5 ways music education could be improved in primary schools

With the launch of this year’s CPD offer, we spoke to Fran Carpenter, a Hub Partner and Primary Music Specialist about the obstacles that hamper progressing music education in primary schools and how she thinks they can be overcome…

The benefits of music to a child’s development generally, cannot be overstated enough. Social, physical, spiritual, mathematical, linguistic, cultural, scientific, historical… yet alone musical development! And parents love a musical school. Instinctively they know that music is good for their children. But often, music can be undervalued in some schools. Speaking to teachers, and for all their enthusiasm, it became clear that many face a considerable struggle to implement a solid, progressive music curriculum and quality extra-curricular music activities in their schools.

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So what can Headteachers and Senior Staff do to improve music education in their school?

1. Nurture a Music Subject Lead

In some schools, music subject leaders are often year teachers or can be switched from music to another subject, just as they are getting to grips with the topic. Music is a subject where the leader needs to acquire expertise. It is not, in my opinion, a subject to be passed on to a different staff member each year. A good primary music leader needs time to accumulate experience, plan a solid scheme of work, see that scheme of work in practice and make sure other staff are skilled up and confident to teach it. Time is needed to establish instrument lessons and timetables, and build good relationships with visiting peripatetic staff. They might also need time to establish orchestras, bands and choirs. A music leader who is allowed to develop into the role over time, will persevere at encouraging children in their school to learn an instrument, and is much more likely to set up and maintain ensembles with longevity.

2. Make Time

Music subject leader time away from the classroom can often be less than that of a core subject leader. Time to prepare singing practices in assemblies, if regular, quality singing is to be expected of children; time to collect and organise quality music recordings for children to listen to as they enter assembly; time to make the music room attractive and inviting. These little touches make a difference as to whether children, parents and staff perceive their school as a musical school or not, and therefore value the subject.

3. Integrate Music into the Wider Curriculum

The curricula taught in primary schools varies considerably from school to school and can affect the music provision. The ‘creative curriculum’, the International Primary Curriculum and the ‘immersive curriculum’ are just some of the curricular approaches I have seen implemented lately. Some approaches advocate ‘blocking’ music, so music only features in certain topics, and therefore only periodically through the year. Similarly, there are schools where music is taught on a once-a-fortnightly rota. As a proponent of music and singing happening in primary classrooms every day, this is a worry. If the school plans in this way, are students really getting the best foundation in musical learning? Might students access music daily or weekly through other outlets? Through assemblies? Other subjects? Clubs? Via extra curricular offers from SoundStorm? Schools using these approaches should ensure that students receive the appropriate inputs that are needed to progress and develop in the subject.

4. Relieve Assessment Pressures

A music teacher’s time and effort should be on the planning and organising of great activities to engage children in practical music-making. Formal assessment is not currently a requirement in primary music, and any assessment and report writing should be light touch. Keeping evidence of musical progress through simple collections of informal observations and audio recordings of children’s work is all that is required by OFSTED. So students and staff should enjoy music in school without undue assessment pressures.

5. Create a Music Budget

Music needs money. Music leaders need a budget. A zero budget for music is hugely challenging. A minimum music budget of around £600 each year is essential for repairs of instruments and the purchase of new ones. Music leaders also need good training (given that music can be hit and miss during initial teacher training), plus time to then distill their enthusiasm, skills and knowledge to other colleagues. I cannot state how important a music training budget is to further develop a musical school.

Senior leadership might also consider subsidising individual or small group instrument lessons for children, through pupil premium or otherwise, where appropriate. Schools will often buy in a whole class instrumental project from SoundStorm, but the subsequent take-up of individual musical instrument lessons afterwards (which is, after all, the point of a whole class project) can be very low. Carefully planned subsidies, even when small, can really help instrumental lessons flourish in a school. (And think how proud the school would be if former pupils played for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the future!)

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My final words, being a music leader can be one of the best jobs in a primary school. It is incredibly rewarding, and a good music leader can transform the culture of a school. Do not sell yourselves short! Tell your Headteacher about your vision for a musical school, tell them how a musical school can benefit everyone and explain what it is you need to become the best music leader you can be.

How SoundStorm can help……

We can help you develop a music education plan that considers the needs of all students and that links to local opportunities. We can organise CPD during your inset days, attend staff meetings to promote the benefits of music education, link you to other subject leaders and help you articulate a budget proposal to support the delivery of your ambitions.

Don’t forget to take a look at our current CPD offer.