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Does music education need qualified teachers?

Children's right to a good music education should not be compromised by well-meaning amateurs in schools, argues Jonathan Savage.

Children’s right to a good music education should not be compromised by well-meaning amateurs in schools, argues Jonathan Savage.

Music education takes place in many and varied locations. But the best place for our children to receive a sustained, coherent and developmental music education is as part of their formal schooling. Whilst the opportunity to learn a musical instrument might be provided by a music education hub or a private tutor, the comprehensive music education that extends far beyond that which can be learnt by playing a musical instrument alone must be promoted and valued by all our schools.

For me, every teacher teaching music within our schools should be qualified. What does that mean? Traditionally, in England, it has meant that all teachers should have a minimum level of qualification of an undergraduate degree and qualified teacher status (QTS). Sadly, both these elements have been removed in many schools by this government’s recent educational policies.

Qualified Teacher Status can be obtained in various ways. The majority of would-be teachers obtain it through studying for a PGCE (a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, a qualification that is not the same as QTS but an academic award in its own right, offered to students by universities and not the government). Most PGCE courses facilitate the work needed to be assessed against the requirements for QTS as laid out in the government’s Teacher Standards.

The award of a PGCE and, as part of this, QTS offers would-be music teachers many essential skills. Off the top of my head, here is a list of things that it teaches students:

  • the ability to plan an individual lesson and a sequence of lessons in such a way that musical learning is initiated, sustained and developed
  • the knowledge to choose and use a range of different teaching resources effectively
  • the techniques of differentiation and personalisation – where learning is tailored to the individual needs of students
  • the ability to assess students’ work, formatively and summatively, so that key learning can be identified and evaluated so that students can maximise their progress
  • the constructive use of accountability and reporting mechanisms so that the school, parents and others can be assured that music teaching is of a high quality and learning is progressing well in the classroom
  • skilful approaches to communication with students, including the ability to explain things clearly, to model key musical processes and to question students about their work and promote their thinking
  • the management of student behaviour through positive reinforcement techniques rather than negative approaches
  • an introduction to the wider theories of educational and developmental psychology that underpin all teaching and learning and how these relate to the specific processes of teaching and learning music
  • the notion of teacher identity, how it is developed and formed over time and how it relates to important precursors (i.e. your own identity pre-teaching) and broader discourses around music as a discrete subject with its own history, priorities and culture
  • an important challenge to the powerful but potentially fatal influence of teaching in the way that you might have been taught. QTS develops the central notion of the reflective teacher/practitioner which is an essential attribute if you are to learn to teach well in the classroom
  • linked to this, the ability to evaluate teaching and learning using specific tools and make changes to your curriculum at key points
  • detailed knowledge of National Curriculum, exam specifications and the like that frame the work of teachers

And, to be honest, I could go on for quite a while (but I won’t).

For all these reasons, my belief is that every music teacher should have an undergraduate degree, a PGCE and QTS. Anything less than that is selling our children short.

As parents, we have a right to expect that every teacher working within a state school has this basic set of qualifications. If you are unsure, you should ask the Head teacher of your free school or academy to account for each teacher’s level of qualifications. Personally, I do not want unqualified teachers teaching my children.

This government has a different view. It feels that teaching is not something that needs this level of qualification. It has set about systematically destroying the basis of teacher qualification and giving academies and free schools the same ‘freedoms’ that the independent sector has ‘enjoyed’ for many years. But I don’t want my children educated in an independent school or even in a system that adopts the practices of that sector either. Even if I had the money (which I haven’t), I wouldn’t let my children spend more than a day being educated under such a system. As we have seen recently, allowing schools to employ unqualified teachers is a recipe for disaster. I would urge you to promote the view that every state school should be staffed by qualified teachers. Do not settle for anything less. A music education for every child is too precious to be compromised by well-meaning and misguided amateur teachers.

Finally, I’m sure that many stories about the success or otherwise of individual teachers can be cited. My brother is a lawyer and has an expression something along the lines of ‘extreme cases make bad laws’. Clearly, there will be good and bad qualified music teachers just as there are good and bad unqualified music teachers. But building an educational system across England that removes the need for vast swathes of schools not to employ qualified teachers is a stupid policy that will seriously undermine the educational and musical opportunities of the children at those schools. Thankfully, two of the three political parties seem to have come to the view, eventually, that this is a bad thing. If certain folk want to run free schools or academies where they can employ anyone as a teacher, they should do that within the independent sector and not receive public funding for such purposes.

About the author

Jonathan Savage is a Reader in Education at the Faculty of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University.

He is Managing Director of UCan Play, a not-for-profit company that runs a consultancy, research, and training as well as providing a point of sale for musical instruments, audio, and video technologies.

He is a widely published author, having published over 14 books for Routledge, the Open University Press and SAGE as well as numerous academic papers.

Jonathan runs an active blog and can be followed on Twitter @jpjsavage.