The current Early Years Foundation Stage is difficult for a traditionally minded music teacher to actually do their job. I have talked to quite a few music teachers and they all say the same thing – that free-flow “active learning” is incompatible with whole-class music tuition. There are two major problems. Firstly, the Early Years coordinators do not want children to leave their environment. Consequently, you are not allowed to take them to the music room. This really limits what you can do practically and I can’t see logically why we are limiting the children to one place. We should be taking children to new places like the library, the swimming pool, the art room and the music room from a very young age – I cannot see why this is wrong. If we can take them to the adventure playground we can take them to the music room. The second problem is that the Early Years staff are not happy with whole-class teaching and want you to do small group activities for only those children who want to go to music. What this actually means is that children come and go as they please and do not really engage with what you are doing. It is incredibly difficult to play a parachute game or teach an action song when at any time the children can be distracted by Johnny in the sandpit.
The argument given is the children are too young for organised music activities. That is complete rubbish. Music Together and Kindermusik are companies that have organised musical activities for toddlers and young children for many, many years and there are MT and KM practitioners who work in schools. And in my experience, as long as you have a variety of activities, there is no reason for children to not join in with class music activities. Thirty minutes max with action songs, parachute games, bean bag games, scarf games, instrument time and perhaps a musical story. But to do this you need space and a distraction-free environment. And that is out of the question.
So what do music teachers do in reality? Some go along with it and just accept they cannot teach the children effectively. One teacher I know just takes the whole group of kids round the corner when nobody’s looking and then does a proper music class. Another had a big argument with Early Years and won and now can teach the children in the music room but it wasn’t without a fight. My plan is to get out of Early Years because it is pointless trying to teach children when there are so many pressures to actually stop you teaching.
It’s such a shame as it is a wasted opportunity. But as I have found out over the last fourteen years, teaching ideas are endlessly recycled and I am sure we will go back to whole-class structured activities in a few years. Government ministers are talking about changing it and I think they will in a few years time. In fact, the main reason they haven’t is political – ministers were worried that they would completely lose goodwill with Early Years teachers because of the local authority cuts to Sure Start. Subsequently they decided it was not worth picking a fight with nursery teachers. But I am pretty sure we will see some pressure to return to more structured activities – Liz Truss was talking about the French nursery system a few years back and how structured activities work well there. Whatever they do decide to do, change it is definitely on the governments radar. And for me, hopefully my five years of “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “The Wheels on the Bus” are over. Even parents don’t get five whole years of this. They get “Let it Go” instead…