Whole Class Ensemble Teaching – a partnership between schools & hubs?


For the last few weeks, our Music Education Solutions® team have been frantically dashing around the country delivering music INSET for music hubs, services, and schools. Many of the hubs that booked us wanted training specifically for their WCET staff, so we’ve spent a lot of time talking to WCET teachers, and each other, about the realities of delivering WCET in 2019.

The most frequent discussion we had with teachers was whether the element of WCET as a ‘partnership’ between schools has been lost. Many schools now use WCET as PPA cover, and with budgets so tight in recent years this is completely understandable. However, when Wider Opportunities (now WCET) was first developed, it was always meant to be delivered in partnership by hub AND school staff, and the Ofsted and Youth Music reports on the pilot projects noted this collaboration between the two groups of staff as a major strength of the initiative. Not only that, but WCET wasn’t ever meant to replace the music curriculum, but to enhance it, so in effect we should have WCET lessons supported by the class teacher AND separate music curriculum lessons delivered by the class teacher too!

So how can schools ensure that their staff are involved with WCET, whilst still giving them their PPA entitlement, also timetabling them to teach separate music lessons, and stay within the overall school budget? The basic answer is that they can’t! In all our years of supporting schools up and down the country, we have only ever come across one primary school in all the thousands that we’ve worked with that has achieved this unicorn status.

The music hub teachers that we’ve talked to over the past few weeks are the first to recognise this. We have had numerous discussions about schools being ‘customers’ in a way that they perhaps weren’t under the old system of local authority music services, and the pressure this puts on hubs to give schools what they want, particularly when the future of centralised funding is so uncertain.

However it’s not just the practical, delivery aspects where partnership between hubs and schools seems to have become less secure. Theoretically, there is meant to be a partnership between hubs and schools at the design phase of WCET, but how many hubs are really involving schools in the design of WCET programmes? Whilst hubs have the musical expertise advantage (in most, but not all, cases) schools are the experts on their own pupils, and have a statutory responsibility to ensure that individual pupil needs are being met. A one-size-fits-all approach to WCET is the opposite of the approach taken by schools to every other area of the curriculum, which may be one of the reasons why more schools are starting to design and deliver their own programmes rather than buying them in from a hub.

We have already seen the difficulty that schools have in becoming full delivery partners in WCET, but it is possible that if they were involved at the design stage they would be more invested in the delivery of these programmes. However, equally we must acknowledge that for music hubs to design different versions of WCET for every school in their area would be an infeasible task, especially considering the cost and availability of instruments if schools are given free choice.

So how can we reignite the partnership between schools and hubs in the design and delivery of whole class ensemble teaching programmes? One approach which we developed on behalf of Sky Music Education Hub was to create a ‘toolkit’ that could be used by instrumental teachers in conjunction with school staff, to personalise the basic WCET programme to each school’s particular needs. This proved extremely successful and resulted in an independent quality assurer commenting that schools and instrumental teachers were working much more closely, and that the quality of the WCET lessons observed had improved as a result.

Another approach that we have developed in partnership with Jersey Music Service (who are not bound by ‘hub law’, but have chosen to follow a similar model of their own volition!) is to link WCET provision to SMEP (in Jersey called MEPAS). This allows the music service and schools to identify priorities for developing the whole school music offer, and where appropriate use WCET as one of the mechanisms to address this.

Whichever approach we adopt to try and strengthen partnerships between schools and hubs, the one big factor that may provide the most help is the new Ofsted framework with its ‘deep dive’ subject scrutiny. This may be just the thing that helps schools and hubs to work more closely together in planning and delivering WCET programmes, as each school needs to be in a position to evidence to Ofsted (if required) how they are planning for the progression of musical skills over time. It will be interesting to see if this is indeed the case, and we look forward to talking to staff at next year’s September INSETs to see if we were right!

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