Thursday, November 25, 2010

Principles or Principals

It’s time we started to remind people about the secret wars being waged in education against the Arts, by some school Principals (no names no least at this stage) who think that by reducing time given to the arts subjects, for example music, that children will have more time to become literate and numerate and thus score very high in NAPLAN. We don’t go to school with the exclusive idea of passing NAPLAN tests. We go to school to learn how to learn and to learn how to think. There is more to life than NAPLAN and when NAPLAN is truly dead and buried we will still remember Mozart, Beethoven, John Lennon and Leonard Cohen.

The Arts make us literate; the Arts make us numerate; the Arts inspire us to achieve things we thought unachievable; the Arts help us to think in abstraction; the Arts give every child an opportunity to think, dream, imagine, visualize, improvise, explore, evoke, suggest, imply an enormous range of emotions and ideas, and remember all Arts pertain to the condition of music.

Any school Principal who makes a decision to reduce teaching time in Arts subjects is making a decision not to educate children properly.

This type of thinking keeps Australia in the cultural backwaters of the world. Take a moment to look at the clip of Timo Klemettinen from Finland and read at the end of the clip the things that are happening in their music education system and the value they place on music education.

Circling bubbles which contain spelling mistakes is not education; it’s circling bubbles. Teaching to NAPLAN tests is not education ; it’s teaching to tests. I could learn all the chemical formulas known to mankind by heart but it wouldn’t make me a chemist.

Stand up and be counted. If music time is being taken away from your child go down to the school and demand to know why. Don’t take this behaviour lying down. It’s anti-educational, barbaric and dehumanizing to have children deprived of arts subjects. Australia has the potential to be a truly great country so let’s stop circling bubbles with spelling mistakes and start teaching children real things such as music. More later. Join the ‘Let’s Grow Up Australia’ society which promotes thinking, arts subjects and love of learning for its own sake.


  1. Hi Richard, I love your comments, but feel that they could be better directed at government policy and funding than principles.

    I am on the School Council of a inner city state primary school. We have a choice of funding Music, Art OR IT - if we want to run programs for the other bits we have to raise the cash for it. 1 hour per child per week of music needs about $60,000 a year.

  2. Well said Richard. Unfortunately the majority of the general public believe that X factor, Britney Spears, Susan Boyle and Andre Rieu constitutes music. We need to get back to the 'good old days' of education where Art, Music etc was part of the basic curriculum. Children need to be opened to all forms of music, not just what the media serves up to them. David Lewis.

  3. Richard, you inspire me constantly to keep pushing onwards. Thanks you.
    Our school has no sequential and continuous music program and when I asked last week about it, I was told that there would be a little in the budget... so as not to take away from the other arts.... enough for the teachers to do a PD day in music education...!
    Why not just say that music degrees mean nothing??? What am I meant to do? They are interested in Count Us In, but I think this is the school's idea of fixing the problem by giving students a sing along (no disrespect meant to Count Us In either).
    Do you have people to you send out to talk to school councils and parental/staff bodies at schools?
    I would also agree with the first response above, that there needs to be more funding from the government.
    Regarding NAPLAN, the results would be 'better' if only they ran a music program! I do actually wonder whether there are educators out there that are not aware of the benefits of a musical education, and I just don't know how it is possible to let them know, and what I can do about it. Any ideas?

  4. Richard I couldn't agree more! Being a musician, I recently asked my daughter's school why music was not included in the curriculum. I was told that Art, Sport and LOTE are the school's specialist programs and that there was no room or money for anything else. I was then told that if children wish to partake in music lessons, then they can take private lessons!
    As for NAPLAN, my daughter (who is in grade 2) is already learning how to do these tests in preparation for next year. She has already come home crying because she is scared of failing these mutiple-choice tests.
    Something definitely needs to be done about including music into the curriculum. It is just not good enough that I have to teach my children to enjoy music myself.

  5. This battle is a never ending one, and not just in Australia. The first letter to the editor I wrote after arriving in the US (where I have been living since 2001) was to defend music education in the face of a letter of criticism from a district resident complaining about funding it. But fight we must, for our children's sake and for the sake of the arts themselves.

  6. You know I agree frantically with you Richard, but I think the mistake that is being made is to try and incorporate music and music education (which I see as separate and yet connected aspects of the topic) into the school day. They don't do that in Finland, or Venezuela or even Latvia for that matter. It's AFTER SCHOOL. And that's what we should go for here in Australia too. Think of how many more Principals would be supportive of after-school music programs which value-add the school day rather than compound the issues the schools face in their ability to squash everything into a school day. Basically that means instead of giving a measly 30 minutes to music and other arts subjects per week, as the National Curriculum proposes, you can offer music programs that run 5 days a week, for 2-3 hours each day. And, you could use properly skilled, qualified and fit-for purpose music teachers to give the children what they so richly deserve - a great music education, which is based on joy and excellence. To argue that the school day can cope with an overlay of arts subjects and then suggest that the school can cope with the added qualifications and teaching stresses associated with that and meeting government NAPLAN strictures, is pushing the proverbial up that hill. We need to compare the way music is taught in schools (that have it) to the way sport is run in schools - after hours for the most part. Let the National Curriculum provide its half-hour of "music experience", but do the real stuff, after the school day.

