The Love Music Trust Spring Conference is on the 28th January 2015 with Robin Hammerton

The Love Music Trust have announced their spring conference featuring a guest lecture and discussion with Robin Hammerton, OFSTED’s lead HMI for Music. This will be a superb event held at the Lifestyle Centre in Winford. Delegates from Cheshire East and Cheshire West schools will be attending. In addition to Robin’s presentation, the programme of other events during the day will be fascinating and will, no doubt, stimulate a lot of discussion about what constitutes a quality approach to music education in our schools.

I’d highly recommend the event and the costs of attending are very reasonable. You can read more about the event here and a booking form can be downloaded here.

Nicky Morgan will propose and fund a new ‘College of Teaching’ today

morganNicky Morgan will unveil plans today to create a new ‘College of Teaching’, similar to medical bodies such as the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons. The College, once established, will provide training programmes, conduct educational research and set professional standards for teachers.

Morgan will announce that taxpayers’ money will be used to help fund the start up costs of the new organisation although it is still unclear whether membership of it will be voluntary or compulsory, and whether or not it will adopt a subscription model to help fund its own existence.

Those of us with longer memories, will recall that one of the first things that Michael Gove did was to abolish the General Teaching Council for England (which adopted a subscription based approach on a compulsory basis for all teachers in England) and subsume its powers directly within an Executive Agency at the Department for Education. It seems unlikely that any such powers will flow back to this new College of Teaching leaving its exact status somewhat ambiguous at the present time.  However, if reports in today’s Telegraph are to be believed, it does seem clear that the college will be independent of Government yet an important new component of Morgan’s drive to ‘raise the standards of teaching’.

One interesting area might be around the professional standards for teachers. If the new College of Teaching sets those standards, will it be empowered to enforce them (like the previous GTCE)? Will it also be responsible for the transition arrangements for students who have undertaken initial teacher education as they progress into their NQT year (something that has completely neglected by central Government over the last four years).

It seems that Morgan is keen to establish the college at some point during 2015.

What counts as music technology?

I read this quote in a chapter I’m reviewing today:

The violin bow and the saxophone mouthpiece are perhaps the most expressive pieces of music technology in Western history yet composers and virtuoso performers did not undertake courses in these technologies. To understand them they actively explore what the expressive capabilities of these technologies enable, what they revealed and concealed to us as musicians.

It comes from the work of Steve Dillon, my friend who passed away a couple of years ago. I miss him and his brilliant take on music education, technology and life in general.

This quote comes from the his 2007 book, Music, Meaning and Transformation: Meaningful Music Making for Life published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (p.80).

Jenny Smith, head teacher featured in Educating the East End, sums up Michael Gove and Tory education policy in a sentence or two …

smithPutting it politely, Michael Gove didn’t have a fanbase in the teaching profession. Just as we’ve seen with the NHS, this government has gone further than any other towards dismantling the pillars of education and it’s going to be hard to repair the damage caused by crazy proposals, lack of consultation and low morale. I just hope shows like this help dispel myths about schools today and start informed conversations about the future – not based on someone’s experience 30 years ago.

Says it all, doesn’t it? For more from her interview with the Observer, click here.

The (still) continuing farce of School Direct

For anyone who has been following this Government’s flagship policy of School Direct over recent years, this article in yesterday’s TES will be no surprise at all.

The key result of this policy to try to move initial teacher education away from HEI and relocate it in schools is that schools themselves are now facing the most severe teacher shortage in a decade. Congratulations to all those schools and head teachers who thought it would be a good idea to try and train their own teachers! You are complicit in causing severe damage to our national ITE infrastructure. The TES report shows that the number of vacancies going unfilled is increasing and that while some subjects are meeting recruitment targets, others are falling far short.

The study was done by Professor John Howson, whose blog has charted the continuing challenges and chaos around teacher supply over the last few years. Howson is particularly scathing about the inability of School Direct to address shortages in key subject areas such as Music, Design & Technology, RE, Biology and Physics.

Anyone who has read my blog over the years will know that I’m no fan of School Direct. It has  created chaos in the ITE system as a whole and has no significant advantages over an HEI led system which, as anyone who knows even a small amount about ITE, is delivered in partnership with schools already (every student has to spend 2/3 of their time in school anyway, and this is legislated for).

This is not to say that individual students on School Direct do not have a good experience. Our current cohort of Music PGCE students contains seven School Direct students and I would like to think that they get a great experience during their time with us at MMU. But the blunt reality is that the School Direct system as a whole is failing and should be abolished immediately after the next General Election. It has been a terrible policy, poorly and hastily implemented, and now we can see clearly that it is failing to deliver in key areas. 

Tristam Hunt – will you commit to dismantling School Direct if Labour come to power next year?

Making Music: A mixed bag from the ABRSM

making_musicMaking Music, the ABRSM’s latest piece of research into the teaching, learning and making of music by adults and children across the United Kingdom was published today. You can download it from here.

The report is a informative read, but generally a bit of a frustrating one. Starting with some positives, there is much to celebrate. Increasing numbers of children are playing a broader range of musical instruments than ever before; according to the report at least, the nation’s instrumental music teachers are ‘expressing high levels of professional satisfaction’ and are ‘remarkably fulfilled’ in their employment; technology is creating new opportunities for anyone to engage with and create their own music.

