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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.

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