Monthly Archives: July 2014

10 lessons learnt from Australia Part II

Following on from Part I

6. Resources ARE important

We know that MF can be done with limited equipment and space – the Find Your Voice approach particularly – and we have always reassured poorly-resourced music departments that they can still get something from MF. However, let’s be honest here. Students will gain so much more from MF (or any music lesson) if they are able to work on high quality equipment/instruments that don’t break every time they bash out a power chord. MF Australia works integrally with the music industry to provide heavily-discounted ex-loan-stock equipment to schools, highlighting the importance of this investment to headteachers. The set-ups we saw were nothing short of professional, and highly respected by the students as they felt trusted. You wouldn’t expect a science department to function without all of the necessary equipment, so why do we often have the resolution that music departments somehow have to ‘make do’?

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Timbarra PC

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Timbarra PC

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Trafalgar Primary School

 

7. Positive attitude goes a long way

The ‘can do’ attitude of all of the teachers I met was utterly inspirational, both in the schools and at the MF2 conference. Obstacles exist just like anywhere else, but the approach was of finding ways of overcoming, rather than dwelling on them. One example is at Timbarra P-9 College with Peter Crowe and Julie Sullivan. They knew that they wanted to do MF, but like many teachers had limited resources. So they set about building an impressive case for the reasons why the school should invest – putting together a band who performed to the senior leadership team and the school council as a way of demonstrating what classroom music could look like. They had to go through an application process, and pitch their case. All of this took time, hard work and determination but their students now have the benefit of a purpose built music department full of state of the art equipment, and MF approaches are successfully embedded throughout all music teaching. Peter and Julie were two of the most positive advocates of the value of MF for students I have ever met, and this will have been a significant contributing factor to them achieving this.

8. Have a clear vision of what is important

MF is about to go through some significant changes to its organisation and structure (more on that in a future blog). It has been inspiring to see how clear and determined our colleagues in Australia are about the value of why they do what they do. Our mission has always been about providing an entitlement for all students, the many not the few, to access a high quality music education. We do this by working with teachers, with the students as the end beneficiaries. In Australia this is exactly the same. However, in the UK we have also been trying to show how what we do can fit into other peoples’ agendas, other organisation’s requirements, and our central purpose has at times been in danger of being diluted. Our by teachers for teachers approach has been the constant driver, but spending time out of our situation and looking back in has helped to reaffirm our vision for MF.

9. Don’t sweat the small stuff 

This is a regularly-used phrase in MF team meetings by our project adviser David Price, and the Australians reiterated this in many ways. I chaired a panel discussion at the MF2 conference and one of the topics was notation and how important it should be within MF lessons. Similar debates have been raging on twitter in the UK for the past few months, and everybody has got themselves tied in virtual knots, so we expected similar from Australian colleagues. However, the 80+ teachers at the conference were all in unanimous agreement that if students learn best from notation, that is great, but that aural learning holds a lot more legitimacy for the majority. As one teacher said: ‘I’ve never been to a party and someone has said how cool is that treble clef but they will be wowed by the guitarist jamming in the corner’. Are we in danger in the UK on focusing on debates that take up time and energy, without actually have an impact on the young people themselves?

10. Having fun is ok 

It is rare that I have much time and space to relax, reflect and get a bit of perspective on my own practice, and it was fortunate that our MF Oz hosts built in a lot of social time into our trip. Having fun, relaxing, drinking a bottle of wine (or two) is when the BEST conversations happened, and I have come away buzzing with ideas about how we can make MF better, and how I can improve my own work. This wouldn’t have happened sitting around a table in the boardroom – just as learning should be fun for students, working should be fun and engaging for adults as well, and the MF Oz team certainly made sure that happened!

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MF Oz meets MF

Related links

My colleague Anna Gower’s detailed blogs on our Australia trip: Melbourne and Musical Futures AustraliaImmersion in one genre: the right approach?Primary music: no limits?