  7. I think the Scandinavian Satellite schools are a testament to a different approach. Well documented also. They simply put creative activity at the end of the day and literacy numeracy at the beginning. Attendance in complex multicultural middle schools increased and entry into senior high school went up. Im afraid the half hour a week that happens in Queensland schools often serves to turn children off music if the 'music frightened' primary teacher trainees are anything to go by. I agree the real music can happen better in the community but schools can be a community if they recognise their role in community and the capacity of music to build it.

  8. I'd have to respectfully disagree with Chris above, in that I believe that music education should be part of school hours. Increasing the hours kids are at school will not be popular with anyone within the community, and funding that sort of program would make is an extra-curricular activity, something that we are fighting against. Music Education needs to be part of the basic education of every student in Australia. There is no reason why music can't be taught for one hour minimum during the week, and then supplimented by the classroom teacher during the week (sourced by the music teacher).
    On top of that, students have the option of choir etc. I really believe that eventually every student should have access to a few hours per week at school as part of their day and that it IS possible.
    Australian's are not going to agree to having their school days lengthened. They are amoungst the longest in the world as it is.

    1. There has been some very thoughtful suggestions put forward on this subject, however many students would not be able to take advantage of out-of-hours music teaching as they would have to travel on their only bus home, a journey which can be over an hour.

  9. This discussion is every so important!

  10. What Steve suggests is an excellent idea. But it still runs foul of the willing principal/school issue unless it is a ubiquitous model. But I stand by my statement that we should look to the international experience and develop our system accordingly, rather than taking a "we are Australia and different "approach which I think makes little sense; our children are much the same as children from Finland, Venezuela, Canada, the US etc.
    Kate - I do think we should (also) include music in school time - perhaps more than you suggest - but if we think one hour a week is going to cut it it terms of a comprehensive and excellent music education then we are sadly mistaken. I think a really well run after-school music program would be very attractive to children if it is well constructed, fun, includes a meal, and other incentives to both the children and parents/community.
    Currently, many children in Australia either do a after-school sporting activity or go to after school care programs. Others go home and watch TV or hang out with their mates at shopping centres. If we could make hanging out in music - learning how to make music in a variety of genres then it will attract children and young people; also we can offer music as an alternative afterschool care program. And the parents will be more than happy (provided it doesn't cost them too much, or any more than afterschool care costs them now). I think we should also offer structured music programs into daycare centres, too, as a way of getting music to children prior to them reaching primary school. It would be miles easier to work with them musically when they got into K-6.
    Above all I think we need to be passionately creative with music in schools, not just do an hour a week.

  11. Chris, I love the sound of what you suggest. I just can't see it being funded.
    Music can NOT be an extra curricular activity like a sporting activity. Parent's should not have to pay for something that needs to be part of every child's education at school.
    Not to mention, how to go about finding enough fully qualified music classroom teachers ( and paying them)to come in from 3.30 to 5pm (only) everyday to teach, let's say, 500 students in a primary school? How many primary schools are there?
    Logistically it is a nightmare.

    There is also the notion of 'down time'. Kids need space and time to relax after school and not be little machines. If parent's need after school care, it is there to provide kids with options to enjoy a variety of activites, including sitting down quietly to read, so they can unwind. Not all parent's use after school care, and most parent's wouldn't use it if they didn't have too.
    Also, our school day starts later and goes longer than most other countries, which is why your suggestion may work in Finland but would be harder to implement here.

    I agree though that music does need to be taught properly in Kindergartens (3 and 4 year olds) by trained teachers. When my eldest was at 4 year old kinder she found the end of year concert stressful because the teacher was tone deaf and had the kids trying to be tenors.

    As I wrote above, even one hour classroom music is a struggle in most primary schools but it is better than nothing, and we need it to begin SOMEWHERE, and it needs to be funded by the Government. Ideally, I would have an hour in the afternon EVERYDAY spent learning music with a qualified classroom teacher, but that would also be a logistical nightmare, requiring 5 part time fully qualified teachers in an average primary school, so that every class benefited.

    I really don't know the answer, but the fact is that there needs to be a starting point, and an hour a week, plus supplimenting with their classroom teacher (listening, singing), and choir (again with a fully qualified teacher) would have to be an okay start.


  12. Richard, I want to thank you for your inspiring comments which encourage me to keep fighting to see music valued as highly as other areas of school curriculum. I operate a private music teaching studio and have done some teaching during school hours at the local primary school.
    It has been made clear to me on several occasions by the principal that the school curriculum takes priority over my classes. It has been made clear that I am lucky to use the space free of charge.
    I was very quick to point out to this principal that what I was doing was highly valuable to the school community and that such programs would set them apart from others. I since found out that the school uses pictures of some of my students playing their instruments in their school brochures, which proves my point very nicely.
    I will not be teaching in that space anymore because I'm not willing to work in an environment where music is not valued as it should be.
    This school put on an appalling concert (if you could even call it that) and proves your point that a lot of what is passed off as music education is entertainment.
    A ten year old student of mine even pointed this out to me very astutely, that they don't actually learn anything about music during their class music lessons, that it was nothing more than filling in time. (These were her words too!!)

