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Ofsted: Hubs ‘have done little to improve’ music education

15 November 2013, Alex Stevens

Ofsted: Damning report on hubs' first year
Ofsted: Damning report on hubs' first year

Music education hubs have done little to improve the range in quality of music education across England, says a report released by Ofsted today which urges hub leaders to act more as ‘champions, leaders and expert partners’.

It also says that Arts Council England, the awarding body of hub contracts, ‘is not yet able to gauge the quality of hubs’ work’.

The report is based on visits to 31 schools, and 'detailed discussions with their associated hubs', by Ofsted inspectors between February and July 2013, within the hubs’ first year.

Good quality music education still ‘reaches only a minority of pupils’, although where they were working well, hubs have ‘often brought new energy, collaborative approaches and vitality to working musically with young people’.

‘Many of the hubs visited, especially in large county areas, were failing to reach out to all eligible schools, despite receiving funding to do so.’

Poor quality music provision often occurs through unspecialised teachers being unable to challenge pupils appropriately. ‘26 of the 31 schools visited, including all of the primary schools, shied away from teaching pupils about fundamental aspects of music … at an appropriately challenging level, or at all. Typically, the schools were not sure enough how to teach these aspects and thought them too difficult for pupils.’

Overall, Ofsted’s clear message is that quality without reach is not acceptable – and that even where hubs have found it hard to work with schools they must still live up to their responsibilities.

‘In some schools, hubs found it hard to get noticed, especially by senior leaders, and gave up too easily.’

Ofsted has published three interviews alongside the report (see 'More like this, left), with HMI Robin Hammerton talking to Susan Robertson of Tees Valley music hub, Peter Bolton of Kent Music and Richard Jones, leader of the South Gloucestershire music hub. These focus on developing hubs’ relationships with schools, particularly highlighting where they have found success in ‘having a challenging conversation’.

‘It’s about making sure the schools are on the right track, really, with their music,’ says HMI Hammerton in one. ‘Yes, definitely,’ replies Robertson.

Speaking at the Music Mark Conference on 15 November, Hammerton reportedly offered ‘to intervene directly in schools’ which wouldn’t establish a relationship with their local music hub.

The report also recommends that Arts Council England ‘take rapid action to improve the reporting and accountability framework for music hubs, ensuring that it contains evaluation of the quality of the work of the hubs in schools; this should include the evaluative examination of hubs’ work’.

John Smith, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said: ‘The completely unrealistic timeframe which was imposed on music services to recreate themselves as music education hubs last year compounded by cuts within local authorities alongside the statutory grant has made it impossible for hubs to fulfil the aspirations of the National Music Plan.

‘Although the National Music Plan itself was promising, unless the Government is prepared to do more to implement it across the country then musical opportunities for young people will continue to be a postcode lottery.’

The MU's Dianne Widdison told MT: 'Too much has been asked of the Hubs in too little time and because of cuts in the central grant, as well as many having to contend with local cuts, they have been charged with trying to address far wider issues with vastly reduced resources.

'It seems bizarre for the report to criticise music in schools when the government has continually undermined the importance of creative subjects in education. If the aspirations of the National Music Plan are to be realised it is imperative that all schools are charged with engaging with their Hubs and the value of music education is recognised.'

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘In passing the responsibility [of music education] on to music hubs, the government is now denying them the level of funding to be able to provide what is expected of them.

‘There needs to be a far more co-ordinated approach to music teaching in schools as well as the time ‘in the curriculum and a proper status given to music lessons.’

A department for Education spokesman told the BBC: ‘Ofsted’s findings are based on just a quarter of the 123 hubs, which were assessed only a few months after opening. But Ofsted is clear that when hubs are properly run, they are already making a real difference. We are working with Arts Council England to ensure music hubs benefit all children.’

An Arts Council England spokeswoman told the Evening Standard: ‘The Arts Council is already addressing the specific recommendations directed towards it in the report which are around our responsibility to set up and monitor hubs.’

Yamaha invites you to join the Silent Revolution!

8 November 2013

Yamaha is joining together with four UK piano dealers to present the 'Silent Revolution' this month. 

