Curriculum

The Chief Inspector of OFSTED, Amanda Spielman, has released this paper.  It is refreshing to know that the focus of OFSTED is going to be the curriculum, as from my experience it has been thoroughly neglected in Music.  Much of this is due to the vast majority of music educationalists being constructivists.  If you have a philosophy that students construct their own learning, then  you can end up without any sense of curriculum unless it is completely underpinned by skills.  But in such a curriculum you could end up with students not studying anything before the Year 2000.  According to OFSTED, there is an attitude prevalent in many schools that classical music is a no-go area for students.  Point 18 of their report into the curriculum says “Classical music, as a serious component of the curriculum, was treated as a step too far in most of the primary and secondary schools surveyed, at least until Key Stage 4. It was felt by teachers and leaders to be too difficult or inaccessible for pupils.”  This is one reason that we need to think very clearly about what is taught as well as what is learned.  Most constructivists would be horrified that the curriculum could be narrowed by their philosophy.  But I have certainly come across some of the attitudes mentioned in this report and we need to take it seriously that there are music teachers and school leaders that do not think content matters.

The National Curriculum for Music in England and Wales is incredibly short – primary takes up less than a page of A4.  Some teachers like this as there is freedom to develop it any way they want.  The problem is that many schools can take this to mean that music is not important and can be covered by assemblies, a nativity and a summer concert.  To counter this we should be talking about curriculum content.  If we specify at least some of the content then it is more likely that this will be taught.  And we all know that what gets taught is what is assessed.  So we should be making curriculum content that can be learned, memorized and tested.  The “t” word is very unfashionable in music education and I am not looking for a Music SAT.  But low stakes testing in Music could actually result in content being delivered and pupils knowing more about the wonderful world of music that we often take for granted.  

One way to think about content is through the use of knowledge organizers.  These are a one A4 page of content that we are studying this term.  They need to be clear, concise and testable.  I have written one for Year 2 and one for Year 3 and I will be publishing them soon.  I have handed them out to the pupils this week and the class teachers have been given a copy.  I will see how the pupils respond and whether it has made any difference around Christmastime when we finish the unit.  However, the real test will be whether they can remember it before we leave for the summer holiday.  Can they retain the information over time?  Surely, that is one of the aims we should have for music education – that what they learn is stored robustly in each child’s long term memory.  Do children know the difference between a clarinet and a bassoon?  Do they know the names of at least two composers from the 18th century?  Can they name some early Blues musicians?  

Please don’t think that I am against musical skills, I certainly am not.  But I am very skeptical about constructivism.  I think teachers should be setting the curriculum – not the students. I don’t have any problems with the notion that the teacher is an authority and that some content is more valuable than others.  And the person best placed to make these judgements is the teacher, not the child.

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