Initial thoughts on the National Plan and SEN/disabled music provision


NB: This is my initial response to the National Plan, which I read for the first time today (25/11/11), in my role as DM Education Associate. Drake Music will issue a full response to the plan on our website early next week.

‘Hubs and schools need to break down barriers to music through innovative approaches to teaching and making music’

(National Plan for Music. p.17, paragraph 38)

Good news alert…today, the National Plan throws down the gauntlet in respect of better music provision for SEN/ disabled students (SEND). The musical needs of this diverse – and historically poorly served – group are mentioned specifically in the pages of the Plan, not as an add-on in ‘Annex 34b, paragraph 2.1…’ etc. Even though hubs are being encouraged to forge their own identities based on local conditions, SEND provision will have to form a key focus of every Hub’s strategy and delivery with a clear ambition to offer clear progression routes for every child.

Speaking of progression, one area I would have liked to have seen more of in the Plan was the need for better access to formal music education opportunities and accredited outcomes for SEND students. Initial findings from our recent online consultation on barriers to music education (to be published in full in early 2012) show that nearly half of all the young SEND people who responded felt that they achieved less in music than in other subjects.

Drake Music have started the ball rolling by creating, piloting and delivering our own Introduction to Music course with fully accessible teaching and learning resources using Clicker 5 software. As the plan suggests, there is still much to be done to ensure that accredited courses like GCSE music are fully accessible and benchmark procedures for marking and assessment available to teachers and educators  (i.e. not accessible ‘in theory’ because an exam board has a copy of SENDA legislation in a filing cabinet)

DM have known for a long time, both anecdotally and via social media sites like Twitter that the music sector is fully behind this (in our consultation 98% of music teachers said that SEND students participate in music in their setting). What students, parents and music educators are now asking for are the ‘details of provision’ – the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’.

The Plan states that hubs and schools must carry out a regular needs analysis of students in their geographical area. Discovering who is ‘out there’ and what is currently being delivered will be a major step in itself as baseline figures for SEN/ disabled students are typically very thin on the ground and not always easy to analyse.

The picture that these analysis exercises will paint will almost certainly show that barriers come in two forms; figures from our consultation suggest that although 72% of young SEND respondents say it is the nature of their disability/ special needs that makes access to music challenging, an equal figure – 72% – state that it is ‘the way in which music activities are organised’ which is a key (non-musical) barrier.

Music Technology is rightly held up in the Plan as a key driver for overcoming these barriers and achieving better access to music. The Drake Music Case Study featured in the Plan (8. Singing for Children facing physical and communication barriers, p.51) is a perfect example of how technology not only enables students to express themselves musically but also can improve the quality of pupils’ involvement in the wider curriculum.

Equally, the Plan’s emphasis on better training for primary teachers and a wider qualification for music educators in the community will have many benefits for the quality and breadth of music teaching for all children. In our consultation, 79% of teachers who responded said they would like better support in terms of CPD and training.

Strong leadership and gathering the key, experienced providers together will make the difference. Equally, Drake Music’s ‘DM Education’ webpages are precisely designed to get the sector sharing nicely when it comes to SEND students’ provision. We need music educators to share their experiences of SEN delivery and the accessible music resources and courses that already exist. So, here’s to the hubs. There’s plenty to do before February 17th and beyond, and we must beware that hubs themselves don’t become patchy; but this is a golden opportunity to press the reset button for SEND music provision, as well as the wider provision for all students – and to (continue) to make our music education sector the envy of the world.

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