For the last 6 years I have worked as Head of Community Music at Monks Walk School in Welwyn Garden City. The Community Music initiative began when my Head Teacher asked me to write my own job description for a new role and I chose to make it all about primary to secondary transition. As a result I’ve realized I’m passionate about how we can use music to lead on improving the transition and transfer process for students and parents.
Community Music was a huge success. From the work that our 6th form Music Leaders did in supporting younger musicians in feeder schools, to annual performances of over 150 participants aged from 7-70, a cross-curricular event each summer, and our online hub to share music work between schools and collaborations like our Olympics songwriting project and workshops in schools led by the music leaders.
It worked because the relationships between us and our feeder primary schools weren’t forced. They evolved from a shared vision. We wanted to create opportunities for music for our students, to find more of those moments where you know that the students have really benefited from something they have done in music, moments you and they will never forget. It was an equal partnership that saw both sides committed to improving practice, learning from each other, developing a shared pedagogy, being willing to try new things, to take a few risks and put ourselves out there.
And key to this was that the result was sustainable. I’m no longer at Monks Walk School, but the primary work continues and that’s key to making transition work effective. It takes time and it takes commitment but the impact on everyone involved can be significant.
Top tips for transition work:
- Start small, approach one school first and try out ideas together before involving others.
- Share pedagogy not content – define a shared vision for music for all students and hinge planning around this.
- Assume nothing. When students arrive in Year 7, assume that they can, not that they can’t. Try and visit primary schools and watch your new intake working together.
- Be realistic. Time constraints, sheer numbers of students and workload can make communication difficult. Look for themes – is there something all the schools do that you can build on? When you ask students what they want from music in their new school are there over-arching themes that jump out rather than specifics?
- Be creative. Link projects to real world events or give concerts a theme to allow schools choice over repertoire.
- Find the right person. You need someone passionate about music, driven to try something new and happy to be the link between you and their school. It may not always be the person you expect!
- Make it theirs. Make sure students can access musical opportunities they may not otherwise experience. Remember the more sustainable the project, the more they will get from it so work with teachers and make sure relationships work both ways.
Anna Gower has recently embarked on a new full time role as Head of Programmes for Musical Futures having previously worked in secondary schools as a classroom music teacher, Advanced Skills Teacher Head of Music and a freelance music education consultant.