Let young voices (and old ones) sing

Janet Downs's picture
I love music. But I can’t sing. I was one of those children who was told to ‘mouth the words’ whenever our class had to sing something.

I’ve usually got some tune ringing round my head. For a couple of weeks it was Bright Eyes after it featured in the comedy Raised by Wolves. But that’s been pushed aside by When The Knight Won His Spurs after hearing it sung beautifully by the Kent College Choristers in the BBC’s School Choir of the Year 2015 last Sunday.

The programme was a joy. Six junior school choirs sang their hearts out in the semi final. I’m glad I wasn’t a judge because I loved them all. And there’s more to come – it’s the secondary school semi final this afternoon.

That’s why my heart sank when I read a comment by John Kerr, head of Enfield Grammar, who said budget restraint means the curriculum would need to be slimmed down with ‘minor subjects like art and music’ being cut. He recognised this would ‘severely’ narrow the curriculum but they would nevertheless be first in line for the axe.

Schools minister, Nick Gibb, told the World at One that such subjects are important. He’s right although he seemed to be stressing their ‘academic’ side.

Singing is fundamental. Carers croon to babies as well as talk to them. Even mine were subjected to maternal croaking. And I’ve heard music speaks to the elderly with dementia when other faculties have gone. I witnessed this myself when I attended a Christmas party at a nursing home. There was a karaoke but most of the tunes were modern pop such as Rocking Around the Christmas Tree or Feliz Navidad. I spotted Away in A Manger and asked the DJ to play it. As soon as the tune began the small group of residents began to sing – and they were word perfect.

So let’s have no talk about dropping music.

Further information about the competition is here.
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mistemina's picture
Sun, 03/05/2015 - 14:03

We must not expect any modern or balanced thinking from Grammars, their Raison d'être is to deliver 5A*-C. Nothing else. Anything else and they consider themselves failure.

Margaret Tulloch's picture
Sun, 03/05/2015 - 16:49

If grammar schools changed their admission criteria to admit pupils of all abilities it would mean they would have pupil premium money!

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 03/05/2015 - 17:20

Music, and other art-forms have provided the human soul with nourishment since the dawn of consciousness. Is it not more than just sad to learn that in 2015 a school leader offers up the view that in his school, "the curriculum would need to be slimmed down with ‘minor subjects like art and music’ being cut."

In the same BBC report (see Janet's link), we have the following words of wisdom from Mr Gilb - did I get the name right??

"Speaking on World at One, Conservative education minister Nick Gibb said he acknowledged there would be "budgetary pressures on schools" and that he believed they would have to become more efficient.

"They're sharing back office services, they're procuring better and we provided advice to schools about how to get better value from the procurement they're making.

"There will have to be decisions made about how to deploy staff - but schools should not be reducing the curriculum.

"Art and music and D&T (design and technology) are terribly important, core academic subjects in our schools," said Mr Gibb."

The ex-minister seems keen to share his wisdom with the electorate. Is this the same minister whose coalition government has looked on as, what must now be approaching hundreds of millions of taxpayers money has been squandered on failed structural reforms?

Is this the same education minister whose coalition government has turned a blind eye to extravagance, waste, and fraud on a shameful scale in certain 'flagship schools' (Cuckoo Hall springs to mind but is not alone)??

Is this the same education minister, urging schools not to 'reduce the curriculum', whose coalition government has delivered the most inappropriate response to creating a broad and balanced twenty-first century curriculum in the entire history of state funded education???

Personally, I would be ashamed to offer advice of this sort if I had a track-record to compare with Mr Gibb and his fellow coalition colleagues.

In the same BBC report, Tristram Hunt had this to say,
"It is schools which are having to pick up the costs of the bedroom tax, the attacks of local authority spending, the attacks on social care."

Here we have it. Yet another politician looking to score points by rubbishing the opposition while failing miserably to acknowledge the damage political interference has wrought on education over many decades.

