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Ofsted announces new programme of music inspections

14 January 2013, Rhian Morgan

Mark Phillips HMI, Ofsted’s national adviser for music, has ordered a series of school visits in the next few months, focusing on 'the effectiveness of music subject leadership by subject' and 'the extent to which the leadership of the local music hub is supporting and augmenting musical teaching and learning in that school'.

Visits will take place in primary, secondary and special schools, including academies, and schools will be given up to five days’ notice of a visit so that arrangements can be made with the music hub or partner organisation. A report on the visits will be published in autumn.

The aim is to follow up the findings of the 2012 Ofsted music reports Wider Still and Wider and Sound Partnerships, and to monitor the early impact of the music hubs. Phillips says inspectors will not be reporting individual judgments on the overall quality of achievement, teaching and the curriculum in each school.

'We acknowledge that it might be too soon to see significant progress with some of the priorities that we’ve set out in our 2012 reports, such as substantial changes in participation rates between different groups of pupils and significantly better musical teaching,' said Phillips. 'But we believe also that we should expect, already, to see noticeable improvements in the way that music is managed in schools, particularly by senior leaders and through partnerships with the music hubs.'

Fiona Pendreigh, chair of the National Association of Music Educators, agrees that improvements should already be evident: 'Although it is too soon to see progress with some of the outcomes expected from hub work, there is no doubt that with the wealth of reports and case studies to draw on, improvement in the way music is being managed within schools should be evident.

She added: 'It would be encouraging if schools, including the teachers, saw themselves more as partners within the hubs than previously, when they were perhaps more of a client of the music service. The integration of schools within the hubs is key to the provision of high quality music education for all children.'


Schools warned to comply with new rules on wireless microphones

10 January 2013, Rhian Morgan

One of the country’s leading suppliers of professional audio and video equipment is warning schools and colleges to ensure they comply with new rules in relation to the use of wireless microphones.

Following the digital TV switchover, some radio frequencies currently used by wireless microphones have been re-allocated to allow the broadcast of Freeview television signals and new 4G mobile technologies. 'The knock-on effect is that many wireless microphones in use may now conflict with these signals and are therefore illegal to use,' says Glyn Chapman, the managing director of EAV.

Not all equipment is affected by the changes but the technicalities can be complicated by the number of microphones in use and their location and frequency settings. The rule is that the operation of wireless equipment in the 800MHz band is illegal as of 31 December 2012.

'We’re shocked by just how little awareness there is amongst schools, colleges and universities about the changes in the law,' added Chapman. 'In our experience, up to three-quarters of education users don’t understand the changes, let alone know if their equipment is compliant.'

EAV is offering free advice on wireless microphones, with a free checking tool at www.e-av.co.uk or for more help, ring 0845 125 9409.

Newport Council threatens to cut entire music service budget

7 January 2013, Rhian Morgan

Dozens of pupils and their families have protested against proposals by Newport Council to cut its entire grant of £292,000 to Gwent Music Support Service (GMSS). The protestors, who played instruments and sang in Newport Civic Centre, say the cuts would devastate its service and hit poorest families hardest.

The council is considering the plans as part of its draft budget proposals for 2013-14, a period in which it needs to save 8.4m. It says it 'has to make choices in challenging economic times, and these are becoming increasingly difficult'. GMSS also receives funding from other councils in Gwent, but is run by Newport.

The council says its proposals aim to make the service self-sufficient, while finding ways to offer some financial support to less well-off students.

GMSS student Florence Mayo, 13, of Ponthir, who sings and plays double bass and bass guitar, said, 'If these cuts are made, children whose lives revolve around music might not be able to continue their musical career.'

Her mother, Sarah Flowers, 45, whose other children, Eliza, ten, and Reuben, six, also study with the service, added, 'We will be going from music for all to music for the already privileged.'

