Specialist music teacher training for primary schools – UK
This example describes one model of training for primary music specialist teachers in the context of a generalist course.
There is a shortage of qualified music specialists teaching in primary schools in England. Primary teacher training in England is based on the principle of the general class teacher. This is reflected in the learning outcomes and minimum requirements for training programmes laid down by government. There is a small number of undergraduate courses and the one described here is the only postgraduate course which includes a dedicated module for music specialists.
The course as a whole provides general class teacher training to 160 students and 22 of these are music graduates who apply to the specialism. Within the constraints of national requirements, the course offers a unique balance of general and specialist training. Teachers trained on this course are able not only to teach the whole curriculum but also offer music teaching expertise, leadership, commitment and enthusiasm to schools.
III. The Example
Students come to the course from a range of musical backgrounds. Most have a first degree in music from a university or music college; some are mature students who have been working as professional musicians. Although most have a classical background there are also folk, jazz, and rock musicians.
The course takes place over 38 weeks with half of that time spent on school placements. Students first undertake a needs analysis and identify personal goals for strengthening skills and broadening their repertoire relevant to teaching. The approach to learning integrates theory and practice: seminar workshops involve demonstration and modelling by the lead tutor, other visiting expert music educators, and aspects of musical skills and knowledge are sometimes taught by particular students. The core of the curriculum is on learning to teach for musical creativity. Students plan activities and tasks collaboratively and undertake peer teaching.
Their specialism is also used in the context of interdisciplinary learning and teaching – for instance, in an integrated study project for the whole cohort on special educational needs the music students educate their non- music specialist peers in the special contribution of music. They also participate in the generalist music sessions so that they learn to appreciate the broad range of attitudes towards music and abilities to be found amongst ‘non-specialists’ (who will be their colleagues in the future).
On each occasion they are teaching in schools they are expected to observe experienced teachers, team teach, and ultimately plan, teach and evaluate their own units of work. They may teach classes across the school but mainly work with their assigned class (as class teacher). They also set up music clubs and teach or direct instrumental or vocal ensembles according to their interests.
As part of the university based course there is an intensive specialist week in which the students learn about current initiatives and projects focused on music for children, they also lead a composing project in a number of primary schools. Attention is also given to the skills and understanding needed for subject leadership. Their major assignment (at masters level) comprises: an extensive literature review of research and scholarship on an issue (of their choice) affecting music teaching and learning which leads to their perspective on implications for their own practice. They then plan and teach a sequence of lessons in which the issue chosen can be addressed in practice. The submitted text is a critical evaluation of the outcomes.
Students who qualify from this course are highly sought after by schools as there is a general shortage of music expertise in primary schools. The specialist approach in this institution is unique in the UK and attracts high quality students, and a higher proportion of male students than other institutions (there is a serious shortage of men training for primary teaching). External examiners and government inspectors have praised the programme as a whole and recognise the value of offering specialist training.
The challenge is to maintain music as a specialist subject in the face of institutional constraints (it is more expensive to offer this than just a generalist training course); and the constant search for schools where students will see good practice and gain positive feedback for their music teaching from experienced music teachers. The assignment is designed to require the students to teach a substantial amount of music in school (something that is otherwise not always facilitated by the schools).
There are real concerns within the music education community in England about the neglect of specialist training for primary music. This course demonstrates that it is possible go beyond government requirements and train skilled and highly motivated music teachers.