage.

The RAMP (Research into Applied Musical Perception) work on appraisal should provide considerable practical help for teachers as should the advice on schedules for assessment. The criteria for assessment, however, will need further unwrapping to be understandable to generalist primary teachers. It is interesting to be referred back to the level descriptors in the Working Party's 1991 report for further clarification on this issue. Had politicians listened to advice, we might have made greater headway in this area by now.

It is refreshing to find teachers being urged to respect the stylistic identity of music from a range of cultures and not to lose sight of this in focusing on elements shared with music more familiar to pupils. The section on the needs of the musically able is useful, though further practical advice on how to adapt materials to meet special educational needs would be welcome. Similarly, the discussion of gender issues needs further expansion.

But these are minor quibbles. It is an indication of the quality of this book that one is left asking for more not less. It deserves the widest possible readership.

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