Charles Ferris, a Tory councillor, said he believed the cut could lead to fewer students taking up music at degree level. Labour councillor Chris Evans said, 'the image of any council snatching a violin out of a kid’s hand is pretty tough to stomach. However, let’s not jump the gun as it’s still out to consultation.'

More than 2,000 signatures have already been added to a petition to stop the cuts at www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/newport-city-council-stop-the-budget-cuts-for-gwent-music-support-service-2

Scottish teaching union calls for end of instrumental tuition 'postcode lottery'

7 January 2013, Rhian Morgan

Scotland's largest teaching union has called on local authorities to end charges for instrumental music lessons in schools.

Currently, 24 of Scotland’s 32 councils charge pupils up to £340 a year. The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), which has more than 60,000 members, said some students were also being charged for sitting Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) music exams. Learning and skills minister Alasdair Allan has already announced a review into the way councils charge for lessons, saying the government wanted 'greater clarity'.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said 'the postcode lottery of provision that has emerged across Scotland - with wide variations in fee policy and the level of charges for instrumental music tuition - is causing significant damage to the availability of music education for children in some parts of the country.

'A recent EIS survey of instrumental music tuition in schools found huge variations in the level of fees that pupils are expected to pay - while some councils provide free tuition in their schools or charge only for equipment hire, others are charging pupils up to £340 a year for their tuition.

'Even more worrying is the damaging practice in some local authority areas of actually charging pupils for presentation to SQA music exams. This is simply unacceptable from both an education and equality point of view and must be one of the top priorities for the new working group to address.'

A Scottish government spokesman said 'the Instrumental Music Group, chaired by David Green, and including representation from EIS, will investigate and offer recommendations on the issues of delivering instrumental music tuition, including the question of charges for pupils sitting SQA music exams. We welcome the experience that EIS will bring to the group and look forward to working with them on this issue.'

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has denied there is a 'postcode lottery for music tuition', while education secretary Mike Russell said that charging for music lessons in schools was 'undesirable but difficult to avoid'.

COSLA’s  education spokesman Douglas Chapman added, 'It is a fact that instrumental music tuition costs money and has to be paid for in some way. Local authorities that do not charge, or who apply lower charges, will still have to subsidise music tuition from other budgets. It is not a cost-free option not to charge for music tuition.'

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has set aside an extra £1m to buy musical instruments for schools. Professor John Wallace, principal of the Glasgow-based Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which will be working with councils to distribute the instruments, said the fund 'will support music education in Scotland and make music instruction more accessible. One of the biggest problems in music education is that there aren’t enough instruments to go around. They’re very expensive and often unaffordable for local authorities.'

More voices join criticism of English Baccalaureate

7 January 2013, Rhian Morgan

The Musicians’ Union (MU) and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain are the latest groups to oppose government proposals to introduce an English Baccalaureate (EBacc) qualification which does not include arts subjects.

The MU believes the Ebacc, which is set to replace GCSEs from 2017, would remove the incentive for schools to teach arts subjects. It has specifically called for the 'continuation of music as a statutory core subject to the end of Key Stage 3 and the opportunity to continue this at Key Stage 4 for those who want to pursue the subject at this level'. Its main concern is that all children have access to 'high quality, practical musical opportunities ... delivered by a motivated and resourced workforce which helps deliver the next generation of musicians'.

The Writers' Guild, meanwhile, says it has 'deep concerns about the exclusion of the arts as qualifying subjects in current proposals for the English Baccalaureate'. While it recognises the importance of subjects such as English, maths and science, it also wants 'core recognition' of cultural and artistic subjects, urging the government to ensure that provision for an arts option is safeguarded for the future enrichment of the nation.

Bacc for the Future, the campaign to include creative subjects in the Ebacc, is being led by the Incorporated Society of Musicians. More than 40,000 people have signed the campaign's petition. The Department for Education consultation on the EBacc closed in December, but the petition can still be signed at www.baccforthefuture.com.

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