  13. At the heart of this issue are several things. Firstly the passion of the Principal. I was so lucky to go a NSW government Primary school where music was really valued. We even had a string program! I am now a teacher (a teacher-lirbarian not a music teacher) and I have worked in one school out of 6 where music reached the same heights as the one of my childhood which brings me to the second issue - the teacher. Music program flourish where there is a passionate and skilled teacher. Alas where there is no one available in my experience the music lessons that could happen as part of RFF (release time) either don't happen (we have art and PE in my school!) or they are taken by someone lacking this essential passion etc and the kids are turned off music.
    What am I doing about this? The third issue is music should still be taught in the school but it has to be done by regular classroom teachers. Music is a part (yes it is a small part) of the syllabus which in NSW is called CAPA - the old NSW syllabus was so much better - I am trying to re-ignite the passion for my teachers by putting technolgoy with music.
    I am making interactive whiteboard pages (SMART Notebook) for my staff (all non music people) and will present these on the first day of the school year.
    I want the teachers to start including a music session in their program each week, I want this to be really easy and fun and filled with wonderful experiences for the students. We own plenty of percussion etc. And we do have a school band but there should be so much more going on.
    There seems to be some very useful sites on the web that non experts can enjoy and use easily.
    This is only one small step but I think it is an important one.

  14. Richard et al,

    It seems to me that everything revolves around the following:

    1. Principals and their schools
    2. Qualified teachers of music
    3. Time allocated.
    4. When in the day to teach children music
    5. Funding
    6. Curriculum

    If we can address each of those factors, the problem is solved. Frankly even if everyone was positively committed to resolving all of those issues conventionally (i.e. within the existing system), it would still take us a decade or so to implement. The number of qualified music teachers for schools is woefully inadequate. So we can keep on railing on about how pathetic the system is and how wrong the attitude is with government, the departments of education, or the principals or we can simply DO something about it. I may sound like a broken record about this, but I have little or no faith in the Government(s) doing anything serious to change this on their own. Whatever happens it's going to take a revolution in education and the arts to make it change. Frankly the entire education system could do with it. If anyone's seen any of the Sir Ken Robinson lectures on the subject on You Tube, you will know what I mean.

    I think, to do what we need requires for everyone involved in music education (or as many as we can muster) to gather and form an action coalition to change things here in Australia; it happened in Finland - this from the The Association of Finnish Music Schools web site:

    "Immediately after its establishment in 1956, the Association of Finnish Music Schools (SML) tried to stir up debate about the need for separate legislation concerning music school activity. The process took over ten years and involved continuous discussions with the Ministry of Education and MPs as well. At the end of the 60's the struggle at last came to a happy end, and in the beginning of 1969 Finland instituted legislation on state aid for music schools.

    The separate legislation not only strengthened the financial stability of the music schools, but had a strong influence on almost all activities, including the competence of teachers. At first state aid was very modest and given to only nine music schools in different parts of Finland. Today, state aid covers about 49% of costs, and there are 89 music schools enjoying this valuable support. Conservatoires, being institutes of professional training, receive higher state aid through a different sector of education..."

    And it happened in the UK too, this from the Music Manifesto web site:

    "The Music Manifesto is the result of a unique collaboration between the DfES (now DCSF) and DCMS with music organisations, musicians, teachers and composers, the music industry, broadcasting, teacher and musicians' unions, arts and education charities and Trusts.

    The Music Manifesto was developed as a result of three seminars led by the then School Standards Minister, David Miliband MP. An internet discussion board was set up to enable ongoing discussion on the developing text and input was also sought from the Music Advanced Skills Teachers network and the wider National Music Education Forum."


  15. From what i can play for life etc = Back scratching.....feathering personal nests and so on. It's a starting point....but not much is happening.

    It's simple.....Two things need to be done.

    1. Make it compulsory that all schools offer private instrumental tuition.
    2. Money / a private investment model is created to assist private providers to roll out a regulated service to all Australian Schools.

    It's vital that community musicians are sourced.

    It's also vital that theres a partnership model created to support the role out of private providers.

  16. well said Mr. RICHARD GILL these points play a vital role in my life.o am also running a private school.and after reading i thought t will complete and can be overcome my problems performing during school as a principals

  17. My son loathes the drudgery of reading and writing at school (although quite capable of it) and is expected to be content to do it for most of his school day. He's just hit grade three so NAPLAN is on everybody's lips. It pains me to see him so miserable and uninspired and I dream about a more creative and interesting learning space for him and the other boys in his class who have learned to read and write and hate school.I have voiced my concerns. There has been no change.

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