I started the day drinking an enjoyable coffee with John Kelleher –I can’t quite get over how he blogs 6 days a week when I can mange only one every two months –we discussed some of the growing pressures on music teachers from SLTs. However despite this challenging context we were looking forward the day and learning more about how to be a better music teacher.

Francois Matarasso opened the event with a fascinating talk.

He discussed how deeply and uniquely personal the reception of music was. He made an eloquent and engaging case for how our musical journey was a deeply personal one.

What I felt was missing was the sentiment captured by that 70’s slogan (Andrea Spain interestingly brought up the politics of the 70’s later in the day) – that the personal was political.

I found the neglect of the how the political, social and cultural connected with the personal highlighted a big gap in his discussion.

For example he outlined a personal history of the highlights of music and listed a collection of white males starting with the Animals. Yes, music is personal but it points also towards the socially constructed nature of music –such as the construction of musical cannons. He did digress at one point to talk about how he learned about other people and their oppression through their music. Nowhere was able to reflect upon how music had highlighted his own ethnicity or privilege. What do we learn about ourselves from our personal journeys? To what extent can we claim to know oppression from listening to music? What commonalities do we share?

He noted how the sound of the Animals was deeply influential in the 60’s. However, as is typical in white histories, the importance of black artists in transforming pop music in England was neglected.

He argued that you couldn’t just expect students to accept art or music when teaching – they had to be ready to accept the gift. This was something I felt captured the dilemma of being a music/art teacher very well.

During the questions he was asked about the nature of the social and personal. Interestingly at one point he argued for the importance of context – saying there was no such thing as the music only the interpretations by individuals. He also made a different statement looking at how the author might have been able to create a space around a piece of work that limited just how far it could be stretched in meaning before it lost meaning.

I wondered if the two positions were compatible. If the author has a say in the space and limits of meaning can you really maintain there are only interpretations of text –the text doesn’t matter. Arguing there was no such as the text is an extreme form of idealism. For me, the neglect of politics and power remains a feature of music education debates.

Martin Fautley reported back on a number of finding around TTM noting some of the limitations and its strengths. Of particular concern was the number of teacher just unable to commit to such a program – the fact remains many people just were not allowed to turn up – an indication of the general climate and the reality of everyday challenges to music teachers.

Robert Wells suggested some ways forward in making sure that we prioritised the values that underpinned teaching. It mattered less to him what pedagogy people used than the values that we approach teaching with. I wonder if some values suggest certain forms of pedagogy more than others?

He spoke of the importance of being an Artist and working with young people as if they were Artists. I liked the clarity of statements around the importance of values. I wondered what made the difference between a good teacher and an artist in residence? Is there any tension in approaching teaching as an Artist and the role of teacher? I like the idea of viewing students as Artists, already on a journey, to be treated seriously as cultural practitioner.

Later there was feedback on assessment and a number of depressing facts were highlighted – such as the dominance of level based assessments. One TTM teacher attempted to show an alternative but even then it seemed the SLT were determined to stop this progressive move and seemed desperate to add some numbers.

Then of course it was my speech. Pretty rubbish overall. So apologies everyone but I was feeling rather sharply the exhaustion of the end of term. However, more soon on my talk in my next blog – hopefully this will be quicker than a couple of months.

I thought the cultural offer section was an interesting contrast to my own talk – talking of culture and its residence in buildings. Why is the audience for classical music predominately white and middle class? This was asked at one point and I think it is a good question but more in my next blog.

Finally Andrea Spain and Music Mark outlined a fascinating future based on the lessons of the last few months. The development of Music Head Teacher Champions is intriguing but who gets to decide just what it means to be a supportive head?

For example a friend of mine mentioned how she had been working in a school were the Head is keen on pushing the Arts. He really values the importance of the Arts for young people.

However at the same time the Quality Assurance processes that are being developed did not support the development of the Arts but attempted to fit it into a framework more suited to the EBAC. It sounded like a desire for consistency across the school was just being dealt with by insisting on a uniformity of approach.

Her line manager was concerned that she had no way of tracking the quality of the teaching and marking in lessons. Why shouldn’t some kind of written commentary of students work be an integral part of the process of feedback and marking – after all other subject teachers needed this?

The series of video evidence build up over time wasn’t enough – what was needed was some evidence that demonstrated that teachers were moving students forward in a day-to-day basis. Her line manager needed a mechanism for evaluating the quality of the teaching that didn’t rely purely on the outcomes.

My friend left the meeting rather despondent. Is this really a useful way of using time? And what does it mean to be accountable to SLT these days? How is parity of accountability managed in schools with successful and thriving Arts Departments?

Maybe this is one of the useful things the Head Teacher Music Champions could do. Highlight effective practice when dealing with Art teams and striking a balance between accountability and trust. Of course from my view a sense of trust seems lacking here but it would very interesting to know how Head Teachers pushing music balance the practical nature of the subject and a desire for written outcomes and measurable feedback. What do they look for as good evidence of teacher impact?

These days much more is made of the consistency of feedback and marking – take for instance the recent Ofsted for Cramlington Village placing it as inadequate. (Mainly it would seem due to the headline figures – not the marking). However, here are a couple of quotes illustrating some of the pressures I imagine Head Teachers are concerned about.

  • −  establishing greater consistency in the marking of students’ work so that they receive and act upon guidance which is of a high-quality across all subjects
  • A detailed analysis of students’ work and inspectors’ checks on the work in students’ books show that the quality of marking is too variable. Teachers do not always check students’ work regularly or offer specific guidance on how work should be improved. Even where marking provides good advice and guidance, for example in some English and mathematics books, some teachers do not check that students have acted to improve their work, and this hampers students’ progress.

 

Of course there is always the possibility the Music Head Champions agree with my friends SLT. What then? It feels as if making people accountable and proving impact steers so much educational thought and practice in schools there is hardly any space left for alternative agendas. As much as like the idea of a team of Heads sharing good practice – it worries me slightly.

 

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