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Choir of the Year grand finalists announced

10 October 2012, Clare Stevens

Lindley Junior School Choir from Huddersfield, Methodist College Girls’ Choir from Belfast and the senior choir of Ysgol Glanaethwy on Anglesey, North Wales are among the six choirs that will take part in the Grand Final of Choir of the Year 2012 on 28 October in the Royal Festival Hall, London. The remaining finalists are the Surrey Hills Chamber Choir, student jazz a cappella group the Oxford Gargoyles, and Les Sirènes, an all-female choir of students and recent graduates from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, conducted by 24-year-old Andrew Nunn.

Lindley Junior School, directed by Alison North, won the children’s category of the competition in the category finals held at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on 6 October, beating Heath Mount School Bax Choir from Hertfordshire, current holders of the BBC Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year title; Four Oaks Cluster Choir, composed of singers in Years 5-8 from Sutton Coldfield and district; and the chamber choir of Rosendale Primary School in Dulwich, South London. The Methodist College girls were directed by Lynda Rolston and accompanied by another pupil of their co-ed school, 13-year-old Donal McCann. They beat the junior choir from Ysgol Glanaethwy, an ‘after hours’ performing arts school, and two other all-female groups, Rainbow Connection Youth Choir from Doncaster and Cor y Cwm from the Rhondda Valley, South Wales, to take the Youth Choir of the Year title.

The Oxford Gargoyles won the open category and Surrey Hills the adult choir category. Les Sirenes and Ysgol Glanaethwy Seniors went through to the final on ‘wild cards’, but any of the six finalists is now eligible to be crowned as the overall Choir of the Year 2012.


Ofsted names keys to successful music education partnerships

10 October 2012, Clare Stevens

The secrets of successful partnerships between schools and other organisations have been identified by Ofsted in a new report entitled Music in Schools: Sound Partnerships, commissioned a year ago by the Department for Education as part of the National Plan for Music Education. It was launched by Mark Phillips HMI, Ofsted’s national adviser for music, on 5 October at the National Association of Music Educators’ annual conference.

The report is based on visits by music inspectors between September 2011 and July 2012 to 59 schools, together with six further visits to observe good practice. Most of the schools surveyed were using partnerships to offer a greater range of activities than they could provide by themselves. However, the inspectors found that in too many cases these were not managed well enough by the schools and rarely resulted in significantly improved long-term outcomes for all groups of pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged. Only ten schools were making good or outstanding use of partnerships to improve musical outcomes for all groups of pupils and achieve good value for money. The survey found that buying in additional instrumental and vocal teaching – the most frequent form of partnership work – is not a guarantee of sustained good-quality outcomes, however expert or reputable the partner organisation.

The report identifies five key actions taken by schools were partnerships were most successful:
•    Significant, sustained levels of funding were matched by rigorous monitoring and evaluation, enabling leaders and managers to take swift action where funding was not being used well.
•    Schools ensured that all groups of pupils benefited from the partnership, particularly the most disadvantaged. Careful monitoring and tailoring of provision ensured that all groups achieved well.
•    Provision was linked to individual pupils’ needs, interests and abilities. Careful analysis of pupils’ prior achievement and experiences – including in their feeder primary schools – secured high levels of engagement and good progress. As a result, projects complemented, augmented and supported other music work in the school.
•    Partnerships were used to develop both school teachers’ and visiting musicians’ practice. Clear strategies were in place so they could learn from each other. This led to sustained, high-quality musical experiences for pupils during and beyond the partnership.
•    Headteachers and senior leaders used the partnership to strengthen their own knowledge and understanding of the quality of music education. This enabled them to monitor and evaluate provision with increased rigour and resulted in improved outcomes for pupils, better quality of professional dialogue with music teachers, and better value for money.

Inspectors also identified five characteristics of schools where partnerships had limited effect:
•    The effectiveness of the partnership was not monitored sufficiently well by school leaders. In these schools, the partnership was more likely to represent poor value for money because not enough pupils made good progress over a sustained period.
•    Disadvantaged pupils such as those in receipt of free school meals or with special educational needs did not benefit from the partnerships as much as others. This often resulted in widening gaps in participation and achievement between different groups of pupils, including at GCSE.
•    Partnership programmes were not sufficiently aligned with the school’s day-to-day musical provision or well enough informed by analysis of pupils’ starting points and capabilities. In these schools, the value of the partnership was diminished because provision did not capitalise and build on pupils’ prior learning.
•    School staff and visiting musicians did not work together. This represented missed opportunities to develop the teaching skills of all adults involved in the partnership.
•    Senior leaders were not well enough informed to ask critical questions or make critical judgments about the quality of music education; too often, too much was based on trust rather than rigorous challenge. Consequently, weaknesses in provision were not addressed.

The report includes guidance to help schools improve their partnership working in music education, including with the new music education hubs. It has been published on the Ofsted website together with eight case studies of good practice, including video clips, from a diverse range of primary and secondary schools, of varying sizes, and from different rural and urban areas of the UK.

The Federation of Music Services welcomed ‘Ofsted’s positive and pragmatic approach to supporting improvements in music education. The use of a robust evidential base to identify key actions to underpin such improvement is extremely helpful. We are delighted that the role of music services in providing opportunities and setting high standards has been highlighted in the report.’

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, said: ‘This is a crucial report which must be read by headteachers, senior leaders, those working in music education hubs and anyone involved in partnership work from across the music sector.


Change from GCSEs to EBacc leads to fears for secondary music

18 September 2012

Michael Gove, secretary of state for education, has announced that the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – which excludes music – will replace GCSEs from 2017 onwards.

