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FMS

John Witchell

WO Report Interview

Federation of Music Services (FMS) chief executive and Music Education Council chair, John Witchell, gives YES magazine his responses to the Wider Opportunities (WO) impact evaluation, published in January this year.

Bill C Martin: What are the key points from the report? John Witchell: A key one is the way that WO has been accepted by schools as a way of improving not just musicianship but also personal and social skills. We’re actually quite surprised about the quantity and regularity of comments we get from children and headteachers about the power of the transformational side of the programme. It has improved children’s behaviour, increased their happiness, improved attendance and given them some musical self-esteem too by helping them develop the ability and opportunity to perform to others. These are all really good things but

obviously there are issues to be addressed, too. We are half way through the programme and have yet to address how we are going to carry it on. I think the most important issue is how it is continued from the initial opportunity of one year to subsequent years. So identifying the progression routes and pathways is currently a major focus.

BCM: One of the key points raised was about the transition for WO children

from primary to secondary. What are the challenges and solutions?

JW: The first challenge is to inform secondary teachers what has been going on in the primary school. It has been an alarming state of affairs when some secondary teachers don’t know the musical achievements of the children and so start them all back at the beginning again. That criticism has been made for many years and the primary and secondary sectors need to work together on this. The primary and secondary schools must work together so they can get better information about the musical abilities of the new intake. And in the middle of all this the music services must ensure they have the systems in place to report the standards up to the secondary. Actually it should be a seamless flow and the word ‘transition’ should become less relevant. We’ve had funding from the

government for the first year, which we welcomed, but not for the second or third years. In the current economic climate it is difficult to make the case for additional funding so we’re having to look at creative ways of finding it, along with additional teaching resources, in order to extend it properly to the secondary schools.

BCM: What work has been done on developing new and better pedagogical approaches for whole- class instrumental teaching?

Above: A Wider Opportunities brass class in South Yorkshire, led by Simon Kerwin and Tabby Clegg

JW: We’ve been working with Trinity- Guildhall and the OU in the training of instrumental and class teachers, which has had a powerful impact. We need to scale that up and widen the opportunities for the teachers. The challenge is of organising the class, teaching effectively and ensuring we have strategies for differentiation so that pupils can progress at their own speed. That has been a real challenge. At our conference at the end of January we saw an example of a WO class from Haringey, which exemplified good practice in differentiation, where children were working at their individual levels while making a valid musical contribution to the whole group’s performance. But we need to continue to develop and extend this work and we need to plan and design more of the right kinds of activity.

The other key issue is that of initial teacher training. By all accounts it is quite lamentable in terms of the small amount of time devoted to music in the initial training of primary school teachers, who will be responsible for delivering the music entitlement to primary school children. But you can’t expect the average primary class teacher to engage with something like WO if they have no understanding of the basic elements of music, which is the case for many primary class teachers. So this is an area which needs to be addressed further.

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