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Teachers' disappointment at cuts to school music education

PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:55 21 April 2019

James Sunderland, head of performing arts at City of Norwich School. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

James Sunderland, head of performing arts at City of Norwich School. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

At a difficult time for the creative arts in schools, Bethany Whymark speaks to two Norfolk music teachers about their experiences.

Creative subjects 'the first things to go'

Cath Brooks, head of music at Northgate High School in Dereham, is a classically trained musician and was an instrumental teacher in schools before moving to class teaching around 18 years ago.

She is disappointed by cuts to music education. “It is such a great outlet for children to be creative and also just express themselves especially if the children can find it quite hard sometimes to express how they are feeling,” she said.

“They might struggle in other areas of their life and other subjects but they can play some chords on a guitar or notes on a keyboard they can really make progress, and it is a great confidence builder.

“Sometimes education can be focused on the results and targets and of course that has a place, but you also need to be able to provide students with a balance.

“The UK music industry brings in millions of pounds and is a big export for us so we don't want that to suffer because in 10 or 20 years' time there will be a gap where children were not having that access to music.”

Miss Brooks said the creative arts are still central at Northgate High; the school runs music, drama and dance A-level courses alongside a music Btec course, and students in years seven to nine get one hour each of music and drama every week.

“A difficulty with some schools and particularly academies is they don't have to follow the national curriculum in the same way and the first things to go are the creative subjects if they want to put more time into English and maths,” she said.

“Also recruitment can be difficult – there is nowhere in Norfolk where a university offers music as a PGCE course.

“It is also whether the school places value in creative subjects. Some institutions are going towards more Ebacc [English Baccalaureate] subjects. With that some things can fall by the wayside.”

Primary school music 'is being stripped out'

James Sunderland, director of music and head of the arts faculty at City of Norwich School, said the school had a strong music tradition supported by senior leaders.

As well as GCSE and A-level music courses the school runs 14 ensembles – with further student-run ensembles on top – and in September 2019 it will take its first cohort of year seven music scholarship students.

Mr Sunderland also speaks highly of the Norfolk Music Hub, from which the school utilises 10 instrumental teachers and staff development courses.

“We have a healthy department, but my view in Norwich is that we are one of only three of four schools in that position,” he said.

“Key stage one and two music is being stripped out and there is not enough provision there for high school teachers to work with. We used to have three or four strong music feeder schools and now we have one or two.

“It is to do with resourcing and budgeting, and that also comes from the parents. Music lessons are still expensive. There are a lot of people in Norwich who don't have that financial support and schools are also trimming their budgets left, right and centre.”

Mr Sunderland is sceptical about whole class instrumental teaching, a national initiative provided in primary schools by local music hubs.

“It is putting students off,” he said. “There are 30 kids all learning together, they are not going to take the instruments home so they are not practising and developing the skills, and the students who have had more lessons elsewhere are being held back because children who are not musical are not giving it the attention it deserves,” he said.

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