I started my career as an NQT at Morpeth in 2010. It’s the only school I’ve worked in apart from my PGCE placement schools. After having a number of different roles in the school, I’m really excited to be Head of Music. I think it’s one of the best jobs I’ve had. There are lots of challenges, and it definitely brings up lots of new things to think about – the role goes way beyond simply being a music teacher. There’s a whole new element to that in terms of the pressures involved, in terms of data etc. At the same time what is really exciting about being a HOD is the chance to shape what music looks like in your school, to develop schemes of work, to develop your ideas and to think carefully about how you utilise your team (if you have one) and how you can empower them to get the best from each of them.
What are the main challenges in your role at the moment?
One of the challenges we’ve had for some time is how we get students better prepared for the challenges of Key Stage Four, especially with the new GCSE curriculum. We have 150-200 students having instrumental lessons here, which is fantastic, but I really want to broaden that out and narrow that gat by giving all students access to instrumental learning through the classroom curriculum. I really believe that it’s important we allow everyone the opportunity to access what is often the preserve of a middle class education. There are lots of challenges in making this happen, one of which is how we enable more students to learn an instrument and understand musical theory without going backwards and having students sitting at keyboards with lots of talking about music instead of playing it. One of the things we’ve done is look at all the great things that Musical Futures have such as Just Play and Informal Learning and how we can take those ideas and develop a structure to our key stage three that allows for some really strong progression in both performance and understanding of theory. We use the Just Play resources as the starting point for our year 7 students – through this approach we look at what a chord is, the differences of major and minor, song structures and get them to a point where they can confidently play a range of instruments. Once they have this skill and knowledge, they are able to become autonomous, and it’s this that I’m really looking for students to have so that they can be in charge of their own learning, so that they can learn and explore themselves without a teacher being there all the time, or the experience of music being only when music is on the timetable.
What does your curriculum look like at Key Stage Three?
At key stage three we have a big emphasis on practical musicianship – They walk into a class, there’ll be music playing and there’ll be instruments in the room. We want it to recreate the feel of walking into a really nice music shop with a sense of there are so many toys. What they see and hear when they walk into a lesson needs to inspire. The all the activities are based around learning and understanding through playing music. We want to make sure that we’re embedding the theory and the concepts of music in a really practical way – in simple terms it’s learning and understanding through doing. We’ve also reconsidered what homework should be. It’s now a purely online system that includes lots of listening, theory and tasks that are directly linked to what they are doing in lesson. We wanted to create something that would engage students and that they would be quite excited about doing. For us this was about creating multimedia content and making sure that there was the possibility of having instant feedback. One of the examples of this is our YouTube channel Theory Rocks where students watch a video and pick up some key ideas and concepts. There’s then a quiz to do which they submit and for an instant score. They can then decide whether they want to have another go or not based on their score. What’s really interesting is that so many of them go straight back in and repeat the homework if they are not happy with their score. I’ve also created a homework website in WordPress which has all the videos and quizzes embedded. This has had a significant impact on the ‘out of hours’ engagement in music and also means that by covering the theory aspects outside of school we can focus on the practical aspects of music in lessons. All of our feedback in lesson is verbal and we make sure that we assess in a musical way.
What is your advice for new Heads of Department or people considering moving up?
Becoming a Head of Department is a huge learning curve. I’m managing a team of teachers, a music department manager and 10 peripatetic teachers. I think the important thing is to make sure that you communicate well and make the best use of the skills within the team. Being a Head of Music is a brilliant job and it’s very rewarding, but before you take it on I think you’ve got to be aware of the challenges that exist in your school in terms of the reputation music has and how you might improve that. However, you also need to be mindful of the wider picture – what is music like in the borough and how can you link up with other schools to improve music in the county, borough or city. This bigger picture is really important, because if music provision is declining in the area, that will pose a problem to you no matter how good music is in your school. The decline in music and arts at the moment is terrible, and you have to accept that you’re walking into a battle when you take up that role, but this shouldn’t be daunting – it’s a really exciting challenge!
Morpeth is well known for enhancing music provision through a wide range of partnerships – How does this work?
Partnerships for us at Morpeth are so important, and they bring so many opportunities for our students. We have a new partnership with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and I’m looking at how this can help us to enhance music for all of our students to see respond and participate, and not just those traditional instrumentalists who have 1:1 lessons. The orchestra rehearse here now, which means lots of people see what we do here at Morpeth, but I’m also excited about the opportunity it offers our students to see people similar to their own age playing at such a high level. We also arrange lots of international trips for our students, such as visits to Madrid, New York and South Africa, we also recently performed at the International School at The Hague where students stayed with host families, which meant they also got a taste of what family life was like in the Netherlands. In terms of funding the trips, we always ask students to make a contribution to secure their interest, but we look externally to funding partners to pay the bulk of the costs for trips like this.