So, Mr Hunt, why are schools, and pupils, teachers, parents and school governors "having to pick up the costs"? Do you not see that the belief that five years in office for any administration cannot begin to address the long-term need to build a consensus about what education is for, design the sort of reforms that might match the vision and then oversee the changes with a commitment to quality and consistency while the changes are delivered? Have you never considered that the political cycle is simply too short to achieve what our young people need from us? Can you not see that it is this system that is largely responsible for schools having to 'pick up the costs'?

Maybe, in the spirit of supporting the education reform movement, Mr Gibb and Mr Hunt would like to be the first two politicians to sign my campaign calling for change to the national governance of education.


PiqueABoo's picture
Sun, 03/05/2015 - 19:44

Based on the dim logic applied to maths, English etc. I think we should suppress naturally good singers in school music lessons because letting them perform is elitist, labelling them 'good' is quite obviously bad for them and it's clearly not fair or accessible for the disadvantaged tone deaf. Perhaps we could just make the shiny singers sing very easy things over and over until the rest of the class catches up (if ever)?


School music lessons are not the only source of music and I'm not convinced they are a significant factor in competition winning school choirs, although a music teacher who runs an extra-curricular choir might well be.

The lessons were rubbish in my day and although it sounds like Y7 Sprogette's aren't quite so devoted to the triangle, they still have the same fundamental problem of being very entry level but having some children in them who are well beyond that e.g. a naturally good singer, or a child who is already a significant way through grades for an instrument.

I'd be amongst the first to argue that music is important and good for the soul, but I don't think time-tabled lessons are typically where the magic happens. Can anyone persuade me that they do much more than a bit of light-weight team-stuff you could get in other ways?

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 03/05/2015 - 22:05

PiqueABoo, I really think you're on to something here with the music, but why not cast the net more widely. Quite clearly, the answer is to reduce the curriculum to maths and English and maybe throw in a bit of science, making sure first to set all the children. Sorting the wheat from the chaff efficiently, so that no time is wasted and progress is lightening fast, would be central to the success of the process. Another bonus for this system would be better use of the time devoted at present to time-tabled lessons in peripheral subjects whilst avoiding the risky business of not delivering those magic experiences.

Done something like this, kids' days could be reduced to maybe two hours, leaving ample time for them to follow their own interests under the tutelage of experts who can help them reach the highest standards at the earliest opportunity using the funding that has been released and removing all that light-weight team-stuff in the process.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 06:58

For many children, school is their only access to music (apart from pop videos etc). And it's not just in timetables lessons which can, as you say, be poor (but then so can lessons in any subject - that's not an excuse for dumping them but an argument for improving them).

For example, pupils coming into assembly can do so accompanied by music. PE can incorporate music if dance is offered. Visits by bands, orchestras for live music - the internet gives access to concerts. History can use topical songs of the period being studied. Foreign language lessons can include singing in the target language. Poor singer as I am, I remember 'Sur la pont, D'Avignon' and 'Muss I' Den' (although we annoyed our German teacher by putting in an extra note as Elvis did when he used the same tune for 'Wooden Heart'). All good fun.

And it somehow sinks in. I wonder how my old people learnt Away In a Manger - probably a combination of school music, carol services and exposure.

PiqueABoo's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 16:37

There's no threat to primary school music in this story which is where some of those carols were embedded here, but yes at secondary level I think of music as a kind of humanising cross-curricular "glue".

Y7 Sprogette is very bright and academic, but after maths her favourite subjects are Art, Music and DT. She wouldn't miss drama, but would very likely go ballistic if those three were taken away and more of the school day was bound to desks and exercise books. If we had a local grammar then that's where she'd be, but not if it had ditched hands-on practical creativity.

