Lady of letters

A lady called Claire Wake wrote in the Times today:

“Sir, The closure of music services is to be welcomed, provided the money goes to the schools. Too much money for music education is spent on administration, or one-off big gestures. The rise in the numbers of children learning an instrument is largely down to the Wider Opportunities scheme, where the children learn for one year only. After that either the parent pays, and some can, or the school pays, but can’t as the council has kept too much money.

“The solution? Put music specialists into primary schools, where they can teach their own instrument and curriculum music to a far higher standard than often found at present.”

I’ve replied:

Dear Sir,

Claire Wake (letters, 27th January) seems to feel she is offering a practical solution to providing music tuition in schools: hire a specialist for a primary school where he or she ‘can teach their own instrument and curriculum music to a far higher standard’. Leaving aside that many instruments aren’t physically suitable for primary-age children (the bassoon, the tuba and the horn come to mind), the situation she envisages would result in a single instrument, or small range of instruments, being taught to all the children in one school. You cannot create a viable school band or orchestra if all you have is violins or trumpets. Having a body of visiting teachers means that all instruments can be covered, including the very popular and the less well-known (viola, double-bass, oboe, etc.), as well as instruments from other cultures. The number of teachers who could teach all the instruments required to create a balanced ensemble could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Secondly, good classroom teaching generally requires a decent keyboard player who is conversant with music technology and able to conduct a choir, as well as being able to give a general musical education to children of all abilities and levels of interest in a wide range of musical genres. Classroom teaching and instrumental teaching do sometimes overlap, but they are generally seen as separate specialisms.

Thirdly, in order to cover all this work – general music for all classes in the school and instrumental lessons for all children – one teacher is not enough.

Ms Wake also seems to believe that music services are somehow siphoning off huge wodges of cash – in fact they’re working on a shoestring to create economies of scale that no state school could match. If teachers are employed on an individual basis, they will each need to become their own small business, paying into their own pensions and insurance, and running their own invoicing systems, as private teachers do. Instead of having one CRB check for all the schools they work in, they will need ten or more individual CRBs checks – and will the schools be willing to pay for that? Teachers would also be unable to draw on a central organisation to create local or county ensembles or choirs, and even collaboration between two schools will be a logistical nightmare. Teachers are currently available over and above their job descriptions – playing in school shows and concerts, leading school ensembles and more. With no central contract or regular salary, they won’t be able to afford to do that, and schools will be the poorer.

Too many people are making sweeping proposals on music tuition and teaching, which reveal not only a worrying ignorance but a lack of willingness to listen to those who have been carrying out this work, with huge success, over many decades.

Yours faithfully, Catherine Rose.

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Published in: on January 27, 2011 at 15:41  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Right on the button as ever Lady Eff. The culture of pronouncement-without-knowledge-or-experience is in full flower. In this case, it seems without common sense either, and I hope they publish your response.

  2. Thought you would like to know that this did appear in the Times as the top letter on Monday 31st January. Sadly it’s not possible to read it online without a subscription – so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s there! Lady Eff.


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