Compulsion

In 2006 in our first staff meeting of our local authority music service’s academic year, our boss raised a glass and said, “These are the good times colleagues.  They will not last.  Enjoy them.”  He was right.  Our music service had grown by close to a quarter, we had more cash and more contracts from schools.  Everything was rosy.  I could pay my mortgage.  I had a full time contract on Teacher’s Pay and Conditions.

Now the picture in the nation is not as rosy.  Language like “decline”, “terminal”, and “crisis” are being used.  We know many of the reasons why.  EBacc.  Budgets.  Cuts.  This post isn’t about now; it is about why 2005 was the good time and what we can learn from it.

I was incredibly lucky getting a job with the music service when I did.  Of course, I did not know this at the time but one decision had been made that transformed our music service by accident and another that combined to make the favorable conditions for our music service to grow.

The first decision was PPA time.  When the government, with the unions support declared that all teachers were to have 10% PPA in their timetables non-negotiable, there was quite a bit of panic.  Many schools simply were not doing this, particularly in Primary Schools.  Documents like this were very useful for headteachers to work out what to do.  One of sections of this document (section 12) said that using outside agencies like Music and P.E. could be used to provide time for PPA as long as they were not outside the school timetable.  So headteachers started asking the music service I worked at for a Music specialist to teach so the class teacher should have PPA time.  In my first year, this was the majority of the new contracts we received.  When I asked why I was employed this was the reason the school gave.

The next decision happened the following year.  We were part of the pilot project for Wider Opportunities, which was then renamed First Access or Whole Class Instrumental tuition.  We had done this with recorders but never with whole class violins, which is what we started out with.  This scheme was then rolled out nationwide.  Our boss was clever and realized the danger that this lesson would be used for PPA and insisted that class teachers came so it couldn’t be used for PPA.  The schools fought this so many times but because we were strict we were able to have the hours for Music curriculum and for the Wider Opportunities project.  Our boss also insisted that we had a curriculum and instrumental specialist in each lesson – this was amazing for training purposes and I have blogged about this in the past.  But it was these decisions with teeth that were instrumental in enabling us to raise our glasses.

People can say it was the government, or budget cuts that have hammered the Music Education profession in recent years but actually it was compulsion that was the major factor in 2005 to have increased provision.  Schools only bought us in because they had to.  Would they have bought us if there was no PPA?  Well some did anyway but we got loads of contracts as a direct result of PPA.  There was no wiggle room – schools had to do something to provide 10% PPA time for all staff.  Now there is much more use of teaching assistants that are cheaper than musicians but at the time word had got round that this was one way of solving the problem quick and easy.  It only took one phone call and problem solved.

We are now at a time when there are Music Commissions, Music Manifestos, Model Music Curriculums and a whole host of other very worthy things going on.  I may not be an expert in a university but I do know schools and headteachers.  I have worked with well over 60 of them.  If there is no compulsion, no carrots or sticks then these documents will be shelved.  As in put on a shelf and never read.  We like to think that the schools we are dealing with are fellow professionals and are reading all our advice.  But most are not.  They are too busy dealing with hundreds of other things, some that other agencies used to deal with that they are now responsible for.  Headteachers are invariably nice people but they probably aren’t going to read your document.  The majority of schools will only do something if they have the staffing, time and money and the priority is always what will affect their OFSTED report favorably.

The only time in my 19 years of teaching where I have seen real change was when there was compulsion put on schools to act.  That is what we need now.  I have already said some of the things that could be done but let’s just go basic:

  1. No choir, no school – they are doing this in France.  I bet you within half a term we would have a whole nation singing.
  2. No instrumental tuition, one grade less – any school where there is no instrumental tuition going on (it does happen really I am afraid) will have the consequence that the school gets one grade less in their OFSTED report.  Hundreds of Music teachers will be employed almost immediately.  Even if parents have to pay, at least there will be a musician employed in a school (we are talking basic here!)
  3. No music qualification, no job – no Primary teacher can be qualified if they have not done an accredited music course – either Orff 1, Kodaly 1 or the Sing for Pleasure Summer School.  The result will be a sharp up-skilling of teachers, which is desperately needed.

If we did just these three things and insisted upon them, we would not need glossy 64 page reports that get immediately shelved.