I'd be tempted to count the burgeoning number of staff with "Headteacher" somewhere in their job title when reflecting on potential economies.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 09:49

As another tone deaf person, like Janet, I too love music. My headship school probably had the most bottom-heavy intake CATs score distribution in the country. The mean intake score was less than 85 (- 1 SD). In an average 100 pupil intake there were usually only 12 - 15 pupils with CATs scores greater than 100, so our top sets in KS4 were really mixed ability. To cope with this, we engineered our own pupil premium. Part of this came from the Cumbria funding formula which then had a generous non-statutory Special Needs element driven by low CATs scores not FSM. The rest was generated by our support for parents to pursue SEN statements through to tribunals if necessary (less popular with the LEA).

Through these means we were able to fund support for individual and small groups of pupils on a large and generous scale. The basic principle was that if any pupil had a significant individual need, interest or talent, the school would fund provision. This enabled us to provide free musical instrument tuition for every pupil whose parent requested it (which is where this reply relates to the post). We funded a two-week residential for a KS4 pupil with a professional Rugby League club. Sport was well supported - our pioneering girls basketball team got to the national championship finals. So far as SEN was concerned we had a partnership with the local Dyslexia Association in which we provided a free permanent base for their private tuition operation in our school basement on condition that our pupils received their services free. This operation was fully integrated with our school SEN Department and the LEA 'Reading Recovery' initiative.

Crucially, we also strongly supported our (few in number) more able pupils. In KS4 all pupils took French at GCSE and a quarter also took German. Our Modern Languages results were the best in town. Small numbers of pupils were taught History and/or Geography GCSE as well as core Integrated Humanities. Physics and Chemistry groups were taught (by me in my office) as well as Core Double Award Science.

Small numbers of our pupils achieved great academic success progressing to top universities to take academic degrees (including our son). One ex pupil is now a partner in a major London solicitors business. I could go on.

I am agreeing with John Mountford and Janet. School must not be a production line exam factory and especially not one turning out shoddy qualifications like the GNVQ scam. There should be funded support for individual and group/team talent wherever it it can be found and nurtured.

This needs well-funded schools to be free of deadening central government control and dictat. Of course proper oversight and accountability is needed. If all schools were like this then their LAs (or preferably LEAs) would develop services to support them and hold them to account.

David Cameron is right that the General Election is a choice between him or Ed Miliband as PM. Who is more likely to move schools furthest towards my vision?

Not a difficult choice even for Guest or agov.

mistemina's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 11:47

Margaret, Logic does says it makes sense if grammar schools changed their admission criteria to admit pupils of all abilities...........pupil premium money. Malheureusement non.
Pupil premium money is small beer compared to the money Grammars raise from rich parents. Anecdotal evidence in Bucks suggests that Grammars raise £2500.00 from parents per child. during their time on school.
Also there is the inconvenience of Ofsted insisting the all Pupil Premium is proven to be spent on the child, not on fabulous facilities in the school which makes the Grammar so attractive to rich parents. An illustration of these facilities available in Bucks Grammars Schools:
- Virtually all have fencing courts,
- Indoor facilities to die for.
- Shooting classes.
- All weather pitches for tennis and hockey
- One even has its own stables! I jest not. Read: ''Borlase head: We're as good as any school in UK'' (Based on recommendation from Tatler) http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/11775228.Grammar_head__We_re_as_goo...

Andy V's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 13:09

Now, now Roger lets not resort to sarcasm :-)

Here's a real conundrum: the quasi independent state school sector is not tied into the national curriculum but all state schools - irrespective of label - are required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. How is this to be achieved/reconciled in straitened financial times? Just make things a little more interesting, throw an eye over the Ofsted inspection handbook and other supporting documents on SMSC and it becomes apparent that dropping Art/Music and the like will markedly impair the ability of a school to fulfil their requirements.

PS Roger, the answer to your closing question is far from easy as it all depends on their political persuasion and perception of the type of coalition cobbled together if neither Cons or Lab win a majority. But, hey, do keeping banging on about voting Labour who you imply will best meet your vision. :-)

Andy V's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 14:21

PPS It will come as no surprise to you that I do not share in your political preference and have no desire to see the likes of TH taking over the reins as SOE Educ. We've already had one journalist in the chair and I've no stomach for a second. Least of all one who is vacuous and obsessed with non-QTS practitioners and the fantastical negative impact that those 3% who are unqualified by English standards, have wreaked in KS2 and 4 (0.99% in the former and barely 2% in the latter).

