What schools say
David Crunkhern, Headteacher
David Crunkhurn is the head of Westbury-on-Severn Church of England Primary School, where every child experiences at least a term of learning an instrument during each year of their schooling. He told us about how learning an instrument through whole class tuition is developing transferable skills and benefiting both pupils, parents, and teachers.
What music do you offer pupils beyond the statutory requirements of the curriculum?
We have a rolling programme of whole class instrumental or ‘ensemble’ tution in strings and brass. Over the course of every year, each pupil in the school except the reception class will have learned an instrument for ten weeks. The aim is that they’ll learn strings in years 1,2 and 3, and then transfer their knowledge to brass in 4,5 and 6. Tamsin Little came here to run a workshop, through the music hub and Gloucestershire Music, and that really took it to the next level, the children were really inspired. We’ve now also started a string quartet of our gifted and talented children and we’re organising a music evening at Westbury Court Gardens to showcase all the musical talent in our school.
What do you think are the benefits of whole class instrumental tuition?
What I’m seeing with the children is that it’s developing their ability to concentrate, to work together and to listen. And of course learning an instrument gives them confidence, develops self-esteem, inspires them, and helps them to develop as a whole person. All of those are transferable skills which are being developed incredibly well through music. Some are even creating compositions together – so it’s collaborative learning too. They learn so much more than the music. But beyond that, the teacher’s learning too. From a CPD point of view, it’s excellent, cost effective training. If I was to put teachers into music training, it would cost me for a course and for a supply teacher.
How do you justify the cost, considering all the financial and curriculum pressures which are leading many schools the other way?
Budgets are very small here, being such a small school – but I’m committed to the well rounded child and to giving all pupils, not just some, the opportunity to experience what it’s like to learn an instrument. I’m aware of how difficult it can be for parents to afford instrumental lessons. When I was at school, it didn’t cost parents anything for their children to learn an instrument. That’s the only reason that I was able to learn, as I came from a family that weren’t that well off, yet weren’t so badly off that, for example today, they would be entitled to bursaries. There are many families in that situation. That’s particularly the case for those first lessons, when you’re not sure if a child is going to be inspired to want to continue. I think it’s important that as a school we support parents and pupils, by giving children their first introduction to learning an instrument. Over time, what we’ve seen here is that many children will then move on to take music lessons themselves, and even take grades – that may not have happened without offering them that first opportunity in school. If we don’t offer give them that opportunity, we’re denying children the most fundamental thing that makes us human – that ability to be creative, and to make music. If we take something so valuable away, we’re denying them something very important, part of their discovery at primary age.
What advice would you give to heads who may be struggling to develop music in their school?
Start small with whole class work and see what happens: If you want to develop music in your school, whole class instrumental tuition is perfect. What the music curriculum tries to offer is all there, and more. If you initially try it for ten weeks, you may find you want to extend it. Start small and see what happens. Just do it it: You need to be confident and courageous: if you believe in it, make it happen, take the risk. Part of the challenge of leading is to put your neck out and try it. If it doesn’t work then change it. Get everyone on board: Ultimately, there has to be a whole school commitment to it. You can’t have one teacher saying, ‘I’m not doing that’. That’s to do with leadership and that has to come from you, it needs to be part of your vision from the school. People talk about ‘doing’ the creative curriculum, but we’ve developed our whole curriculum so that it’s creative. If you want your school to be a creative school, you have to embed music and the arts.
Jo Lo, Class Teacher
Rhydian has a natural way of working with the children and getting the best out of them. Every session was run in a punctual and professional manner. He uses various techniques to gain the children's attention and shows excellent behaviour management skills. There were no behavioural issues, despite there being some real characters in the class. Every child was fully engaged and motivated to want to do well.
It was a pleasure to watch all the children, but especially the SEN children, learn in a supportive environment which really brought out the best in them all. I was so impressed to see the SEN children who struggle in the class with other academic subjects show real skill when playing. The benefits to their self esteem cannot be overstated enough. The whole class were impressed with how they sounded. The final performance to parents and the whole school was a resounding success and I received amazing feedback from those who were there. The performance was filmed and is now on our school website. This is what music teaching and learning should look like. I really hope the school continue to use this service as it is vital for children to get such quality teaching.
I would like to thank Rhydian for his commitment and effort in getting the very best out of my class.
Mrs Jo Lo is Class 4 teacher at Lydney C of E Primary School in the Forest of Dean.