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Unchained melodies

Richard Hallam examines the reverberations of a Government pledge on primary music.

Babies can be calmed by music. Music helps mothers to bond with their young children. "Kindermusic" early-years musical development schemes have become a catalyst for groups of parents and their children, fulfilling musical and social functions.

Pre-school, all children have an entitlement to music at foundation stage. At key stage 1, all is generally well, with most teachers happy to teach the statutory music curriculum. There can be problems in KS2, particularly around Years 5 and 6, caused by lack of training for teachers and co-ordinators, resulting in low confidence, often not helped by poor musical experiences when they were at school themselves.

The Government has pledged that in time all primary pupils who wish to will have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument. This pledge can contribute to a solution.

Around the country, local education authority music services are using Standard's Fund grants to enable peripatetic staff to start teaching introductory music courses to whole classes of Year 3 children. This provides class teachers with valuable in-service training. Costs are minimal.

Through Standard's-Fund and Lottery-funded live music opportunities using music service staff, community and professional musicians, pupils are being taught more about the range of instruments that they can learn, such as, steel pans, harp, violin, tabla and rock guitar. Trials on instruments help them make informed and guided choices. A follow-up period of free tuition enables pupils to decide if they wish to continue. Some instruments are taught in their own school during the school day, others are offered at the local secondary school or on an area basis after school.

Early indications are that, by following this type of programme, pupils are doing better and progressing faster. Self-esteem and self-confidence grow. Commitment and loyalty are reinforced. The additional funds needed to extend this opportunity to all pupils are relatively small. When these pupils transfer to secondary school, many will have enough expertise to encourage them to continue with their music-making. Ultimately, there will be greater take-up of courses at KS4 and post-16.

Adult engagement with music is growing rapidly. Many music services offer tuition and group community music-making opportunities. Much of this can be self-financing. To provide music throughout life, we need enough people who want to teach the growing number of pupils who want to learn.

Richard Hallam is chair of NAME and director of music in Oxfordshire.National Association of Music Educators, Administrator: Helen Fraser, Gordon Lodge, Snitterton Road, Matlock, Derbyshire DE4 3LZ. E-mail:

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