OK, here’s the problem in a nutshell. Two of my current freelance contracts involve me getting into secondary schools and discussing musiced issues with teachers. These teachers tell me that in their feeder primaries, many students have Wider Opportunities [WCET] provision in year 4, some of this gets carried across to y5 and then music lessons disappear completely when serious SATs preparation kicks in during y6. The net result? Very, very few kids coming up to secondary school with much in the way of musical skills and knowledge. Some cannot even remember the name of the instrument they played back in y4! And the number of incoming instrumentalists is diminishing year on year. Yes, I know there will be exceptions, but I’ve heard this tale often enough now for me to be able to see this as a major problem.
Seeing the problem is easy enough. Finding workable solutions is tougher, so I’m grateful to those secondary music teachers who have shared these ideas with me. Here, in brief, are some successful approaches teachers have taken to address this issue. I’m not including too much specific detail, because I’m sure that teachers reading this will want to take the basic principles and adapt them for their own circumstances.
First of all, secondary heads of music realised that this is a problem that is not going to sort itself out. Unless they themselves take remedial action, instrumental uptake will continue to dwindle and the school’s flagship ensembles will disappear. So they look for ways to ‘bridge the gap’ between the music making that goes on in y 4/5 and y7.
They arrange an initial meeting with heads from feeder primaries and local music hub reps. They ascertain exactly what is going on, musically speaking, in terms of whole class instrumental provision. They set up appropriate extra curricular ensembles [on the secondary site] open to all y 4/5/6 and y7 players. Primary schools and hubs help promote this provision.
Young players are keen to take advantage of these exciting new musical opportunities at their local ‘big school’. The head of music does not try to do everything. Parents, retired musicians, y10-13 students are all drafted in as volunteers to help run and support these sessions.
These sessions are not just about rehearsing repertoire. An annual calendar of events in the community provides students with an added incentive and an important social dimension to their work.
The net result? It seems to be working! Instrumental numbers are on the up. Pupils keep up the lessons in y7 [with the peris they had in primary, where possible]. There is much more of a buzz about music in the schools generally, with a steady stream of younger recruits feeding into the senior ensembles.