The music department in my first music teaching job in Bristol was situated on the second floor, not much use for students using wheelchairs (nor for delivery firms bringing up a grand piano). The rooms had huge windows on one side – boiling in the summer, freezing in the winter; the whole class could watch Concorde’s descent on it’s final flight. When I arrived in post, we were offering the usual option: KS3…GCSE…A Level and so I cracked on, dutifully accepting of the exact same model I had experienced as a student in the late 1980s.
Monks Walk school in Hertfordshire have a school motto: “Vel optima cuique praebere” or “Excellence for all”. Nothing radical in that sentiment for a school you might think; but the school’s Music department has embarked on a transformation which takes this motto to heart, and could well prove to be an influential model for other music departments to emulate.
The department have embraced a ‘personalised learning’ approach to Music, based around the Musical Futures model. Students can focus on music that interests them, work at their own pace and the teacher becomes more of an advisor/ mentor than a traditional teacher figure. Students can access a wide range of courses at KS3/4 to suit their individual needs.
The head of Monks Walk said that the benefits of the approach include:
‘…motivation, inclusion and the opportunity to follow their own preferred routes through music based on styles and genres they understand and are familiar with, as well as working to their own ability levels’.
What is crucial about this model for music students with disabilities/SEN is that it is inclusive by design. There is no need for any cumbersome ‘add-ons’ or a two tier approach to teaching, learning and accreditation for disabled and non-disabled students. We know from our own work with disabled/SEN children that this kind of child-centred approach – increasingly based on their own musical interests and to a flexible time-scale – is usually very successful for any child.
However, the model inevitably raises some questions too:
* It relies on students managing their own time effectively and understanding how they learn best themselves – students need to be taught these skills
* It’s a potential logistical headache to juggle so many courses at different levels/ timescales.
* You need a lot of extra room space to allow students to work in peace
* You require increased support from outside the department e.g. musicians, which also costs more
No-one said that it would ever be easy to transform a department, nor that it would be achieved overnight. But I believe that these types of models are the key to increased access to music at schools for disabled/SEN students in the future, rather than the small, sparodic pots of funding and short term provision which are more commonly the case for this group.