Assessing the musical development of children with complex needs has long been a fairly unexplored area of education in this country. In special schools in particular it is common for music to be taught by non-specialists who lack the confidence, planning time and resources to bring out the potential in their students. Equally, the existing ‘P levels’ for Music are limited in that they are not evidence based and so do not provide an ideal framework to assess by, nor in enough depth.
Last February, I attended the launch of the Sounds of Intent (SoI) website in London. The aim of Sounds of Intent is to investigate and promote the musical development of children and young people with learning difficulties ranging from PMLD to autism. Based on extensive research and observations over 10 years, SoI is set to transform how music is approached by teachers and experienced by children in special schools and beyond. Drake Music have been informally promoting the SoI framework to teachers, schools and musicians we work with and are keen to extend this work in the future.
The SoI framework is designed to help teachers and parents relate what they observe in music sessions with a child into more concrete statements/ levels – and then to help them plan activities that will hopefully support that child to progress to the next level(s) within appropriate timescales. The framework is divided into three areas (or ‘segments’): Reactive, Proactive and Interactive. Each segment is then divided into 6 levels and then each level has four elements within it (confused? It’s much clearer to lookat it than to explain…)
The fact that levels are broken down into smaller steps supports teachers in making accurate judgments about where a child’s (or adult’s) current progress lies. So, for example, a child might be working at Reactive Level 2 (R.2) that reads ‘shows an emerging awareness of sound’. You can then look at the four element statements and see which one is the ‘best fit’ at that moment in time. Teachers can log-in to the SoI website and enter the data that they collect (safely and anonymously) which generates printable graphs and charts of a child’s progress.
Perhaps the strongest feature of the website is the fact that you can watch video examples that relate to the different segments/ levels/ elements. Historically, such examples have been thin on the ground and teachers had found it difficult to compare and share their practice with others. Watching video examples during the SoI presentation, I could immediately relate some of the assessment descriptions in the SoI framework to students I work with.
Admittedly, there are some potential challenges on the horizon. Although we now have an evidence-based framework and support materials, there still remains the issue of the quality of much of current SEN music teaching in special and mainstream schools. Without confident teachers/ TAs with the requisite skills, time and support from head teachers to provide quality provision (particularly in relation to use of music technology) the framework may not become a truly dynamic tool in every setting.
There are logistical hurdles – historical in nature – to overcome if SoI is to become firmly embedded. Many of these issues were highlighted in our recent consultation on barriers to formal music education. Teachers told us that they need more time to plan and often don’t have access to a designated room where equipment is permanently left set-up; disabled young people say that poor organisation and planning can be as significant a barrier to participating in music as the nature of a person’s disability. So, the success of SoI must be linked to a general drive to address these wider issues and the new National Plan and hubs will be crucial in establishing new benchmarks for improved provision.