Big tent, little tent, cardboard box.

So, this was the brief:

Following the request by Robin Hammerton HMI that we develop helpful guidance and support for schools and music hubs on music curriculum and assessment, Music Mark is pleased to have been asked to lead on this. . . . We would like to invite you to attend a meeting of what has been christened a “big tent” by Robin, a coming together of representatives from schools, music hubs, music education organisations and individuals, to discuss and debate the content of such guidance and agree next steps.

It was great to be in a room full of people who felt passionate about the importance of music education. And I have no doubt that everyone who was there was genuine in their desire to ensure our children get a rich and diverse music education that is both musical and meaningful. I was really grateful to be invited and would like to thank Music Mark for organising it and Musical Futures for hosting.

Robin Hammerton is absolutely bang on the money with his desire to get music education organisations working together. The recent music report by Henley noted that:

“The Music Education world is fragmented and uncoordinated”.

Robin didn’t mince his words – whilst acknowledging that some schools provide a fantastic music education he was deeply concerned by the number of schools which didn’t. He actually said at one point, “Music education is dying in schools”. Robin suggested that a short, succinct document offering “helpful guidance and support” from all the major education organisations, to hubs, to be used in schools  could make a difference.

I am not convinced. I am not sure how a letter from us “telling” the hubs to “tell” the schools how they could teach music is going to lead to improved music lessons for our children. I’m not sure who the audience is for this guidance – I had rather hoped any help or guidance would be aimed at the teachers expected to teach music but from the discussion it seemed that heads, governors and hubs were being targeted. I also want to know what this document would be expected to achieve and how we would know if it was successful. Although there was agreement that this was a good question we were unable to answer it.

I don’t think that lack of knowledge is the problem. The assumption behind producing this  “big tent” guidance document is that if only heads and hubs ‘knew’ what to to do then music education could be transformed. I strongly suspect that this is not the case. I think that we need to ask schools – heads and teachers – about what the barriers are to teaching good quality music lessons. Music education organisations need to listen first before they can offer targeted advice and support.

I’m also wondering if targeting heads and hubs is the most effective strategy. My instinct is to reach out to teachers. The days of top down strategies, rolling out initiative after initiative, are over. Teachers talking to teachers, sharing ideas and good practice, organising their own CPD are the way forward. We ignore grassroots teachers at our peril.

The night before todays meeting I found new guidance on progression and assessment which had been published by ISM, who were one of the organisations at the meeting. I had rather expected to discuss this at the meeting today, particularly as one of the authors was a keynote speaker. I didn’t raise it but it strikes me as odd that, given they had done a lot of work and the guidance covers exactly the issues we were discussing, we didn’t actually discuss it.

I may be wrong and that writing this new guidance document will unite the various organisations and galvanise schools into upping their game. But if I had my way I would start with the people who actually teach music.

It is sincerely not my intention to upset the good people charged with this task but I feel I wouldn’t be justifying my place in the tent if I didn’t express my concerns.

4 thoughts on “Big tent, little tent, cardboard box.

  1. A thoughtful and perceptive blog, Jackie – and there is much here that chimes with me.

    I was uneasy at the start of the day, but I did feel much happier when I came away. I think some of the problems and tensions that arose out of the morning session could have been avoided if we had been equipped to come to this meeting better prepared. This is all with hindsight, I know, but in advance of the day it would have been good to have had:

    a much clearer brief as to the aims of the day
    a better think piece [taking Martin's diagram out of its context did not give us much to go on]
    a list of delegates attending
    an outline of the structure for the day and some 'where next' guidelines

    Robin's introduction set the scene pretty well, but I don't think going head on into Martin's extensive list of high level questions was the obvious next move. Sure, it led to some interesting discussion but this,of itself, was never going to get us towards achieving whatever it was we were striving to achieve. So your timely 'intervention' was what was needed to get us to re focus on the priorities.

    But I'm not sure I agree with you that this is 'top down' intervention. Top down to me means DfE/Ofsted. Given that a third of those at this meeting were teachers I'm hoping we'll get a more grass roots type outcome….