Musical Futures Australia

Blog post written 3rd July 2014 and updated 5th December 2016

10 lessons learnt from Australia Part I

I had the privilege of spending two weeks in July 2014 in Melbourne working with the Musical Futures Australia team through a combination of school visits and delivering sessions at their MF2 conference. The trip was an eye opener in terms of seeing how good quality music learning has no international boundaries. But more than that, it showed how the instigator of a project or programme often has as much to learn from those that implement and adapt it. Here’s what I found out…

1. Musical Futures is beautifully transferable

We were approached by Ken Owen and Ian Harvey in 2010 to establish MF Australia as its own limited company. Four years later and 200 schools are using Musical Futures with approximately 50,000 students. They have delivered 42 professional development days to more than 800 teachers, and by the end of 2014 had 15 champion schools. Their main focus is in Victoria, but increasingly schools across NSW, Queensland, SA, WA, TAS and NT have taken on MF. Step into any of these classrooms and you will see students participating in and engaging with music learning in exactly the same way as in any UK classroom. It highlighted the sustainability and transferability of MF – our strength is that we collectively have developed a deep understanding and knowledge of how young people best learn music, no matter what the context.

2. Senior leadership support is critical

In each of the four schools we visited (Doveton College, Carranballac, Timbarra-PC and Trafalgar Primary School) it was immediately evident that there was a whole-school buy-in to MF. Senior leaders demonstrated a deep understanding of the impact MF was having on their students, and had clear reasons for supporting it. There was absolutely no question that the music department was viewed as a critical and integral part of each school, and was highly valued by staff and students alike. In a panel discussion at the MF2 conference Associate Principal of Doveton College Vicki Miles gave some useful advice to teachers: 1) When headteachers see students learning effectively it speaks for itself 2) Tell other staff what it is that you do – run professional development around Musical Futures putting other staff in the shoes of students 3) Find out what your senior leaders prefer in terms of learning about impact – it may be a list of bullet points, or it may be a film of students working 4) Be public and visible with the effectiveness of MF – perform in assemblies etc.

3. The focus must remain with the students

I’ve visited many schools in the UK and witnessing a growing sense of despair around the quantity of data music departments are required to provide, often unrealistically based on literacy and numeracy targets. For even the most innovative and effective music teachers this can take its toll. In Australia I was struck by the overwhelming feeling from every student, staff member and senior leader that music in school is entirely about the students as musicians, making sure their individual learning needs were being met and their achievements were being celebrated. Of course assessment and data collection was there, but in the background. We need to keep focussed on what is important, and why we are all here.

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4. Depth not breadth

One of MF’s core messages is that it can be applied to any genre of music, and that it isn’t just a ‘rock and pop’ project. However, in some cases this has resulted in MF being diluted, and trying to be all things to all people. In Australia they celebrate and focus on the music that students are interested in, and getting them to a very high standard within this. The following clip is of a group of 8/9 year olds from Trafalgar Primary School under the brilliant leadership of teacher Ben Smith, two lessons into a songwriting project where they were tasked to write a song about anything they liked. They could all play a number of chords on keyboard, guitar, could hold a bassline and a drum rhythm, were playing in time, in tune and functioned perfectly as a band. This level of performance and discussion was happening across the class – every student was working musically, creatively and could discuss what they were doing using musical terminology.

It has really challenged our concept of breadth versus depth – if all primary school children in the UK were leaving with this level of musical skill on a range of instruments, it would transform the way we could approach MF at secondary level.

5. Keep expectations high

All too often I hear the phrase ‘well my students could never do that’. Set expectations high, and students will aspire to this. Set them low, and they may fall into complacency. In the schools we visited there was a very apparent sense of high expectations from all involved (students, music teachers and senior leaders). Performance forms a regular part of MF in Australia, not just class performances but properly produced and stage managed events that the whole school becomes part of. For example in Caranballac School there is a performance culture among all students. They have a fascinating programme for gifted and talented students where teachers audition students and create a school band who come off timetable for one day PER WEEK to learn all aspects of music performance, composition, production and industry, culminating in a state-wide tour of gigs across Victoria. Are there any schools in the UK where students are allowed the time (during classroom time) and space to develop musically in this way?

Click here for Part II: Resources are important; Positive attitude goes a long way; Have a clear vision; Don’t sweat the small stuff; and Having fun is ok!

Related links

My colleague Anna Gower’s detailed blogs on our Australia trip: Melbourne and Musical Futures AustraliaImmersion in one genre: the right approach?Primary music: no limits?

Musical Futures Australia for updated stats and professional development programmes

Blog post written 3rd July 2014 and updated 5th December 2016