‘…good in places, and distinctly optimistic…’ (apologies to Henley Review, section 1.10)



I’ve read the Henley Review (no government researchers to brief me…) and I’m feeling very positive! I truly think that Henley is a golden opportunity for young disabled musicians to finally get where the action is. For the first time there is the opportunity to place their needs strategically at the heart of a National Plan for Music Education (see Recommendation 10) No more add-ons, half-measures, fudges etc.

In many of the schools we have worked, there are hard-working music teachers who despite being completely ‘on board’ about including disabled musicians in music lessons, ensembles and accreditation, consistently fail to achieve this. Many of them put their hands up and admit it just isn’t realistic given their timetables/ resources/ experience/ SEN support (delete as appropriate) Many of these are excellent professionals and massively frustrated that they can’t achieve what they want for all their students.

The reasons why they don’t succeed have to be at the top of the agenda for any discussions around disabled/ SEN students at the ‘National Plan for Music Education’. The discussions have got to be honest, not defensive; we need to understand the true picture, including why (often- isolated) music teachers find it so challenging; equally the unique perspective of disabled students – what are the barriers they face on a daily basis to access music?

I believe we need to work on three key areas: Identify the barriers to participation and accreditation in music for disabled/ SEN students which currently exist in the UK music education sector. Many of them are not necessarily musical in nature – for example, a school which does not have a named IT technician to ensure that potential software/ hardware issues can be addressed. Many disabled students rely on the smooth running of assistive music technology to access music.

I’m currently working at a school in Stroud, delivering our OCNSWR Introduction To Music course to a class of 6 students, all who face physically disabling barriers to participating in music lessons, but have no significant learning difficulties. I’ve recently spent time sorting out problematic film files so they are compatible to play in Clicker 5 (we are currently doing the ‘Composing Soundtracks for Films’ unit) The PCs at the school I am working at didn’t have the right drivers to play the files…frustrating, and stops a lesson in it’s tracks…it took me a while to crack but I’m fairly certain it would take the staff much longer.

The logical conclusion once we have sat round a table and identified these barriers is to establish benchmarks in participation and accreditation for other music educators to follow. Most music educators want this lead to be taken, to have solid guidelines to implement and reflect upon. There’s a sizeable hole at the moment in music education where this should be. There are notable islands e.g. Mencap have produced some excellent guides of late, but we need much more, based on the best practice we can find.

Lastly, my eye was caught by Recommendation 33 – sharing best practice for the creative use of music technology in music education. This is a win-win recommendation for everyone. If we start to do better in terms of using music technology, then, by definition, disabled/ SEN students will increasingly be included because they will have improved access. Darren Henley recommends ‘new methods of creating music that embrace technological innovation’ – we’ve got to start taking music tech seriously in the classroom as a performance tool, not simply as an occasional outing to the IT suite to work on Garageband (for instance)

I’m currently delivering Entry Level BTEC at a Special school in Bristol – with students facing very similar barriers to the ones I work with in Stroud. The students are producing some striking performances, mostly using fairly straightforward music tech. It’s first and foremost good music in my opinion, it just happens to be produced using music tech.

So, in general, I think Darren Henley has a clear message for us; as a profession, we need to lay down clear expectations for a modern music education sector. The detail of the provision – the ‘new deal’ – for disabled/ SEN students needs to be clearer than most. This is an opportunity we must step up to as a profession.

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