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How do we get music teachers out of school?

How do we get music teachers out of school?On 10th July 2015, I was fortunate enough to attend the Teach Through Music Final Conference, which was a great opportunity to catch up with familiar faces and get to know with a few new ones. It was a pleasure to hear from so many passionate music teachers, all keen to improve themselves and share a few ideas. There was, however, a consistent theme throughout the day that was all too familiar to everyone present – it’s difficult to get permission to leave school for professional development.

As Martin Fautley and Alison Daubney discussed their findings from evaluating Teach Through Music and Peer to Peer, it seemed that the main obstacle for teachers getting involved in these music CPD programmes wasn’t apathy, lack of interest or even the eternal problem of time. The obstacle was that senior leaders were refusing permission to let their music teachers leave school for professional development that wasn’t mandatory (such as a GCSE moderation event run by an exam board) or directly related to KS4/5 results (e.g. ‘Getting more As and A*s in GCSE Composing’). While the age of austerity makes this understandable, it certainly seems self-defeating. The majority of a music teacher’s time is spent with Key Stage 3, so why should all of the professional development be targeted at KS4/5?

In a casual conversation, Anna Gower even told me that one school had banned all non-mandatory external CPD. Teachers in this school cannot attend courses run by Keynote, Creative Education or even an exam board unless it is an external requirement. Instead of external CPD, this school has teachers deliver CPD in-house, which has a significant impact on the quality and diversity of training available to teachers. How useful is it for a music teacher to sit in a school hall, listening to English, geography and history teachers discuss strategies for marking written work? Yes, there’s some value in it but nowhere near as much as dedicated, music-specific CPD focused on improving the quality of music making in lessons.

Whereas many subjects can access great ideas for teaching and learning simply by reading a lesson plan or reviewing a PowerPoint, there’s so much more that music teachers can gain from being involved in a practical activity as a musician – it allows us to internalise the music that we will be teaching, which is a vital first step (see Teacher and Musician Challenge 11 for more on this point).

So, I have a question for the head teachers and CPD leaders out there: How do we get music teachers out of school?

Specifically, how do we get them out of school for music-specific CPD that is targeted at the areas of teaching that they spend most of their time in? Surely, the pay-off for this would be that teaching and learning improves, pupils are better musicians and go on to achieve better at Key Stages 4 and 5? Isn’t releasing music teachers for music-specific CPD a really good investment? Or has the age of austerity forced us to ignore investment and face the inevitable fall in standards?

How does this factor into the other educational age that we are in – the age of accountability?