Irrespective of their political hue career politicians are invariably at the root of educations ills.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 14:37

Fine Andy - You must vote as you wish but there can only be two possible outcomes whoever you vote for: a government led by Ed Miliband or more of the same (or more likely much worse still) from a Cameron government.

"Irrespective of their political hue career politicians are invariably at the root of educations ills."

True, but if we are ever to take education out of politics then it will need a government to do it. Who is the more likely to move towards this, David Cameron or Ed Miliband? One of them is ideologically on a different planet and other is courageous, thoughtful, intelligent, welcomes new ideas and debate and is the leader of a party within which members and supporters can exert influence.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 15:10

Roger, are you describing the right Miliband? None of your descriptors resonate with me :-D

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 15:16

I am describing the only Miliband that matters. It certainly doesn't apply to the only other person who can PM after 7 May.

mistemina's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 17:08

Everyone will vote as they see fit.
I am not a political analyst but I can say the last 5 years have not been comfortable for me, as a person that believes in equality, in fairness, level playing fields, etc (you get the picture). I have also been unhappy with the level of machoness and arrogance on display.
As a Governor, I stopped pushing my schools to achieve better; because I can see for myself that they are struggling.
I am grateful that the Lib Dems were there to dampen the access of materialism and dogma.

With Labour I feel we have access to influencing thinking on Education.
Having said this, I agree with most comments about TH. Now he appears to be guilty of being politically not on the ball, he missed a golden chance to bring to the public some of resounding failures in education fro the past 5 years.
Je suis un Pinko.

Brian's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 17:52

I'm interested in finding out more about the burgeoning number of staff with 'Headteacher' in their job title. Could you provide a link to your source please?

PiqueABoo's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 18:24

No because it is Sprogette's school. Their web pages have mugshots for an SLT team which is one HT (who has their own PA) one Deputy, six Assistants, two Associates and a School Business Manager.

Brian's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 18:57

PiqueABoo 6.24 (no reply button)

Apologies, I thought you were talking about a wider picture not just a single example.

PiqueABoo's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 20:10

That's not likely to be unique.

In fact I just looked and Enfield Grammar has the Headmaster and seven further staff with Headteacher in their job title ... plus the PA and the School Business Manager. At 180 their PAN is roughly 40 less than here.

Brian's picture
Mon, 04/05/2015 - 21:21

I don't think it's unique at all. It's a means of stratifying the management structure and related responsibilities. My interest in your original comment wasn't that these posts exist but that reducing these posts would result in economies ... which it clearly would, but so would cutting any post. I took it that you meant that these were spurious job titles which led to higher pay for no good reason. It was the wider eveidnce of this that I was interested in. Apologies if I misunderstood what I thought you were implying.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 05/05/2015 - 04:47

I don't have a problem with 'headteacher' in job titles. The one you really have to worry about is 'Executive' preceding anything. That usually indicates an inflated salary, little or no classroom teaching and a dodgy approach to pedagogy.

Brian's picture
Tue, 05/05/2015 - 08:10


Andy V's picture
Tue, 05/05/2015 - 17:41

"That usually indicates an inflated salary, little or no classroom teaching and a dodgy approach to pedagogy". This seems a little harsh and without evidence seems to be based on a sweeping general personal opinion. I don't doubt that there may be some who match your description but to strongly imply that it is the majority is somewhat OTT.

agov's picture
Tue, 05/05/2015 - 07:07

"One of them ...is the leader of a party within which members and supporters can exert influence."

Sounds like some sort of wishy washy LibDem thing. Certainly hasn't had anything to do with NuLab since Blair and his gang took over.

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