Between 12-16 November, Yamaha's leading international project specialist Bert Smorenburg will be showcasing the new SH Silent Series Pianos at four different locations across the country. This is a free opportunity for pianists and educational establishments to try a selection of Silent Series pianos for themselves, from entry level uprights to grand piano models. 

Those visiting the tour locations will also be able to take advantage of Yamaha's Upgrade Bonus scheme, which guarantees part-exchange prices on current acoustic or digital pianos. Yamaha's Leanne Barrell says: 'We hope as many pianists of all standards and ages will come along to these entertaining and informative shows. For anyone who has ever wondered what a silent piano is and what it can do for your piano playing, the ‘Silent Revolution’ tour offers the perfect introduction!'

The tour will be visiting Cambridge on 12 November, Oxfordshire on 13 November, London on 14 November, and Manchester on 15-16 November. For more details visit the Yamaha website.

CREATE Music Labs Draw Crowds in Kent

8 November 2013

Teenagers and music teachers in Kent are flocking to take part in creative music workshops which give guidance on how to write music.

Organised by Soundhub, Kent's music service, the workshops give secondary school age children the opportunity to work with professional composers and musicians. Topics covered in the workshops include instrumentation techniques, how to create music in a variety of genres, inspiration and musical intuition.

Peter Bolton, chief executive of Kent Music, said: 'This is a great chance for students to take risks and push boundaries as their own compositions take shape and for school staff to pick up new teaching techniques. We’re delighted that so many students and teachers want to be involved and we are looking forward to organising more Music Labs in 2014 for musicians in other parts of Kent.'

The first event in the CREATE Music Labs series will take place next Friday 15 November, and is already fully booked. Kent-based Matthew King, a lecturer in composition at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, will lead the workshop in Canterbury on the topic of 'Experimenting with Music for Small Ensemble'.

For more information on further CREATE Music Labs, email create@kent-music.com or call Sophie Plumb on 01622 358406.

Ofqual Announces New Design for GCSEs

1 November 2013

This morning Ofqual announced their plans to redesign some of the key features of GCSE exams from September 2015. English language, English literature and maths will be the first to follow Ofqual's new format, with new GCSEs in other subjects introduced from the following year.

Earlier this week, exam board insiders confirmed that as many as 20 GCSE subjects would be undergoing scrutiny to determine whether they are 'too soft' to be branded as GCSEs. Following fears that subjects such as music may not deemed 'academic' enough to retain GCSE status, Ofqual's chief regulator Glenys Stacey has stated that 'The aim is not to stop important, established subjects, but rather to make sure everyone is clear about what is a GCSE and what is not.' As it stands, Ofqual will not be consulting on which subjects will included in the new GCSE qualification until the new year. 

If music is accepted as a traditional, 'core' GCSE subject, it will follow the format of the newly-redesigned English and maths exams. This includes:

- A new grading system using the number 1-9 to indicate performance levels, with 9 being the top level

- Exams as the default method of assessment

- Tiering to be used only in cases when untiered papers will prevent students from demonstrating their knowledge and skills (at both ends of the ability spectrum)

- Exams only in the summer, apart from English language and maths. In these cases, students who were at least 16 on the preceding 31 August will be allowed to sit exams in November

- A fully linear structure, with all assessment at the end of the course

Children to star in Ocarina World Record Attempt

29 October 2013

In a week's time, thousands of children from primary schools across England, Wales and Gibraltar will attempt to make history with the world's largest ocarina ensemble. It is hoped that as many as 4,000 players will take part in a performance of 'Ode to a Joyful Star', which should easily exceed the current record of 831 performers.

Children and audience members will be taught to play the ocarina on the day. All those taking part will receive a free ocarina on entry to the Royal Albert Hall. The six-minute work will be conducted by composer Douglas Coombes OBE, with the performance accompanied by the Royal Albert Hall organ. 

2013 marks 50 years since the development of the English 4-hole ocarina, which has been newly re-styled for the occasion. David Liggins, founder and director of Ocarina Workshop, is responsible for bringing this instrument to schools across the world. 'Music is for everyone,' he said. 'We look forward to parents and supporters all joining in to create one massive family ocarina band!'

Proceeds from the evening will go to Barnardo's. Tickets are available from the Royal Albert Hall box office. For more information, visit the Ocarina Workshop website.

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