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!

reception

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:

office

“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.

Why not nominate a talented teacher for a Music Teacher Award?

I’m delighted to work with many talented teachers in schools and colleges across the United Kingdom and beyond.  It is great to see their work recognised and rewarded. At MMU, we were able to honour the lifetime achievements of our colleague Geoff Reed through an honorary doctorate. It was so well deserved.

On that theme,  the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence is now accepting nominations for next year’s ceremony on 12th March. The categories include:

  • Best Musical Initiative Award, sponsored by the Royal Marines Band Service
  • Best Print Resource Award, sponsored by Rhinegold Publishing Ltd
  • Best Digital/Technological Resource Award
  • Best SEN Resource Award
  • Excellence in Primary/Early Years Music Award
  • Best School Music Department Award, sponsored by the MMA
  • Best Classical Music Education Initiative Award, sponsored by Classic FM
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Black Cat Music and MusicPracticeRooms.com
  • The 2015 awards will also see the inclusion of two new categories – Musicians’ Union Inspiration Award, sponsored by the MU and Best Music Education Product Award. A Music Teacher Magazine Editor’s Award will also be chosen by Thomas Lydon, editor of Music Teacher.

The awards were created to celebrate excellence in the UK’s music education sector. For more details visit the Music Education Expo site. Get voting!

Musical Futures to become ‘independent’ from 2015

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, who has funded and managed Musical Futures since 2003, will provide three year’s funding to the tune of £1.2m to support the transition from a project to a not-for-profit organisation. The funding will enable the development of exciting, innovative new models and approaches, as well as continuing the core offer of open source, free materials, training and support to schools. Abigail D’Amore, Chief Executive designate, says:

‘The Musical Futures team are delighted with the generous offer of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation trustees. We have been given a unique opportunity to expand the work of Musical Futures into new sectors, and develop a fully self-sustaining organisation committed to providing high-quality participatory music learning experiences for all children and young people.’

Further information from here.

Today, we are celebrating the career of Geoff Reed – a distinguished colleague and great friend

I’ve never been a fan of honorary doctorates. On the many occasions that I’ve sat on the Bridgewater Hall stage for MMU graduation ceremonies, I’ve seen them given out to various celebrities and wondered why they deserve the conferment of an academic award for basically doing the day job. Also, as someone who worked hard to get a PhD in the proper way (none of the PhD by publication rubbish that’s becoming popular nowadays), I suppose my view is that you need to work hard to get this qualification (actually, work really hard) and not just be dished one out to add to your collection of gongs. I know that sounds a bit petty.

This morning, at MMU’s Faculty of Education graduation event at the Bridgewater Hall, things will be different; very different. In this morning’s event, my friend and colleague Geoff Reed will receive his honorary doctorate.

Geoff has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a music educator. During the final part of this, over the last ten years, he has been working at the RNCM in collaboration with MMU supporting our PGCE in Music and PGCE in Music with Specialist Instrumental Teaching courses.  He has worked tirelessly with hundreds of MMU’s students in this role . His warmth, wise counsel and humanity have shone through all his dealings with them.

For myself, Will and Jane, as a team of MMU tutors, Geoff has been an outstanding colleague. His advocacy for music education never fades and his commitment to provide the very best quality educational experience for our students has never dipped. At a personal level, we have all benefited from his broad perspective and wisdom on all matters to do with music education within higher education, schools and music services. Geoff is widely respected within the field of music education across the United Kingdom and Europe, through the Association of European Conservatories.

Geoff is a quiet and humble man. He would never have put himself forward for an award such as this. However, it was our belief that he would be an ideal candidate to be recognised in this way because of his:

  • Commitment to high quality music education of the highest order shown throughout his career at various schools, Sefton Music Service and latterly at the RNCM;
  • Collegial approach to working with and supporting MMU staff in the most constructive and positive manner;
  • Advocacy for MMU students and staff through our long standing collaborative engagement with the RNCM;
  • Wonderful humanity that has shined through all our work with him. This will be testified to by a huge range of other colleagues, musicians and educators .

This event marks the end of Geoff’s career. He is retiring shortly from the RNCM. I am pleased that we are marking this by honouring Geoff with this award. It is full deserved. Unlike so many who dabble in initial teacher education today, Geoff understands deeply how the process of initial teacher works and how vital the role of the university is in caring for and nurturing students through this process . His wisdom and counsel has been a daily inspiration to us.

Congratulations on your retirement Geoff. Enjoy being Dr Reed. It is well deserved.  We will miss you.

 

60% of Andrew Carter’s ITT review panel have no experience in ITT at all. Does it matter?

As you may remember, in May 2014 Michael Gove (remember him?) appointed Andrew Carter, Headteacher of South Farnham School, leader of a school-centred initial teacher training (ITT) provider and ITT lead on the Teaching Schools Council, to chair a so called ‘independent’ review of the quality and effectiveness of ITT courses.

He asked Carter to look across the full range of ITT courses and will seek views from those involved across the sector to:

  • Define effective ITT practice;
  • Assess the extent to which the current system delivers effective ITT;
  • Recommend where and how improvements could be made;
  • Recommend ways to improve choice in the system by improving the transparency of course content and methods. Continue reading