    The post lunch session was much better. At last we were given a structure for the proposed two page Guidance document and we began working on ideas for populating this document. The group I was in came up with some very useful basic ideas which could be used to stimulate thinking rather than just tick the boxes. Some great ideas from Gary Spruce on 'is the music in music lessons really music?' – some useful thoughts from Matt Griffiths on how Youth Music evaluation criteria might be used in more formal settings etc.

    The group elected to take our collated ideas forward seemed pretty well balanced to me and I'm sure Abi will make a good job of editing the final draft.

    True we do need guidance for teachers, but I think there is also a need for this type of guidance document for SLTs as well. If it will go some way towards reviving, protecting and improving music in those schools where music is not being properly or adequately supported then it will have been a worthwhile day.

    David Ashworth


  2. Thanks for blogging the day, sounds like a lot of great music educators got together. I really hope the guidance document produced will have an impact. For me a document aimed at SLTs and Hubs would be useful, particularly if it tells them what not to do (e.g assess using sub levels, or levels for that matter) and provides clear examples of best practice. However in my school, music isn't dying so I hope in some ways the document isn't aimed at schools like mine. 

    Robin Hammerton said “music education is dying in schools”. Most of the time this isn't the fault of the music teacher in my opinion so this needs addressing with SLT and above. Will the document produced try to address the problem with schools where music is dying? In the sort of schools where music is not an option at KS4 and they are making KS3 music almost non-existent?

    I hope so!

    (Sorry for the Secondary focus Jackie, I have yet to see a primary school where music is dying)


  3. It's Anna G by the way.

    I'm going to try again as posted a long reply and lost it. The advantage though is an extra day of reflection so I may able to be more concise!

    I do support Robin Hammerton as OFSTED HMI for calling the meeting and pushing for different members of the sector to sit round a table. Any opportunity for me to reflect on improve what I do in the classroom is great and there were some things that did make me think so if we can find a way to support others to do the same that could be a really positive outcome.

    One of these was Gary Spruce's 'questions' we could ask as part of an assessment approach, starting with 'if this was heard outside school would it be described as music'? Then moving onto thinking about why, which genre of music it would most represent and then bringing in aspects of assessment to think about how it could be improved. I probably haven't done this justice, but in my own head I can see how I would apply it and I will check back with Gary for more info.

    I also realised that the utterly ridiculous anecdotes about the assessment 'systems' he has observed in schools that made me laugh, aren't funny. How have we come to this, where we are prevented from working in a way that could benefit the learning of our students because we are trying to get students to match a set of numbers devised from results in subjects that bear no resemblance to music!! And don't get me started on the 'expected' levels of progress. We should all be worried about Martin's comment that a student predicted to make 2 levels of progress probably will. A student expected to make 6 levels of progress probably will too. If teachers are too busy focussing on this we might forget to look at the child in front of us and everything they are capable of and aspire to achieve. Inputting data, marking for the sake of it, creating tasks just so they can be marked, assessing at a time in a project that the school tell us too not when it would be most useful to make the work better, at what point do we stand up and say stop. For the sake of our children, I hope it’s sooner rather than later.

    Back to the point of the meeting-to produce a set of guidance for schools in tackling the new NC and assessment, I wasn't convinced that even in our own break-out group we were on the same page in terms of approach, ethos and clarity about what we felt should go into the document. More time to debate this may have resolved some of these, but as ever in group discussion personalities kicked in and sadly I felt this hampered what could have been a productive session. I agreed with 2 points we felt should go into the guidance. One was a recommendation that music departments open up communication with SLT to try to show some of the difficulties but also really highlight what we do well in terms of formative assessment. The second was for teachers to consider why they teach the topics they do and whether under the umbrella of the NC, they really are best for the students.

    Finally although I believe this was a step in the right direction, as the guidance was to be aimed in part at teachers, we could have been brought into discussion more. Perhaps we should have spoken out, but at times I felt the gap in the room between the organisations and us and I think we have more work to do in bridging this.

    I left with a firm commitment to work with other teachers myself to seek out answers to my questions. If the answers were in the room on Thursday, I haven't yet found them. But I am keeping my positive hat on because this IS a step in the right direction and I respect the intentions behind it. The least I can do is to keep an open mind until the guidance is written and shared.


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