Reasons to be Cheerful - but the fight goes on!

by David Ashworth Freelance Education Consultant. Reproduced from the Teaching Music website by kind permission of David Ashworth.
Well, on a first read through, it looks pretty good. I know we’ve had to wait a long time for it, but I can see that a lot of work has gone into this. (National Music Plan).

I like the fact that it is a PLAN, not just a series of recommendations – and that the importance of flexibility with local implementation is recognised.

Reassuring that it stresses (often in bold) the continuing importance of classroom based music education. Excellent that the need for good quality CPD is recognised as an urgent issue, and that some thought has been given to ways of addressing this.

And so to the technology annex....I know there are some who are not happy about this section being published as an annex –  saying this ‘sidelines’ the section in some way. However, I’m OK with this, preferring to think that technology has been considered important enough to warrant having its own section. I think if these issues had been woven into the general text, they might easily be skimmed over by some readers.

Good to see the report making the case for generic as well as music specific applications:
…..there is scope for schools to improve their teaching of music by using general information communication technologies

A really useful chart summarising use of tech in performing, listening and composing. Succinct but comprehensive. Good to see ICT in performance on an equal footing with the other two strands.
Heartening that much of the discussion from the TDA Seminar day has fed into the report:
•use ICT to bring a much larger range of sounds into classrooms
•online learning environments to share resources and children’s work between pupils, teachers, and peers within and beyond school.
•Hand held digital recording devices and digital media players offer affordable and simple methods for recording and listening to music
•Technology can increase opportunities for children to enjoy singing
•Technology has a key role in supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities
•TeachMeets are a means of sharing effective practice.
I am pleased to see the Plan outline how CPD support may be implemented: “hubs will wish to work collaboratively with schools to address any CPD-related barriers to the effective use of technology.”
At last, the need for proper technical support is recognised: “Schools may wish to consider whether bespoke technical support needs to be provided to music departments. There may also be opportunities for hubs and school clusters to contribute by offering work placements to music technology graduates who understand how technology works and could support schools in using it effectively to teach music.”

And here’s THE big breakthrough!
“It is clear that unfiltered access to the internet is inappropriate, and decisions have to be made to safeguard children from unsuitable content accessed via the internet. However, schools should consider implementing measures that enable teachers and pupils to benefit from accessing the multitude of effective resources (for example, YouTube channels on music education such as to support music teaching and instrumental instruction, including rich multimedia content, in a safe and responsible way.”

Again, we advocated strongly for this on our TDA Seminar day. Well done to the person who wrote this into the Plan – eloquently expressed.

But there are two disappointments – and unfortunately they are major ones. The report shows a fine grasp of current technologies. There is much reference to the transforming potential of tablet devices, browser based applications, smartphones, apps and consumer technologies. But the report stops short (just!) of suggesting that students should be allowed to use their personal mobile devices in classrooms. We will only see significant transformation when we overcome this barrier. On our TDA Seminar day, delegates were quite clear about this. When David Price asked from the floor if we should allow students to use mobile devices (responsibly) in classrooms, there was a virtually unanimous show of hands.  Gove needs to think hard about this one. Other countries do not see the problem with this – and they will leave us behind. We need to keep badgering on this issue.

The other statement I found a bit depressing -  "Technology is used most effectively when it supports a clearly defined musical outcome". This is the old ‘technology as a useful supporting tool’ idea. If we insist in continuing to think about the use of technology in this blinkered way, we say goodbye to creativity and authenticity. And without those key considerations, what’s the point of making music?

However, I want to end on a positive note. There is much to commend in this report. If we can overcome the challenges of finding ways of implementing the Plan on such a tight budget, things can only get better.

David was the Lead Consultant on Music and ICT for the National Association of Music Educators and now works for them as Project Leader on . He is also a Regional Subject adviser for the New Key Stage 3 National Curriculum for Music.