Ofsted’s report “What Hubs Should Do” 2013 states:
“Too often, the schools visited expected little of pupils. They failed to ensure that all pupils understood, and could use practically, common musical features such as notation, time signatures, scales, melody shape, chords and key signatures. Many primary schools considered, without good reason, that pupils were not ready for such learning involving musical theory, and believed that they would not enjoy it.”
This echoes Ofsted’s previous findings that “music provision in schools is often weak and poorly led.” It was based on 31 schools visits, and discussions with hubs, between February and July 2013.
I worked as a peripatetic piano teacher in 6 state schools for my local Hub and now I teach privately only. Talking to my students and their parents, it is apparent that the conditions Ofsted identified have not changed. State primary schools in my London Borough are still not teaching common musical features. In this regard my local Hub has failed.
Hubs have difficulties when teachers do not have the relevant skills but this is where CPD becomes crucial. Effective Hubs provide CPD. But what of the “not good enough” identified by Ofsted? My experience was that CPD for peripatetic teachers was non existent.Yet, Ofsted identifies the Hubs’ primary duties as providing the same integrated music education for all children and to provide CPD to facilitate this integrated teaching.This means basic notation and theory – and this may not always be fun! I find it shocking when teachers resist teaching anything that is not ‘fun’ and argue against integrating theory into learning to play an instrument from the start. Clearly, being responsible for playing and enjoying music is easier than assuming responsibility for its quality. BUT these are not mutually exclusive objectives and cry out to be taught in an integrated way.For example a student might write a rhythm on a board for the teacher to play and vice versa – some rhythms are more challenging than others! Notably, the choirs in schools and the Hub I worked for were not provided with scores to sing from but learned by copying, bypassing the opportunity to learn any notation.
The first formal instrumental lessons are normally given by peripatetic teachers in our schools. These lessons have a determining effect on the development of young musicians or the failure of that development.
The responsibility for this development is squarely on the shoulders of Music Hubs which have the hegemony on the supply of peripatetic schoolteachers.This presents a serious conflict of interests. They have a vested financial interest in keeping their peripatetics on the books [a major source of income] and are also responsible for maintaining quality. In the Hub I worked for children would learn the piano for 3 years and not be able to read a note or know the piano keys repeat ABCDEFG. Often, notation was taught off the stave!
The report found that by working together the schools and the Hubs can deliver all the benefits of a good music education to all pupils and not simply the few who choose, or who have the resources, to specialise in the subject or an instrument. However, Inspectors found few examples of such good practice.
Hubs organise orchestras, ensembles and choirs and arrange national performances for them. For the children participating this bestows real benefits in social, emotional and cultural development. However, Hubs are in a unique position to help ensure each child has an equal opportunity to learn the basics of reading music.It may not put them top of the popularity pole and is by no means an easy task. However, if they would collectively make music education their main focus and implement Ofsted’s recommendation, to ensure each child is given a basic understanding of notation and musical theory, then each child would have a greater enjoyment of music and a real freedom of choice. Like many others, I believe classical music is in decline in the UK and we are in a race to the bottom. Collectively, Hubs could grasp the baton and begin the ascent.
Pamela Rose – Creator of www.learngrade5theory.com