Monday, 23 November 2009

Don't call us, we'll call you...?

I'm currently attempting to establish some dialogue with the major UK examining bodies around access issues for disabled musicians to GCSE, but it has not been completely plain sailing; navigating the jungle that is customer care, epic adventures through middle and upper departmental management structures, before, finally, many weeks of waiting for that elusive email...

Well, perhaps I'm stretching the point slightly, but in my experience many of the boards have been slow to respond to our enquiries (but helpful in the end) One of the issues I have been seeking to raise with them is identifying potential barriers to accessing the GCSE Music course. Now, I'm happy here to acknowledge that many of these hurdles have been addressed under the latest course specifications e.g. students no longer have to perform in the traditional sense, they can multi-track a performance using a sequencing program. Equally, in recent years SENDA legislation has ensured that 'reasonable adjustments' are being made with increasing regularity for a wide range of music students with disabilities/ SEN.

So, no issues then? Well, not quite; based on our day-to-day experiences working with disabled students in both mainstream and special schools, as well as previous conversations we have had with the examining bodies, we anticipate that there may still be some gaps between the specifications as outlined on paper and the reality of taking and passing the exam for some disabled students - in particular those who face severe physical barriers. One example is the question of establishing benchmarks for marking work played using assistive music technology, side by side with conventional instrumentals. It's simply not clear how thoroughly tested certain specifications have been in this arena.

Equally, I have no current evidence (but I'd love to be put straight) that the boards have definite targets for increasing the numbers of disabled/SEN candidates, nor that they have bespoke initiatives to achieve this. In a separate, but related story, the BBC this year announced a rise in the corporate target for disabled staff to 5.5% by 2012. In the media generally, there is a concerted move by all major broadcasters towards involving and encouraging more disabled actors, presenters and production staff.

This is what I believe we need more of from the major examining bodies in the UK; to actively reach out to those disabled/ SEN students who are currently overlooked, or simply didn't think that taking GCSE was within their grasp. Now that really would be something to celebrate come 2012.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The kaleidoscope of provision: notes on the recent NAME conference

The recent experience of presenting on the Drake CDI at the NAME conference (enough acronyms?) has left us with food for thought. The presentation itself went well, with positive feedback from those attending; but equally, the conversations and meetings we had during the day caused us to pause and consider the current state of the disabled/ SEN music education 'sector'.

I use the word sector with due caution; despite all the examples of excellent practice by schools, music services, community musicians and other music educators, these pockets of work are often fairly isolated, disconnected and scattered around the UK. Many accomplished music educators are working very hard and extremely passionately from the point of view of their own particular experience e.g. PMLD, SLD, EBD but are not always able to usefully relate these experiences to other areas, which, although technically different are ultimately linked by the same agenda of breaking down disabling barriers to music.

And back to those acronyms...a colleague recently suggested - not without a sense of humour - a terminology 'amnesty' where professionals could bring their own definitions to the table without fear of potentially being criticised for describing their work improperly. Effective communication should be a strength for the sector rather than a potential barrier.

On the topic of communication, the sharing of best practice is particularly prescient for our own CDI work. From the start we were conscious of not 're-inventing the wheel'; we would have been delighted to have found out that an existing project was already up and running. At one of the meetings at NAME we attended, the Special Educational Needs Special Interest Group (SEN SIG - those acronyms again!) many of us described our own, very different experiences of delivering Wider Opportunities work in various parts of the UK. By the end, we agreed the need to pool our experiences and resources and maybe present at the next National Music Services conference.

And this is the point: wherever relevant, we need a collective response, not only with the aim of improving music provision for every child, but also supporting each other as professionals. The CDI wasn't created to specifically do this; but we have started to see that it has the potential to begin to draw together the kaleidoscope of provision out there.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Everybody's talking...

The three priorities for the CDI right now are 'communication, communication, communication' (apologies, of sorts, to T. Blair)...

We need to let all the partners we have made thus far - examination boards, teacher training providers, LEAs, schools, government - aware of the fact that we have been successful in our EF bid, and what our plans are for the next three years.

The key to this is to stress the mutual benefits of collaborating. For example, in relation to examination boards, we’ll be spreading and sharing all this CDI info far and wide, disseminating our NOCN course and resources and also accessible GCSE music resources. In turn, the boards expand and develop their access procedures and see an increase in disabled students taking their courses.

Equally, closer to home, I want to ensure that everyone in Drake is on board and contributing ideas, opinions and experiences as well as suggesting contacts to follow up. This is a national initiative and so should reflect the talents and knowledge of associates across the country. I hope people will take time to read my blog whenever possible!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Drake Music CDI blog is go!

This is the first blog of many I will be making over the next three years, describing the process and progress of the Drake Music Curriculum Development Initiative (CDI), funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation under their 'New Approaches to Learning' strand. I'm fairly new to blogging so it will be an interesting way to document the journey!

The overall aim of the CDI is to broaden access for disabled musicians to the music curriculum in general, and to music accreditation in particular. We will work to identify the barriers that this diverse group of students face, and develop working partnerships with key organisations - examining bodies, teacher training institutions and government - to increase achievement, inclusion and equality in music education.

Stay tuned...