The Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb has announced a new Model Curriculum for Music Education. It is needed because currently the curriculum for six years fits on one page. As it is so vague, some schools have been able to get away with teaching music through a few hymns at singing practice and a nativity at Christmas where you can’t hear your kids sing because they are singing to a YouTube video. Some of the stories I have heard from parents with young children are quite frankly appalling. No choir. No orchestra. No recorder group. No music lessons. No instruments. It’s easy for us in the Music Education Community to praise each other for the work we are doing and forget the places where NOTHING is happening. It is unacceptable and I am so happy the Minister is actually trying to do something to help by actually giving some sort of guidance.
You would think that everyone would be happy about this, including those in the Music Education community. I am quite disgusted by some of the things people are saying:
Reading music seems to be something incredibly controversial and something that only Tories do whilst testing and indoctrinating innocent, hungry children about something that is completely pointless. If I meet Gillian Jeffries from the tweet above, I will have a few words to say. I blooming well hope she is not a teacher. Yet, I heard some of these arguments from teachers and tutors on my Music PGCE twenty years ago and some from colleagues over the years. And from listening to some of the new generation of teachers, not much has changed.
It seems there was a generation of teachers from yesteryear who just taught theoretical notation out of context from any sound. Surely, we have moved on from this? I teach notation when I teach recorder. I teach notation when I teach singing. I teach notation when I teach the children to play the Chinese Drums. I teach notation when I teach the children the keyboards. I teach notation when I teach children violins. And if you teach using the Kodaly method, notation is embedded in so much of what you do.
The minister has brought together a whole load of experienced music teachers, headteachers, performers, conductors from all sorts of walks of life to improve things for children who have sod all music at school. And he gets this sort of cynical, pessimistic quite nasty reaction from people who should know a lot better. OK, this committee might come out with something useless – but hopefully they will actually do some things to improve matters.
Here are a few of my own suggestions for the working party – I am quite hard-line so I doubt they will go along with any of these but they should be looked at.
- No school cannot have a choir (you may think this over the top, but Macron has done this in France. It is policy).
- Any school that is not teaching at least 45 minutes of music every week will be placed in special measures. I am pretty sure that would happen to the school if they had less than 45 minutes of English so it’s hardly controversial.
- Any school that does not have a trained music teacher on the staff must send a designated teacher on the Kodaly Spring Course, Orff course or Sing for Pleasure Summer School every year. This is where the extra funding the minister has promised should go. No school can complain if they are given the training for free.
- All B(Ed) courses to run Kodaly and Orff-based training and be entered for Level 1 for each. We could make up our own, but why bother when there are already some fantastic accredited courses out there.
- All B(Ed) students to be entered for Grade 1 on any instrument of their choice at the end of their course. If they fail they cannot get QTS. I hear groans but if you fail your maths test you can’t teach. Why should Music be any different? And if the teachers moan and say “I’m not musical” then immediately proceed to Point 8.
- All children to play recorder from Years 2-4. This will be mandatory, the same as teaching number in maths. There should be a government-funded scheme to give a recorder and book to every primary student who enters Year 2. Before people complain they hate the sound of the recorder, in some areas of Scotland every child is given a chanter. See my article on why recorders are important here.
- Singup to become free again and to publish books with the melody in to give to children for assemblies – not just the lyrics but the treble clef melodies.
- An information campaign to convince children, parents and teachers that music in schools has nothing to do with talent and is for all. This must also explain to parents how children should practice an instrument. In my experience, the vast majority of parents haven’t got a clue what practice involves, what it looks like and why it is important.
- Every school to have external artists come in at least once a year. Otherwise they will be fined. Before anyone complains about cost, ask the scouts or the Salvation Army to come in. They will do it for free and you might even be able to source some instruments.
- Support the Hubs. If a school has no information about the hubs or the majority of parents have no idea what they are then they will be downgraded one grade of their OFSTED report.
Quite frankly, I have had enough of schools treating Music as a nice optional extra. We have been way too accommodating in the Music Education Community and it is time we supported the Minister whatever our political tribe and sort this out so we can have a generation of children getting a proper musical education.