Friday, 24 September 2010

Mr Gove has a good musical idea, but based on a weird premise

Well, I will pause briefly, in having a go at Mr Gove and his bizarre ideas about calling schools academies and letting in the racketeer/profiteers. Because he has said this:

It’s a sad fact that too many children in state schools are denied the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. Evidence suggests that learning an instrument can improve numeracy, literacy and behaviour. But more than that, it is simply unfair that the joy of musical discovery should be the preserve of those whose parents can afford it.”

What opportunities are being denied? I am puzzled.

I think it is appropriate here to sing the praises of Leeds, Leeds ArtForms:Music Service, the schools of Leeds and City of Leeds School in particular. And the picture above is of the award-winning Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows taken at Leeds Town Hall on February 12 this year, two days after some of them had played at the consultation evening which outlined the proposals to close their school and put an end to the band. The event was the Leeds Schools Prom, run by Leeds ArtForms Music Service; it was a celebration of the some of the best central Leeds ensembles, and they played to as many Leeds primary schools as would fit in Leeds Town Hall.

And now rewinding to February 10, when some of the darkest clouds started to blow over the Hyde Park area of Leeds and over my life, my family's life, my neighbours' lives, and the lives of the newly-arriving immigrants to Leeds looking for sanctuary. The day of the public consultation to close down City of Leeds School.

It was actually also my partner's birthday, but while he was gazing forlornly and alone on the birthday dinner that we had to abandon, the "kids" and I were at school welcoming 400 parents, councillors, staff, community activists, members of the press and the dark forces of evil [as one might describe the would-be closers]. We were doing this by playing some tunes on the ArtForms' steel pans, housed at City of Leeds School; we were the leaders and players of Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows, winners of the Music For Youth World Music Award 2009, just played the Albert Hall.

And you know, Michael, you're right, playing music can improve literacy, numeracy and behaviour. And all but two of the Sparrows of university age are actually at college or university. [The two who aren't are my own children, but that's another story].

The Sparrows have always known that playing music would improve their literacy etc, and I would wave this theory at them and at their parents whenever they tired of the rehearsals, and dreamed, in the winter months, of getting the bus back early to Beeston, or Holbeck or Burley and snuggling up in front of the tele. And yet was it only last week that one of them forewent playing a gig on a Saturday because she had so much homework? Yes, it was.

At City of Leeds School, in the Music Department we have four acoustic and one digital drum-kit/s, three cellos, about 8 violins, 15 small glockenspiels, a samba set, about 15 keyboards, 2 upright pianos, about 8 brass insturments, 3 flutes, 3 clarinets, 3 dohls, 10 acoustic guitars, 3 electric guitars and 2 bass guitars, 16 steel pans [including 3 sets of basspans] and boxes of new good quality hand percussion, and anything I have forgotten. We have peripatetic teachers from Leeds ArtForms for brass, keyboards, vocals, steelpan, drum-kit, woodwind, higher strings, lower strings. Children come out of lessons to see the peris and can practise breaks and after school whenever they want. We charge £10 a term for lessons, and, if parents or carers can't afford that [and some can't] they don't need to pay.

Between the two of us Music teachers we play most of the instruments and sing. GCSE Music classes are full and popular; and there are also the BTEC Performing Arts classes etc.

But because one cohort, one year, ie the year before [60% plus not there even in Year 7, and not even English as a fluent second language], overall academically did badly, it was enough for Ed Balls and Ed Leeds to conspire between them to shut us down altogether. And to achieve this end, spokespeople for Ed Leeds were hardly ever off the airways and out of the papers, giving us a good rubbishing. Worse, Ed Balls offered in his letter to call a snap Ofsted. Disgraceful! [But, as the snap Ofsted completely backfired . . . Yo!]

That was an unashamed plug for our Music Department, for the Leeds ArtForms Music Service and for Leeds itself [Mr Gove, if you're ever in Leeds . . . . ]. And I am saying, yes, in this school serving the poorer neighbourhoods, we especially value Music, and the other Arts, and work hard to get pupils involved [eg big project coming up with Opera North]. And yes, there's always the odd skirmish with the Core Subjects about leaving Maths or Science for a quick scrape with the peri on the violin.

So what I am asking you, Mr Gove, what do you mean, when you say:
It’s a sad fact that too many children in state schools are denied the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. ?

Not the case at City of Leeds School, not the case at Primrose, or Parklands, or Carr Manor, or Lawnswood, or South Leeds or any other high school in Leeds that I visit as part of my ArtForms job.

Music just needs bigger status, and for that, Michael, thanks for the interest, but whatever you do please don't start trying to measure anything. And I will be back to the usual hostilities tomorrow.

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