Interviews with Peter Casswell and Maureen Cain

Peter Casswell is a retired person manager who used to work in a manufacturing industry and is now a school governor. A school governor is not a teacher, he or she is a “critical friend” of the school and works voluntarily. He or she is not employed by or paid by the school. Maureen Cain works as head teacher and has worked as a primary teacher.

For many years the Government attitude was that music was not essential but was desirable. To keep taxes low the schools got less money and could not afford to have expensive educated music teachers. It is starting to change now but most schools still do not have music teachers because they are expensive, but some schools do have special music teachers. In primary schools the teachers have all the subjects with the students, including music. The education the children get in music depends on the interest and skills of their teacher. Some teachers turn on the cd- player for the children to listen to and sometimes sing along. Other teachers are more skilled and can therefore teach the children more music. They can learn scales, notes, compose songs etc. Sometimes the more skilled teachers can teach music in other classes. However Maureen thought there could be a risk of music not being taught if you were not skilled, if you suddenly had to teach music you wouldn’t be experienced and couldn’t develop in that subject.

Peter and Maureen said that English schools can hire a peripatetic. Peripatetic means “wondering around” and a person working as a peripatetic goes to different schools and can teach music in whole classes and in smaller groups. If the parents want the children to learn how to play an instrument they can also hire the peripatetic after school hours.

Children can play the recorder with a teacher at school and play at lunch time. It is not possible at all schools but at Peter’s school children can have a lesson for about 30 minutes. Some teachers set up clubs for different subjects for example music and play or computers after school for the children at primary school before the parents collect them. Parents pay a fee for the children to learn how to play an instrument.

 

Maureen told us about her view of music education today and most of all she thought it was not prioritised by the schools and they often trust the classroom teacher to be enthusiastic about playing and teaching it. Often teachers don’t play themselves and it is not necessary in British Universities to learn that because the primary teachers’ education is very wide. If there are cuts in the budget she believed music education was among the first to be effected. The solution would be funding it with money for instruments and educated teachers just like in secondary school but it has not happened. Nor have they worked in teams with teachers teaching special subjects that they swap between them in many classes, because of the teachers’ need for wider teaching practice and expertise. Some teachers have tried to work in teams but that has only very recently appeared at her school. Music teachers are expensive to hire so instead they turn to peripatetics who are musicians that are privately hired to help with bigger organisations like orchestras or choirs and they spend one or a couple afternoons in the school for that purpose. In some cases they have all the children and all the music classes at the school. Sometimes they help children to learn an instrument but the parents have to pay a fee.

She wants the children to compose in 4th grade and be able to set poems to music or paint or write stories to music. That is a sort of mixture of subjects but there is nothing on the schedule that says they have to mix different subjects. It is more spontaneous and is used when they can fit it into the lesson plan. They play both pop and classical music and they all have to learn pitches and notes. They can learn how to play an instrument if they want to and have concerts and performances during the year. The performances can be a concert that the parents and other classes in the school can listen to or short performances at school assemblies. Music is compulsory at her school but it does not have to be that way in Great Britain.

In Manchester there are two private schools that are on the highest level among schools in Great Britain called Royal Northern School of Music and Chethams School’s junior department. These are for very gifted children and require an audition and a lot of effort from the children in learning to play. Some are funded or have scholarships.