We don't have a lot of musical expertise, but we know where to get it", says Eileen Donelly, headteacher of St Joseph's, a Gateshead primary school. And it is evident that they do, because recently the school has worked on a short opera, participated in a workshop on pop music, been visited by a peripatetic recorder teacher and been involved in an LEA project to introduce children to 18th century music.
Gateshead, winner of last year's National Music Council's LEA Music Awards, is an authority which, the judges said, "has shown an outstanding commitment to music education over many years", offering its schools a huge range of musical opportunities.
Take the 18th-century music project, which introduced children to Charles Avison, a local composer of that time. Fourteen schools were given a pack containing music, information on the composer, a CD of his music and instructions on dancing a minuet. At a performance at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, Year 6 children from St Joseph's and other schools sang songs, performed "a sound picture", using recorders and percussion instruments, to give a flavour of the composer's time with street calls, horses' hooves, and the chimes of bells, and danced the minuet. They were helped by musicians including an erstwhile harpsichordist, who happens to be the head of music, John Treherne.
John Treherne describes himself as a "hands-on head of the music service", but he is plainly also a gifted administrator. "For five years the big focus has been on key stage 2, on the assumption that a child who has got a good base level is more likely to stick with music," he says. Now more than 10 per cent of the pupils are learning an instrument and about 50 per cent have access to some form of musical provision or experience in school.
John also stresses the importance of out-of-school activities to plug the gaps that schools can't reach. So Gateshead runs twilight classes for students, guitar and percussion lessons, and orchestras and ensembles of all kinds.
The authority has attracted interest from many neighbouring services. Ivor Widdison, chair of the LEA Music Awards panel, said: "Paradoxically, a highlight of Gateshead's submission was the work the music service had been doing to help other authorities. That sort of altruism and generosity is one reason why Gateshead is so special." Newcastle upon Tyne is one authority looking across the river for inspiration as it re-establishes a centrally managed music service.
One aspect of Gateshead's work is the distribution of the Standards Fund for Supporting Music. Schools are allocated time according to numbers of pupils - a very small school might get 1.5 hours a week, the largest comprehensive 25 hours. They can also opt to buy more time. They are then given a menu, with "dishes" including instrumental tuition, curricular support and access to a range of workshops run by performerseducators.
Other important facets of Gateshead's provision include two key appointments last year: a music development leader to extend the range of creative opportunities for staff and students; and an early years lead teacher to develop in-service training and co-ordinate curriculum support.
Music in the Foundation Stage is one of the latest publications from Gateshead music service and is being sold nationally to fund the purchase of new instruments and the youth orchestra's annual tours.
The service also provides a range of opportunities for students to work with the Northern Sinfonia (Gateshead is establishing close links with the Sage, home of the Sinfonia), the Halle, the Georgian Ensemble and musicians from all over the world. No charge is made for musical tuition, access to ensembles or the loan of instruments.
The National Music Council charity started the LEA Music Award to support and encourage heads of music services, advisers and others. This year is the 50th anniversary of the charity and the 30th anniversary of the scheme.