Education quandary

'My childrens' primary school does very little music, and the little it does is uninspiring. The head says there is simply no time, but I think that he is just not interested. How can I persuade him to do more?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Music in school matters. It touches children emotionally. It embraces all kinds of other things, including English and language development. And, unlike other specialisms, it is something that needs to be pursued in groups. The child who dreams of being a scientist can go it alone through normal lessons. But the child who wants to be a musician must have opportunities to sing and play with others.

Also, as Richard Hallam, the chair of the National Association of Music Educators, and music adviser for Oxfordshire, points out, music is part of the national curriculum. Children must be allowed to sing, listen and play instruments as they explore ideas of rhythmn, pitch and phrasing. Schools are given the resources to do this, and if your school is not fulfilling its obligations here, you need to draw the attention of the governors to this.

However, schools are free to deliver this curriculum as they choose. Some expect all their classroom teachers to teach it; others have a specialist on staff. Or they might opt for part-time outside help. They also have the freedom to decide when to deliver it, although the advice from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is that a mixture of regular drip-feeding topped up with special music programmes is a good way to do it.

But Hallam agrees that uninspired music can be a problem, and that it can be "heartbreaking to see such wonderful doors being closed". This is where local- authority advisers should be able to help, although to do this, he points out, teachers must first come to accept that there is a problem, and this isn't always easy.

If all these approaches hit a stone wall, it is worth looking beyond the school day. Musical parents might volunteer to set up an after-school choir or keyboard club. Summer schools offer opportunities, and more children are now being offered a chance to learn a musical instrument, following a government pledge that eventually every child will be offered this opportunity. Choir schools are increasingly working to promote singing in primary schools in their areas, while parents can seek out web sites and radio programmes that encourage children's interest in music.

One glimmer of good news from schools is that as the literacy and numeracy programmes bed down, some teachers are starting to turn back to the broader curriculum and give more attention to music, drama and art.

Readers' advice

In Canada, both my little girls attended excellent, private music classes, based on the Orff System. But when we moved to England, I looked in vain for general music classes for my four-year-old. Then the Parent Teacher Association at their school organised recorder lessons for interested juniors, charging parents £1.50 for a half-hour session to pay for the teacher.

That inspired me to do the same for an infant music club. The main problem was finding a teacher, but I asked the local music support services, and they put me in touch with a teacher, new to the area, who was working in their library. The school head was initially unenthusiastic, feeling that the children were already getting much of this (singing, speaking, listening, moving, playing simple instuments) in class. But she came to support the idea after consulting her four infant-class teachers, three of whom said they would like their own children to be able to attend such a club. Parents also gave strong support. About half the eligible children signed up, and in January we set up two groups, one after school on Mondays, one in lunchbreak on Fridays. Three quarters have signed up again for the summer term.

Sophia Dawson, Durham

In my experience, no head teacher would deny the educational value of music but pressure from the national curriculum has made it very difficult for some. Music is statutory at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 and the curriculum must be broad and balanced. I have always found that head teachers are open to genuine concerns from parents. One reason music may not be taught in some schools is because of the shortage of teachers or because teachers are not qualified in the subject. In recent years literacy, numeracy and science have been the focus of most primary schools. This has meant that more time has been allocated for these areas and sometimes they are timetabled against music. An increased focus on some subjects can weaken the effect of others.

All local education authorities now receive a grant to cover visiting teachers for instrumental lessons, and ensembles and class teaching. These can also be bought in by the school from their own budgets or the costs passed on to parents in whole or in part. Music can be nurtured through LEA activities, music centres and concerts. None of these is a substitute for regular class or school music activities but they help to improve the emphasis on music in schools and to create the right climate in which it can flourish.

Roger Crocker, Development Officer - Music

Next week's quandary

Help! Please, please can other schools tell us what they do about tattoos? We make our pupils take out eyebrow and nose studs, but we can't make them take off their tattoos. It wasn't an issue until recently, but now more young people are getting them, and the warmer weather means fewer clothes to cover them.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, 29 April, at 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; by fax 020-7005 2143; or by e-mail at h.wilce@btinternet.com, with details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

To share your views with other teachers, log on to www.eteach.com and click to get into its Staffroom

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