Virtuosos in the back streets? Teach First plan falls flat with conservatoires

11th February 2011 at 00:00

Plans to raid the nation's musical conservatoires for top musicians for the Teach First programme could backfire because they need time to practise and perform, leading teacher trainers have warned.

They have also expressed fears that take-up among the best instrumentalists would be low after graduation because the first two or three years after their studies are vital for establishing themselves as performers.

The comments came in response to government plans to use the Teach First scheme to parachute the nation's "best young musicians" into inner-city classrooms in a bid to ensure the poorest children have access to high-quality music education.

The high-flying conservatoire graduates could be expected to spend two years in the classroom before deciding whether to stay in education or continuing with performance careers.

Teach First, regarded by the Government as a gruelling yet rewarding route into teaching, has recruited mainly graduates in core subjects, but only seven people currently teach music under the scheme.

They receive an intensive summer training course before going on to work as full-time teachers in inner-city schools.

In its response to Darren Henley's review of music education this week, the Government has also agreed to consult with the Training and Development Agency for Schools, universities and other teacher training providers about proposals to get conservatoires to play "a greater part in the development of a performance-led music education workforce of the future".

Mr Henley, who is managing director of Classic FM, wants all conservatoire students to study for a Qualified Music Educator Award as part of their undergraduate courses.

But Jonathan Savage, course leader for the PGCE in music with specialist instrumental teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University, which is run in conjunction with the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), expressed reservations about the proposals.

He said: "When very, very skilful instrumentalists leave the conservatoires they need a period of consolidation and practice for two, three or four years; it is absolutely vital after music college.

"No instrumentalist in their right mind will want to take two years out to teach in a challenging school, even with the best support."

He said the quality of teaching a conservatoire graduate with "a few little modules" in education could offer would still not match the standard of those with postgraduate qualifications.

He added that proposals, alongside a recent 48 per cent cut in the number of music teacher training places available, indicated a worrying shift from focusing music teacher training in postgraduate university courses.

He said the Teach First scheme could prove "risky", with musicians potentially isolated in schools with inadequate support.

Linda Merrick, vice-principal of the RNCM, which offers both a PGCE course and an undergraduate music course with qualified teacher status, said she "welcomed" plans to diversify the routes musicians wanting to teach could take.

But she said it would be important for talented musicians taking part in Teach First to have the chance to play and perform alongside their work in schools.

She told The TES: "It is the case sometimes that teachers do their PGCE and don't touch their instruments again and we want to avoid this happening."

Despite the concerns, the Government's response to the Henley review was generally well received across the music teaching world.

The Federation of Music Services expressed relief that education secretary Michael Gove has agreed to protect an #163;82.5 million funding package to deliver music education for 20112012.

Chief executive Virginia Haworth-Galt, who also welcomed plans to devise a national plan for music education, said: "We do think that this is a positive result living in a climate of cuts to budgets."

However, the move has been denounced by unions and Labour as a real-terms cut.

The Government has also announced there will be a new, fairer national funding formula for music education, but it will mean some local authorities see as much as a 10 per cent cut.

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