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Teaching music in schools

9th July 2020

An interpretation of the DfE’s Guidance for Full Opening – Schools (2nd July 2020)

Music in the curriculum

The curriculum should remain broad, so that the majority of pupils are taught a full range of subjects over the year, including…the arts…

Music can and should be taught to all pupils in KS1, KS2 and KS3 from the start of the Autumn term, in order to ensure that “the curriculum remains broad and ambitious”.  Schools should “make use of existing flexibilities to make time to cover the most important missed content” but “the majority of pupils” should still be taught “a full range of subjects over the year, including…the arts…”.

Some schools may keep children in their class groups for the majority of the classroom time but allow mixing into wider groups for specialist teaching.

All teachers and other staff can operate across different classes and year groups in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable.

Where one person teaches music across the school, subject to risk control measures on class changeovers, this can continue, either on the basis of the teacher moving classrooms – as may happen in some primary schools – or with classes going into a music department or room, as will happen in secondary schools.

Singing is possible in groups up to 15, subject to sufficient space and ventilation.  Use of classroom instruments (e.g. the percussion trolley) and ICT equipment is possible but additional cleaning will be necessary.  Pianos and keyboards count as shared instruments.

Wellbeing

Schools should consider the provision of pastoral and extra-curricular activities to all pupils designed to:

  • support the rebuilding of friendships and social engagement
  • address and equip pupils to respond to issues linked to coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • support pupils with approaches to improving their physical and mental wellbeing

Some pupils will need support to help them contextualise and process their emotional experiences of lockdown and COVID-19.  All pupils are likely to have something they need to articulate in response to lockdown and the return to normality.  Music activities can help meet this requirement at all key stages and a variety of online learning resources, both pre-existing and written since March 2020, exist.  Local music education hubs may have published a music recovery curriculum like this one from Tri-Borough Music Education Hub in London.

Instrumental and vocal tuition

Peripatetic teachers…can move between schools.

First Access instrumental tuition (Whole-Class Ensemble Tuition, Wider Opportunities) can be taught by peripatetic music teachers and/or class teachers in groups of up to 15.  Tuition may include singing and mouth-blown instruments, subject to sufficient space: there is, as yet, no scientific justification for relaxing distances suggested in Music Unlocked.  Mouth-blown instruments cannot be shared safely and children should play only on their own, allocated instrument.  Ideally, this also applies to instruments like violin or guitar.  It may not be practical for percussion-based programmes (e.g. African drumming, samba), in which case, instrument cleaning and enhanced hand hygiene are essential.

Subject to risk assessment, 1:1 and small group tuition can recommence.  Small practice rooms are unlikely to be suitable for singing, woodwind or brass tuition.  If they can be satisfactorily ventilated, they may suffice for other instruments, as long as minimum distancing can be maintained at all times while preserving the tutor’s view of the student.

Ensembles and choirs

Groups should be kept apart, meaning that schools should avoid large gatherings such as assemblies or collective worship with more than one group.

Schools should consider…playing instruments or singing in small groups…limiting group sizes to no more than 15…

This gives limited freedom to bring pupils together for music rehearsals.  As always, risk assessment will be key.  Even within the absolute limit of fifteen, the space available and the need for distancing must dictate maximum numbers.

N.B. exceeding the limit of fifteen in the guidance may affect insurance, even if the space is large enough to allow more than 3m2 per person or maintain 2-3m linear distancing.

All advice in Music Unlocked on choirs and ensembles of different types still stands.  If singing or playing mouth-blown instruments, rehearsing time should be limited to 40 minutes.

Music around the school

Schools should consider resuming any breakfast and after-school provision, where possible, from the start of the autumn term.

Such provision will help…provide enrichment activities.

If it is not possible to maintain bubbles being used during the school day then schools should use small, consistent groups.

Ensuring that music regains its place in the school’s extra-curricular life will help the school community feel like normality is on its way back.  Consistent groups will promote progression and meaningful preparation for performance or sharing, by whatever means may be possible (e.g. streaming).  As with any musical activity, risk assessments will need to take into account the specific circumstances of the group, in order to ensure all participants’ safety.

Making music safely

While the science behind the risks of making music is still subject to peer review, it is prudent to follow sensible precautions.  Therefore, in music lessons and musical activities:

  1. Keep singing to a soft dynamic. Avoid chanting loudly or using repertoire or activities that contain plosive consonants (https://thesoundofenglish.org/plosives/). When doing these activities, try to keep as much physical distance as possible between all participants, including teachers.  Actively use humming and vowel sounds as ways of pitching/singing.
  2. When using instruments, try to keep as much physical distance as possible between pupils/teachers. If appropriate, position pupils back-to-back or side-to-side to encourage active listening.  Stagger lines so that children do not face each other directly.
  3. Do not share instruments between pupils and clean them between classes.
  4. Actively use body percussion (view some ideas here and here), as this can engage the whole body in a musical manner.
  5. Actively encourage listening tasks using quality recordings or films. Websites like the Classical 100 and BBC Ten Pieces are free to use; you may have access to paid resources like the Naxos Music Library (includes commercial recordings of jazz and musicals) through your library membership.
  6. Deliver music sessions outside where possible and appropriate.

For more detail, consult the latest version of Music Unlocked.

Summary

The Department for Education expects that Music will taught in schools up to and including year 9 from September.  It can be delivered by class teachers and visiting music teachers who can work with different classes during the day.  The caveat is that everything needs to be clearly risk assessed with mitigating and practical control measures in place.  Each school will take decisions that are best suited to their physical buildings, their pupils and their community.

Wherever possible, the local Music Education Hub will be a supportive partner in helping to shape the return to in-person delivery and will actively welcome discussions with headteachers and music leaders about music education delivery.

Music Education will look and sound different for a while but everything is achievable.

Acknowledgements

Stuart Whatmore (Tri-borough Music Hub, London)

Peter Smalley (Northamptonshire Music & Performing Arts Trust)

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