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SEN Breaking down barriers

Drake Music is the only organisation in England specialising in the use of assistive music technology to break down barriers to participation. Doug Bott explains the resources it can offer schools to help SEN pupils thrive in music lessons

Education aims to increase disabled access to formal music education, because despite the importance of music to many SEN and disabled pupils, formal assessment pathways remain poorly defined and very few progress to gain accreditation in music at secondary school. The September launch of DM Education was very timely; arriving


just after the London 2012 Paralympic tickets went on sale, and shortly before the publication of the government’s National Plan for Music education (NPM). Although they are admittedly strange bedfellows, the Paralympics and the NPM provide useful points of reference for introducing DM Education. Whatever your feelings on the NPM – if indeed you are aware, as we

suspect many teachers are not – it is a major government pronouncement on music education that is expected to specifically include details of provision for SEN pupils. This, if it happens will be a milestone in official recognition of the significance of these pupils. The NPM is also expected to place emphasis on the importance of clear learning outcomes in all areas of music education. This chimes with the main aim of DM Education – to increase opportunities for SEN and disabled pupils to be formally assessed and accredited in music. But what the government might give with one hand, it also seems likely it will take away with the other if, as many suspect, music is to be dropped from the national curriculum. Despite the shortcomings in provision that DM Education seeks to address, formal music education in school is the main interface with music making for many SEN pupils. For this reason alone it is important that music remains part of the national curriculum. The Paralympics has done much to establish a broad public

understanding that sport is an area in which disabled people can achieve to a high standard. We now expect nothing less than that disabled sports people be afforded opportunities to train and work hard. This is an important shift in perception that has not only positively affected the sporting aspirations of many disabled children and young people, but has also filtered through to their teachers, parents and other gate keepers to accessible sport.

Insufficient training The shift in perception that has taken place in sport has not yet happened across music or music education. Although music activities are provided for SEN pupils in many schools, not enough demonstrate the level of aspiration that we have come to expect in sport. Even in 2011 there are still some schools in the UK where it seems acceptable to assume that children with significant physical impairments do not actively participate in music lessons, but instead sit and listen while assistive technology such as Soundbeam, which might enable them to join in sits gathering dust in a cupboard. In some respects this is hardly surprising. SEN and disabled pupils represent not just a spectrum, but a kaleidoscope of different abilities and there is insufficient training for teachers in the array of accessible approaches that might enable access. Moreover, there still seems to be some confusion about the distinctions between and the different efficacies of music as therapy and music as a creative and academic area of study in which many SEN or disabled pupils can actively participate, and achieve to a high standard.

Accessible resources DM Education began in 2007 as the Drake Music Curriculum Development Initiative, because just like many others teaching music to SEN students, we found it extremely difficult to source useful information on formal musical pathways. In particular, we hoped to find accessible


M Education is a new initiative from Drake Music – a national charity that breaks down disabling barriers through innovative approaches to teaching, learning and making music. DM

resources for learning and assessment in music that would not only enable access for pupils, but also provide a framework for teachers. We found very few accessible resources that we or anyone else could use. But we did discover that, despite the challenges, there are some examples of excellent work by schools, music services and other music educators, although these are often isolated from one another so good practice does not spread. Central to DM Education is a series of new web pages on the Drake

Music website where we can now share all that we learn and where, even more importantly, anyone else can create an account and share what they know. Information on the DM Education website can be shared and discussed within one of two categories: n Resources and courses that make formal music education accessible to disabled pupils.

n Experiences of disabled people in formal music education whether from the point of view of disabled people, teachers, parents, friends, colleagues or anyone else with an insight. This is a place to publicise, promote and discuss information on all aspects of the SEN and disabled “kaleidoscope” in relation to formal music education, assessment and accreditation.

The future DM Education is off to a good start, but while the level of aspiration for SEN and disabled people in music lags so far behind sport, it is clear that there remains a lot to learn. That is why in addition to the web pages and accessible resources, we also launched a consultation into disabling barriers to formal music education, which closed on November 2. From the findings we plan to draw up a short list of benchmark procedures to make formal music education more accessible, which will be shared with schools, colleges, exam boards and others throughout music education by the end of 2012. The NPM will hopefully signpost the need for SEN and disabled

students to have their musical achievements formally assessed and accredited, so they can follow clear progression routes and go on to acquire qualifications that are useful both academically and professionally. In creating the circumstances for SEN students to be more routinely assessed and accredited in music, we also draw more attention to their abilities, which in itself will help to create the shift in perception that is so badly needed.

• Doug Bott is a Drake Music associate musician and DM Education manager. For more information email Doug at or visit

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