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Latest News

New GCSEs to be benchmarked internationally

6 April 2014

England's GCSE pupils will be benchmarked against high-performing international counterparts from 2017. Ofqual has unveiled a plan to link GCSE grades to levels achieved by pupils in China, Singapore and other countries deemed to be high-performing, but the idea of an international educational currency has prompted concern from teaching unions, who said some countries excluded certain types of children to boost their scores in international tests.   

The performance of students in England has recently lagged behind cities and countries such as Shanghai in China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) education survey from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.   In the most recent Pisa survey, published last year, English students achieved marks of 500 in reading and 495 in maths. By contrast, Shanghai students scored 570 in reading and 613 in maths, and Hong Kong 545 and 561 respectively.   

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Pisa – which surveys a small sample of 15-year-olds in each country taking part – was not an appropriate benchmark to use for a reform of GCSEs. ‘While we understand the government's wish to raise the bar by aligning some grades to Pisa, this raises all kinds of issues. Pisa is a completely different kind of exam than the new GCSEs,’ he said. 

James Rhodes tackles music education in new Channel 4 series

6 April 2014

Channel 4 has commissioned Fresh One to make a three-part series in which pianist James Rhodes aims to get Britain playing again by launching this country’s biggest ever ‘instrument amnesty’. 

The programmes see Rhodes launch his ambitious experiment in Basildon, working in partnership with the people of one town to prove that his approach can work nationwide. It will be accompanied by a major campaign to build on this case study, spreading the amnesty across the country and getting instruments currently languishing in cupboards and attics to the musicians and potential musicians who need them. 

Rhodes said: ‘Within the space of a generation, music education in this country has been decimated. Where once it was inclusive, widespread and available, it is now, sadly, seen as a luxury rather than a basic right. I am so thrilled to be working with Channel 4 to address this. Music has an undeniable, proven positive impact on self-esteem, discipline, teamwork, numeracy, behavioural problems and confidence. The fact that it has all but disappeared from the majority of our state schools is as shocking as it is appalling. This is potentially the most exciting and rewarding project I could ever hope to work on and, with the right support, it's something that I hope will create lasting change.’ 

John Hay, Commissioning Editor for Arts, said: ‘James is a genuinely inspirational figure and with this series, he has found his cause. The instrument amnesty is one of those ideas that – once described – seems so obvious and so right that you wonder why it isn’t already happening, so we’re delighted to be able to throw the channel’s weight behind it to try and bring about real and permanent change.’ 

Chethams to build 420-seat concert hall

30 March 2014

Chetham’s School of Music has received a major pledge of funding to create a new concert hall. The 420 capacity £7.5 million Concert Hall, due for completion in Spring 2017, will be located within Chetham’s new building, next to Victoria Station in the city centre. 

This latest project continues the expansion of the school and will create a rehearsal and performance venue for Chetham’s students, visiting artists and ensembles across all genres, and a vibrant national resource – especially for young people - for music-making, recording and broadcasting. For Chetham’s students it will offer long-awaited and unrivalled resources and will enable the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra to perform in front of an audience in their own home.   

The shells of the Concert Hall, Box Office and Bar have stayed empty since Chetham’s moved into its new building in September 2012. Work to transform these spaces will soon be underway thanks to significant initial support from The Garfield Weston Foundation and the generosity of The Stoller Charitable Trust, allowing the school to realise its vision to create a symphonic-sized performance space with high-quality acoustics for the first time in its 45-year history.   

The new Concert Hall is a major step forward in a £50m programme of capital developments at Chetham’s, which began with a state-of-the-art new school building. Following the Concert Hall, the next phase will be a Heritage Visitor Attraction sharing history and architecture with visitors.   

The Stoller Charitable Trust commented: 'Chetham's School of Music has established itself over the centuries as a jewel in the crown of Manchester's educational and cultural centre, and its exceptional new building cries out for the completion of a world-class Concert Hall. The Stoller Charitable Trust is proud to assist in completing this important venue to enable the very best music-making and performance facilities to become available.'

Stephen Threlfall, Director of Music said: 'We are committed to developing and expanding our role in music education and performance, increasing the contribution we make to the musical life of the nation. This is our home, but it’s not just for us. We want to share it with the people of Manchester, musicians from across the country and visitors from around the world.'

Schools Music Association announces merger with ISM

30 March 2014

The Schools Music Association (SMA) is to become part of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) as of 1 July.    

The two organisations have increasingly worked together in recent years in areas of advocacy and support for music educators.  Following the merger, the ISM organisation, name and normal functions will continue unaltered. SMA members will become part of the ISM and will be known as ‘ISM-SMA’ members. Those that choose to upgrade to full ISM membership can also enjoy the legal, insurance and other services that the ISM offers.   

The SMA has been consulting its members on the future of the organisation since 2012. SMA members indicated an overwhelming preference to explore merger with the ISM in November 2012, and at their AGM on 26 October 2013 voted unanimously for the association to merge with the larger ISM.   

Jay Deeble, Chairman of the SMA, said: ‘After 76 years of working to help children and their teachers make music together, we are looking forward to the next 76, working as a vibrant part of the ISM. Joint projects, and shared values and attitudes mean that the transition should be seamless, and we shall continue to provide an essential network for music teachers, serving as a vital link between those working with young people and the policy makers at local, regional and national level. Our aims will remain unchanged and we shall continue to organise events involving children in mass music-making, as well as provide termly resources to members.’

Joanna MacGregor to lead Dartington from summer 2015

30 March 2014

Joanna MacGregor has been announced as the artistic director of the Dartington International Summer School from 2015, initially on a three-year contract. MacGregor will take over from Nicholas Daniel after this year’s summer school, Daniel having been taken on with a one-year contract, as announced last year.  

'Joanna has been recruited to help build on the successes of the summer school, develop new approaches with other arts activities at Dartington and restore the four week format,’ read a statement. The 2014 summer school will be only three weeks long, as opposed to the long-established five-week model, a change made ‘due to reduced demand for the 2013 summer school’ according to a Dartington spokesperson. With strong sales this year, however, the plan is to step up to four weeks in 2015. 

MacGregor was artistic director of the Bath International Music Festival from 2006 to 2012 and is head of piano at the Royal Academy of Music. She was made a professor of the University of London in autumn 2013 ‘in recognition of her outstanding contribution both to the Academy and to international musical life’. 

Dartington has a reputation for bringing amateurs and professional musicians together and is well-known for attracting artists of international calibre to work as tutors. Before Daniel, directors were the composer John Woolrich, Gavin Henderson, Peter Maxwell Davies and William Glock. Tutors in 2014 include pianists Anna Tilbrook, Christian Blackshaw, Katya Apekisheva and Tom Poster, soprano Emma Kirkby, conductor Sian Edwards, viol consort Fretwork, violist Philip Dukes, and composers Colin Matthews and John Woolrich.

 MacGregor said of her appointment: ‘Having been involved with the summer school for many years I am delighted to take on this exciting role and to have the opportunity to shape the future of this wonderful celebration of music and creativity.’



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