There are other areas where things are not so rosy. Children from lower socio-economic groups continue to be disadvantaged by the high costs of participation in instrumental music making; regional provision is variable and not helped by the fragility of funding for music education hubs;  50% of instrumental teachers cite schools and parents as being unsupportive of their work.

Schools come in for a bit of hammering. Comments such as ‘50% of teachers cite a lack of support from schools and parents plus poor motivation from students as among the most common negative aspects of their work’ are unsubstantiated or inadequately analysed. The benefits of instrumental music teaching and learning within the formal curriculum that school’s offer is also unacknowledged throughout the report. This is a great shame as there is plenty of other evidence to suggest that large swathes of young people across the UK are getting valuable musical experiences through the work of schools and their partnerships with music education hubs.

The report is tantalizing by omission. One example relates to music technology. Technology, is ‘creating new opportunities for anyone to engage with and create their own music’. So far, so good. How is it doing this? No substantial evidence or analysis is presented. There is no recognition at all that the increasing use of technology could be, on occasions, a detrimental thing for music education.

I was also puzzled that the ABRSM have done little to contextualise the findings or their report within the broader research done in this area. Other research done by partners of the ABRSM include Katherine Zeserson’s excellent report for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and other work completed by Music Mark, the ISM and others is ignored. There are also extensive data sets collected by Arts Council England through their work managing music education hubs that are not mentioned or explored at all. A more thorough contextual analysis of this data as a whole could, perhaps, have led to a more robust exploration of several assertions made within the report. In turn, this would have led to the construction of a stronger and more robust set of implications.

I was also disappointed that the report is unashamedly political. It states that ‘successive governments’ policies have helped bring about real improvement’. This is strongly debatable. There are serious arguments that the last four years of political mismanagement and incompetence have done irrevocably harm to music education in all sectors throughout the UK. The real costs of fragmenting, privatising and de-professionalising the sector may only just be beginning to be seen. The report is completely unaware of the damage being done to the structure of music education and its provision in many parts of the UK right now.

Welcome to our new students!


A very warm welcome to the 41 new students that are starting their PGCE courses in Music with us at MMU today. I hope you have a fantastic year working from our brand new Birley campus and with our broad network of partnership schools.

I would like to think that undertaking a PGCE  with M level credit is the ‘gold star’ route into teaching. Sure, there are a plethora of other routes that  you could have chosen, but you are now part of the largest PGCE music education course in the country in a Faculty of Education with outstanding facilities. You will be supported by a dedicated team of tutors here and whilst out in school; we are all committed to your success this year, as you move into your NQT year and beyond.

The benefits of working within this large community of fellow students, university and school-based colleagues are immeasurable in my view. The daily interactions that you will partake in will support and sustain you throughout the year. You will be seriously challenged on many levels this year, but you will, along the way, makes friends that will last you a lifetime.

Thanks for choosing to come to MMU and devote yourself to studying for a PGCE. The commitment you have shown to your own professional development and to the cause of seeking to continue a quality music educational experience for our young people is noteworthy. Despite a continuing series of crack-pot educational policies in music and other areas of education, we are delighted that you have chosen to learn about the truly uplifting and facilitative power of music education in our children’s lives and how this can be nurtured and developed through skilful teaching.

Good luck to you all and if there is anything I can do to support you this year please don’t hesitate to ask. You know where my office is:


“Learning music is a birthright”, Sir Simon Rattle

simon_rattleHave you been listening to the Proms at all this year? One of the world’s greatest conductors, Sir Simon Rattle, is conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in two concerts this week.

Simon Rattle is from Liverpool. His dad was a jazz pianist and he learnt percussion as a youngster. When interviewed on Desert Island Discs, he recalled his music teacher playing him an excerpt from a Mahler symphony in a music lesson aged about 11. This was a transformative moment for him and his tremendous love and passion for all musical styles is obvious for everyone to see.

He has also have some interesting views on music education. In his interview with the Guardian over the weekend, he said this:

… the entire issue of music education is becoming an ever bigger issue all over Europe. Apart from the obvious cultural value, employers want people who can work in teams, think laterally and not in straight lines, all of which music gives you in spades. A free music education was one of the glories of the UK when I was a child. Too much has been sacrificed in the name of economic necessity. Learning music is a birthright. And you have to start young. 

I agree completely with this. Music education offers so much to us all, whatever our age. Learning music is an essential and integral part of all our education, throughout our lives. But this is particularly true for our children as they develop physically, psychologically and socially.

Our new music education centre opens in Sandbach this week. At Ohana Music we have structured our programmes in terms of its content and fees to ensure that music education is affordable, enjoyable and social. Learning music together is the best way to learn music.

‘Ohana’ is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘family’ or ‘group’ where everyone learns and supports each other. It emphasises the notion that we are bound together as human beings and that we must not forget each other as we work together. It was a concept that was famously bought to live in the Disney film Lilo & Stitch:

This notion is central to our work at Ohana Music. Our new music space opens on Saturday 6th September at 9am. Do come along, meet us, share some refreshments and have a look at our new facilities. But most importantly, come and learn music together with us. Whatever your age,  I invite you to come, discover or share your passion for music as part of our supportive community.

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