“I have a cunning plan…”

I vaguely remember a lesson plan I wrote some years ago, whilst I was teaching classroom music in school. It involved activity, composing, and all sorts of exciting stuff. The lesson it was due to be delivered we had some thug let off the fire alarm in the previous lesson. The kids were as high as kites when they got to the music room. Then to cap it all, we had a wasp in the classroom, and my room had only tiny arrow-slit like windows. The cumulative effect of these issues was such that my well-planned lesson became a nightmare of behaviour management.

When Jonathan Savage and I were writing our book on lesson planning (Fautley & Savage, 2014) we toured many schools, and spoke to many teachers. A common point made by secondary school teachers of all subjects was along the lines of “if only someone could produce a decent lesson planning template, all our worries would be over”! We called this “the magic bullet”, and knew we’d never be able to produce it. Indeed, we didn’t – and don’t – think that it was possible. We also worried about the thousands of person-hours that have been expended, and continue to be expended, up and down the land by groups of teachers inventing and re-inventing blank lesson planning templates for themselves.

I am also reminded of an episode of ‘Red Dwarf’, when Rimmer spends so long devising a complex revision plan, he doesn’t actually have time to do any revision.

All of these have been rolling round inside my head recently as I have been thinking about the National Plan for Music Education (NPME). This is because I believe that simply having a plan alone is not the answer to a problem! The NPME is all very well, in its own way, but I wonder what its own way really is? This wondering has been caused in part by what seems to me to be the partisanship that the NPME affords, with classroom music teachers being almost unaware of this (I have only very limited empirical data on this, but I stand by it as a statement!) and music hubs having it almost rule their everyday existence.

Gary Spruce has written very cogently about the NPME:

In promoting a narrow concept of music making and music education (limited ways of musical knowing) the NPME has the potential to provide a framework, rationale and legitimation for a curriculum where ‘other’ musics are included only under the terms of the western art music paradigm. This then excludes the musical histories and identities of those social and cultural groups whose musical practices do not reflect the practices of western art music, resulting in the ‘distancing’ of many young people from musical ‘knowledge’ as it is presented in formal music education contexts. Music education then becomes primarily a process for inducting young people into the hegemonic practices of western art music thus returning music education to … exclusionist practices (Spruce, 2013)

Whilst Nigel Taylor observes very pertinently that:

“Music education hubs”, charged with leading the delivery of the National Plan for Music Education, are a well-meant construct. But their formation and introduction “as a local partnership of organisations” was rushed through by the funding body with scant regard for key principles of partnership working and time it takes, with muddy thinking on constitutional legitimacy, little knowledge of the music education landscape, let alone teaching and learning, and a seemingly naïve view of economic reality. (Taylor, 2015)

The possession, a la Baldrick in ‘Blackadder’, of a “cunning plan”, is not, in, and of itself sufficient to produce action. And, following on from Nigel Taylor’s thinking, I would like to ask if the NPME is sufficient for the whole music education sector? In my last ‘in lieu of a blog’ written with Regina Murphy, I delineated three different purposes for music education. In the past, all of these have managed to peaceably co-exist, and not cause each other too much trouble! But in time of neoliberal austerity, there is a danger that the various camps will end up at each others throats. We must be very careful not to let the aforementioned neoliberals drive us to immolate each other, we need to find common cause with our joint real enemies, not waste our time, energy, and blood, fighting with each other.

So, and I also need to take my own advice here (‘physician, heal thyself!), we need to be very careful about what we say in public, as lack of understanding of alternate views within music education can cause real hurt and distress. And the last thing we need at the moment is to be fighting each other when the barbarian hordes are at the castle gates.

Happy holidays, everyone!

References

Fautley, M. & Savage, J. (2014) Lesson Planning for Effective Learning, Abingdon, Open University Press.

Spruce, G. (2013) ‘Participation, inclusion, diversity and the policy of English music education’. In Harrison, C. & Mullen, P. (Eds), Reaching Out: music education with hard to reach children and young people. , London, Music Mark

Taylor, N. (2015) Music Education – why does it not taste as good as it smells? Available from: https://teachtalkmusic.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/coffee/

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3 Responses to “I have a cunning plan…”

  1. Richard Jones says:

    The real NPME is the national curriculum. The NPME is an accountability structure
    A true NPME can only exist when every primary school has a specialist music teacher, when there is strong partnership between primary and secondary sectors and Hubland supports and extends school based provision.

  2. terryloane says:

    I believe you are quite right, Martin, to be sceptical about the value of planning. I certainly agree that “simply having a plan alone is not the answer to a problem”. I have often heard education managers say: “By failing to plan, you are planning to fail.” [This is actually a misquotation of Benjamin Franklin, but that’s not the point here.] What is the point is that simply repeating this article of rationalist faith does not prove it works! Did Beethoven write a plan for his 7th symphony before he composed it? I doubt it. Did the Beatles need to ‘plan’ Sergeant Pepper before they produced the world’s first true concept album? Certainly not.

    I like your example of the revision plan that took so long to produce that it allowed no time for revision – a good example of how planning fetishism can be utterly counterproductive.

    You say that many classroom teachers feel that things would be a lot better if only they had “a decent lesson planning template”. But do they mean that such a template would enable their students to learn better? Or do they mean that a template would just make it easier for teachers to jump through the hoops required by the compliance-mongers (i.e. senior staff and inspectors)? I feel sure it is the latter. Dare I suggest that the correlation between the quality of real student learning and the perceived quality (or even the existence) of a written lesson plan is close to zero? If there is any rigorous evidence to the contrary I would be fascinated to see it.

    But it is not just individual planning (for revision and lessons) that can be problematic. Large scale plans, like the NPME, can also be irrelevant distractions. Just think about the amazing development in the quality of ensemble music-making by young people that took place in youth orchestras, bands etc. during the second half of the 20th century. I was around for most of this time and there wasn’t a plan in sight. It happened from the bottom up, or perhaps we could say from the periphery inwards towards the ‘hub’ (following Richard’s allusion to Hubland in his comment)

    The proper place for detailed plans is in rationalist, reductionist projects. You couldn’t build the Channel Tunnel or Crossrail without detailed planning. But bringing the methodology and language of civil engineering projects into creative education is surely at best irrelevant and at worst disastrous.

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