Music, with its wealth of intellectual, personal and social benefits, is an undeniably crucial element of every school’s curriculum. Music education has been shown to improve almost every other area of learning; it's linked to helping children to retain and recall verbal information, and supporting maths development among other benefits so it stands to reason that we would ensure that children have plenty of opportunity to study music throughout all their ages and stages at school.
Yet anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that music is feeling the squeeze in our schools, much like other wider curriculum subjects, and the loss in terms of breadth of educational experience is immense.
Bridget Whyte, CEO of Music Mark, a membership organisation for music services and those working with schools to deliver musical and social outcomes for children, notes that her organisation has a growing number of schools within its membership, specifically schools that are recognised for their music provision. But still more needs to be done if teachers are to feel equipped to run music lessons with confidence. She explains, “We are keen to ensure that music continues to be at the heart of learning for all children between the ages of 5 and 13, support early years/pre-school musical learning and enable those who wish to continue to study music into Key Stages 4 and 5. To do this, we recognise the importance of training for teachers – both initial teacher training and continuing professional development.”
Music Mark spends time lobbying to government and other key funders around the importance of musical learning as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, as well as for the many evidenced cognitive, psychological, health and social benefits that music provides. As Bridget says, “It is from this position that Music Mark can work closely with other music education organisations to ensure that there is comprehensive support for all those who provide musical learning for children and young people. Our growing list of Corporate Partners work with us to ensure that the resources, advice and support they provide is relevant and accessible.
There are many organisations out there supporting and encouraging great musical opportunities in our schools for both children and teachers. Choir Conductor, Karen Gibson, well known for conducting gospel workshops around the world as well as numerous TV appearances, works extensively with schools and knows how important it is for children to access music opportunities. “From a personal perspective,” Karen explains, “I have been privileged to see the difference that singing for 1.5 hours a week can make in the lives of young people. From finding their voice, to increasing self-esteem, to building trust, to learning how to work in a team, to changing wayward behaviour, to building confidence, to bringing comfort and solace…. Teaching singing should never be a job, more a vocation, and when done well, we empower others to find their own path.”
Having well trained staff in schools, able to run choirs, or continue the good work started by others, can help children to access musical experiences that are open to all with a voice. As Karen told me, “Life opportunities are not equal – not everyone has the same access to the resources that will help them fulfil their potential. Singing, however, is universal, and to be able to teach it is a gift to the giver as well as the receiver, particularly when it’s impact is life-changing and long-lasting.” Karen continues, “A great teacher is one who is able to effect change for a lifetime by creating an environment safe enough for each child/student to try, grow, cry, fall, get back up, and grow some more. These are crucial life skills, and we need them now, more than ever.”
What can be done, then, to ensure that teachers gain the support they need in order for children to access the benefits of music education? Some ideas:
– Developing confidence as a teacher of music is dependent on great quality CPD once in post. There’s only so much that initial teacher education can achieve in the very limited time that can be devoted to wider curriculum subjects, and not all trainees get to see effective music teaching on their placements. Asking for time, space and funding so that you can pursue the CPD you need is crucial. It may not be forthcoming but asking helps to keep the need for CPD a priority.
– Seek out local or national providers of music CPD that best meet your needs. Sounds obvious, but the choice is immense. There are many organisations offering a range of sessions for teachers.
– Consider collaborating with local schools to buy in music CPD. This seems counterintuitive in this age of competition but it can really help to raise the standard of music education on offer to children and that can benefit a community immensely. Sometimes the bigger picture needs prioritising.
– If music is being squeezed until it is virtually invisible in your school, are there any local initiatives that promote music education outside school that you can include in your communications with parents that they can then pursue? Similarly, are there any parents at your school who have an insight into any aspect of music performance or education?
Great Oaks Education, a teacher training provider specialising in delivering CPD for teachers and specialist workshops for pupils in the creative arts sectors of schools and colleges, is clear about the impact such training can have on raising the achievements of pupils. A spokesperson said, “Great Oaks Education was set up by creative arts specialists to provide CPD for teachers that is current, valid and effective back in the classroom. Our tutors are passionate about the importance of the creative arts and strive to deliver training that is practical and valid for the needs of pupils in today’s new age. We pride ourselves in the knowledge that teachers and pupils will come away from our sessions with new ideas, techniques and resources that will raise the achievements of all pupils.”
When we consider the funding challenges for the arts more generally, surely we need more than ever to ensure that teachers are fully able to teach music, practical craft and all. And that means, in many schools, access to training and practitioners who can lift your music provision higher and higher.
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About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.