The music education debate rumbles on. On the one hand it has been fantastic to see teachers engaging in debate about things that really matter to us. We have people posing challenging questions in tweets and blogs, experienced music educators giving us the context and back-story behind some of the debates and teachers sharing ideas and experiences that make us think. However, on the other hand, the more we unpick, the more (it seems to me at least) of a mess we seem to be in.
At this point I have to make a confession. I am a prospective year 7 parent and when looking at schools, I did check the Ofsted data ‘dashboard’ and I did make assumptions about local schools. I looked for evidence to back up what I thought I already knew about the schools and the judgements I had already made and of course I found it. Schools that ‘require improvement’ were edged down the list of ‘choices’. Luckily I know about secondary schools and how judgements can be skewed by gossip, but I can understand parents relying on this information – word spreads quickly in a primary school playground-a potential disaster for schools competing for first choices. I also know how hard ALL teachers work and how devastating it can be for your school to be labelled as ‘failing’ and to watch its reputation in the local area plunge.
This week I heard two anecdotes that ram home the power that Ofsted, the regulatory body for education in England, holds over us all. Life in schools seems to revolve around guessing what Ofsted might want to see and everyone is reacting to this, a tightening noose throttling creativity and innovation in the classroom and all because we fear that high-stakes judgement from a group of people who spend just 2 days in our school, yet whose decisions can affect EVERYTHING. I’m lucky, this doesn’t happen in my school. We are given space to innovate and take risks, I wouldn’t be there otherwise.
Of course, just like the data dashboard, the anecdotes I read this week can be taken out of context, their meaning can be misunderstood. Trying to fit Ofsted feedback into 140 characters is bound to end up with some lack of detail! However both stories involved advisers apparently connected with Ofsted recommending that music lessons contain ‘less practical’ or more theory (modulation and suspensions in KS3 compositions). There’s no denying that music educators are divided on the ‘best’ way to teach music in our schools and some people will jump on any indication that Ofsted ‘endorses’ one approach above another. But there are also many music teachers under pressure from their SLT to do what Ofsted want and who become reactive by changing what they believe is the right way to teach in response to feedback like this. Their teaching is judged by non specialists and in the absence of anyone coming forward with solutions, turn to other teachers for schemes of work and worksheets to use from others in the same boat.
It got me thinking though.
When I was in my placement schools whilst training, I loved the challenge of being given the current scheme of work then thinking how I could bring the topic to life for the students. Similarly planning GCSE and A level lessons and thinking about new ways to get the required syllabus information across is something I enjoy, despite the time it takes. Since I first became involved in the Musical Futures pilot in Hertfordshire, having tried the approaches it’s been exciting and challenging learning how to use them in new ways to engage my classes and keep driving the ideas forward which has had a huge impact on the department as a whole. When I visited Gareth Ritter at his school, he showed me a WordPress blog with a Soundcloud file embedded and in my work, this became mrsgowersclasses. Now I look for ways to use this resource to support the practical work we do in lessons and I love designing the site and the responses I get from students. I use my musical expertise (the 14 years of musical training that I had before I became a teacher) and my experience in the classroom to keep my teaching fresh and relevant. It’s my responsibility to keep up to date with the latest research and developments in what constitutes the best teaching methods and to respond accordingly and I enjoy it. Sometimes this comes via whole school CPD, more often via Twitter or in conversation with other teachers. But it’s still my way-I still have ownership how I deliver my lessons. The content is dictated by the schemes of work we have in place in the department which at KS3 is up to us, GCSE and A Level is prescribed for us.
So if somebody somewhere decides that we need a curriculum that is more specific, more consistent then I would be more than happy to be told WHAT to teach. But please don’t rob me of what I love most about my job-the choice about HOW I teach it because without that freedom, trust, flexibility, creativity and challenge I’m not sure I’d want to be there any more.