As funding for music in the UK decreases, how can we ensure that instrumental music remains inclusive and engages as many students as possible?
In the last 2 years at Monk’s Walk School in Hertfordshire, I was fortunate to have taken part in a project we called ‘The Inclusion Project’. Working with Herts Music Service and Music-Net East, it was inspired by a move by the school to offer free instrumental lessons and an instrument to every child eligible for Pupil Premium funding.
We realized that suddenly we had access to music tuition for students who may not normally have had the opportunity to learn to play an instrument in this way and that we needed to look carefully at the systems in place to ensure support for these students to get the best from this opportunity.
We identified students from our most vulnerable groups in the school, working with the SEN, behaviour support and pastoral teams then identified 4 key questions:
- Did we equip instrumental teachers with relevant information about students and strategies for any particular needs that may have?
We organised for our 4 project teachers to have sessions with SEN, behaviour managers and a life coach to reflect on approaches and practice for these students.
- Did we communicate effectively?
To track how the students were getting on, we created an online spreadsheet. Each week the teachers updated notes so we could see what was working and what wasn’t. We factored in paid time for this so teaching time could be focused on learning, not admin.
- Did our logistics work?
Because the lessons were being offered for free, in some cases, there was little support from home. We had to put in additional help to ensure students knew where to be and when. We involved form tutors and class teachers, made sure they knew about the project and how they could support it. Year Heads checked in with these students and in some cases came along to lessons. The Senior Leadership Team was briefed through the line management system. If a student didn’t attend, teachers would text me and I would fetch them straight away so as few lessons were missed as possible. This overhaul benefited everyone having lessons as a result as our systems and structures improved.
I remember a piano teacher who started every student, regardless of age or reasons for wanting lessons with the same beginner piano scheme book 1. There was something that didn’t feel right seeing year 11 boys carrying a book with a cover designed for younger children and they were embarrassed about that too. In this project, we asked the teachers to start with a conversation. Ask the students why they were there, their own musical interests and experiences and if possible play to them as well. Then build the teaching around the student rather than follow a set pattern. In some cases this changed practice across the board.
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.