The announcement sees the upgrade of the EBacc from a controversial performance measure to a fully fledged qualification. Currently, the EBacc is awarded to students who score six C grades or above in the following GCSEs: maths, English, two sciences, a humanity and a language. But from 2017, it will be awarded to students who achieve English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) in each of those subjects. These will be developed with a view to making syllabuses more 'rigorous', with much more importance placed on the final exam. ‘After years of drift, decline and dumbing down, at last we are reforming our examination system to compete with the world’s best,’ said Gove.

MT criticised the original incarnation of the EBacc and condemns the proposal to upgrade it to a qualification. Christopher Walters, MT’s editor, said: ‘In the name of supposed rigour, the EBacc has encouraged schools to divert their energies away from several vital subjects – including music – without which it is impossible to offer a rounded, modern education. Now that this arbitrary six-subject benchmark is set to replace GCSEs, schools will have little incentive to invest in music, art, technology or any other subject excluded from the EBacc.’

At present there is little information on what will happen to the subjects excluded from the EBacc. One government spokesperson said that GCSEs in those subjects could continue to exist in a ‘toughened up’ form, while another said that the GCSE ‘brand’ had become ‘tainted’ and new qualifications in the non-EBacc subjects could be developed.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) – with whom MT campaigned against the EBacc in its original form – has also condemned the proposals and believes that they will increase pressure on pupils to drop creative subjects in favour of the six EBacc subjects.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the ISM, said: ‘These proposals represent a missed opportunity to reform our education system. Michael Gove will ensure with these so-called reforms that the UK loses its competitive edge in the fields in which we are world class. It is as if the Olympics never happened. Design – gone, technology – gone, music – gone.’

Annetts added that the CBI, Creative Industries Council, ISM and Cultural Learning Alliance will all continue to push for reform of the EBacc to include ‘at least some of what the UK economy is good at: creativity and culture.’

Diana Johnson, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education and a former Labour education minister, said: ‘The secretary of state for education has clearly forgotten all his warm words about music education in the past to launch an assault on music in secondary schools. Music education in the UK is world class, contributing hugely to our economy. The government should at least include music in the English Baccalaureate.’

Wallace and Gromit school composition competition launched

14 September 2012

A new competition has been launched to give primary school children the opportunity to create new soundtracks for specially selected clips starring Wallace and Gromit.

The competition has been designed to celebrate the BBC’s Wallace and Gromit Prom this summer and is being run by BBC Proms, BBC Learning and Aardman Animations. It is open to children in Years 3, 4, 5 and 6.

In teams of between two and five, children will compose their own short film scores with the help of online resources produced by BBC Learning. These resources provide teachers with videos, ideas for use in class and printable worksheets, scripts and storyboards. Organisers hope the Wallace and Gromit Soundtrack competition will 'inspire boys and girls to become composers of music that complements the antics of two of the world’s best loved animated characters'.

Class teachers can submit team entries in either video or audio form and the deadline for entries is 3 December. All shortlisted teams will be invited to Aardman Animations’ Bristol studios, while the two winning teams will also travel to BBC North in Salford where their soundtracks will be recorded and broadcast on Blue Peter.


Concern over budget cuts as music education hubs launch

10 September 2012, Christopher Walters

Regional music education hubs, the new infrastructure for music education in England prescribed by the government’s National Plan for Music Education, have come into operation.

Hubs, an idea first suggested by Classic FM boss Darren Henley in his government-commissioned Review of Music Education in England, will ‘take forward’ the work of local authority music services by formalising existing partnerships between schools, instrumental teachers and professional musicians.

This follows the government’s statement in the National Plan for Music Education that the best music education involves classroom teachers working in partnership with instrumental teachers and professional performers, and that every child should get the chance to play a musical instrument and sing.

In practice, the vast majority of the 122 new hubs will be led by existing local authority music services, following a bidding process managed by Arts Council England. This involved prospective hub leaders outlining how they would provide the musical opportunities prescribed by the National Plan. It also required them to show how they would factor in central-government cuts to music education. Funding currently stands at an annual £82m, but is set to fall by a quarter over the next three years.

On the ground, there is scepticism about how much difference the new infrastructure will actually make, as well as concern over the funding cuts to come. The latter is a particular concern, and the Arts Council has been charged with ensuring that all hub leaders’ business plans are watertight, although many people remain sceptical that the new hub leaders have sufficient business nous to accommodate such large cuts. The Arts Council, however, is adamant that all the hubs have solid financial plans in place.

‘We have been working very closely with the music education hubs to develop their proposals and business plans,’ said an Arts Council spokesperson. ‘The funding is linked to payment conditions which include providing a viable business plan which demonstrates how the music education hub will ensure that all children have the opportunity to take part in musical activities. The majority of hubs have developed strong business plans.

‘Those who are not yet there have shown great improvement and we will continue to work with them until their business plans are satisfactory. The Arts Council will continue to work with all the music hubs as they implement their plans and we will monitor them closely to ensure that they are delivering the best value for money. Funding would always be withheld from any hub which provides an incomplete or weak business plan.’

The Musicians Union (MU) is concerned that the cuts will mean many peripatetic music teachers being forced into self-employment. Diane Widdison, the MU’s national organiser for teaching, said: ‘The MU will be fighting against any erosion of terms and conditions for dedicated music teachers whose commitment continues to ensure that our young people’s music education continues to be the envy of the world.’

With this in mind, the MU has brought out a hub resource pack, which aims to advise hubs on issues such as child protection and employment. The pack is intended for directors of hub-leading organisations, but it is also being sent to arts organisations, instrumental teachers and politicians. It can be downloaded free of charge at www.musiceducationuk.com/hubs.

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