How do we plan for SEN/D students’ musical progression?


A few perspectives re: music and progression for SEN/ Disabled students:

For many SEN/ Disabled students who follow the NC, ‘progress’ in Music is commonly more about the weekly battle to access provision at all, than wider discussions of levels and future plans. Students who do participate regularly in classroom and/ or instrumental lessons may find that their teachers struggle to accurately describe their progress and attainment or to signpost the next steps for them.

The recently launched Sounds of Intent assessment framework is set to change the landscape for students with learning difficulties (from PMLD to autism); but for others, including students who face physically disabling barriers, but no significant learning difficulties, many barriers remain Through our DM Education work over the past five years, we’ve attempted to get stuck into these tricky issues – how to widen access for SEN/Disabled students to the NC for Music in general, and to assessment and accreditation in Music in particular.

Through a combination of personal experience i.e. teaching accredited music courses in special schools – and through our recent consultation findings on barriers to formal music education and assessment, we now have a clearer picture of why progression is so often slow/ interrupted/ patchy. In a wholly non-partisan spirit, I recommend that all new hubs take 10 minutes to read the consultation findings!

I’ve spent the last four years teaching BTEC Performing Arts and also our own ‘Introduction To Music’ course to students in special schools in the South West. A few experiences/ thoughts on assessment and progression:

  • Many of the students had had little formal music experience or skills by the time they started working with us aged 13/ 14 years. However, many SEN/Disabled students are very keen to participate in music and be assessed. Music is a subject that opens up a wealth of long-term opportunities, including social aspects.
  • Music sessions need to be longer than normal to allow students time to complete tasks/ express opinions/ look at resources etc – as well as to accommodate normal comfort breaks/ feeding routines (also factor in wheelchair clinics/ physio and hospital appointments)
  • Lack of time (see above) could result in a student sometimes achieving a lower level than their actual ability in other NC subjects; this is not always a negative – many students benefit from learning musical ‘building blocks’ where they hadn’t had opportunities before and grew in confidence as a result.
  • Although in theory all music courses and assessment frameworks are accessible e.g. GCSE and BTEC, Grade Examinations – and disabled students can perform and compose using assistive music technology – the examination boards can rarely provide actual examples where disabled students have been assessed and passed in this context. Benchmark examples are crucial because they give classroom teachers more confidence in assessing such students’ work and encouraging them in the first place to take an accredited course.
  • Feedback sessions involving SEN/ Disabled students e.g. tutorials, need careful planning. An example: some of my students are non-verbal. Some questions can be done as ‘yes/no’ but many tutorial questions involve longer, more in depth answers. Students need questions in advance so they can prepare what they want to say – Professor Stephen Hawking has to do this!
  • Signposting the ‘next steps’ is difficult even for those students who have worked with us and achieved accredited outcomes. An example: some of my BTEC students spend half their time in the secondary school next door on a mainstream timetable. However, at options time, the mainstream school didn’t feel they could accommodate the musical needs of a student who wanted to pursue music further. In general, music opportunities fall away at 18 as students come out of full time education. It’s frustrating and the only way to address this is to work across the board, from early years to undergraduate level, so that accessible pathways begin to open up.

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