‘At the age of nine I was given the chance to learn to play the violin. The provision was free. My Head Teacher saw music as a priority in the school curriculum. This opportunity changed the course of my life’.
Music shapes lives.
It enables us to process emotions, provides us with the social tools to engage with people, appreciating and understanding differing views and cultures. Music provides a safe space and respite from the challenges and troubles of life, as well as giving a sense of belonging and identity.
It offers the chance to participate in something meaningful. It enriches life and our daily existence.
As a teacher, musician, and parent, music has played a key role in my life and the lives of my family.
As Head of Department, I see the role that music plays in broadening the creative experience of pupils, whilst providing opportunity for the development of transferable life skills, and enabling children to simply enjoy music making.
Music may, or not, be the subject that changes the course of a child’s life.
But as educators we know how important it is for all pupils to have equal opportunities, enjoying the same journey of experience and gradually finding those ‘things’ about their education that speak to them.
Whole Class Instrumental Teaching (WCIT) for all.
Learning an instrument may still be seen as something possible only for those who can afford it.
However, for the last 16 years, Whole Class Instrumental Teaching in Birmingham has been delivering a programme of instrumental learning, financially subsidised by the music service, that is committed to equality, equity, and opportunity for all Primary pupils.
Services for Education Music Service delivers over 360 classes across the city, with an additional 200 hours of elective teaching.
Every week we work with 15,000 pupils via the WCIT programme. (Part of the 36,000 pupils we teach each week across all provision). We know, from speaking with Head Teachers, that for very many of these children, WCIT removes the barriers to learning an instrument.
There is no cost to parents, and pupils have access to an instrument for the whole of year 4.
How can the WCIT programme fit in to your school curriculum?
WCIT takes place in Year 4 and is delivered as part of Year 4 Music Curriculum.
The hour-long weekly lesson is an holistic music lesson, comprising performance, singing, listening, composition, improvisation, and analysis.
Pupils are taught music via the instrument, but it is so much more than an instrumental lesson. The lesson content dovetails into previous learning (Nursery through to the end of Year 3) and builds skills necessary for the learning that will take place in Year 5 and 6.
Schools have a wide range of instruments to choose from, and we work closely with the Head Teacher to match an instrument that we feel will best engage their pupils and families.
Our commitment is to see the year-long learning in Year 4 lead to continued learning in Year 5 and Year 6, with the hope that the pupil will carry it into their secondary education.
7 Ways to Make the Most of Your WCIT Teaching
After many years working in WCIT, there are certainly a few things I have learnt that really help schools to get the full positive impact from WCIT teaching:
1. Consider teaching space and environment
Providing pupils with an appropriate learning environment will benefit the learning experience.
Ideally a school hall or large space where the class can be arranged in a circle or horseshoe.
This means that each pupil’s interaction with the teacher is the same in terms of visual and aural instruction. It can also help the pupils in sound production, especially at the very beginning of their learning.
Having a large space to utilise also provides the opportunity for group work and music games.
2. Don’t forget storage space
Once you have decided on the instrument for your school, plan where the instruments will be stored.
Making appropriate space for storage will create a smooth and ordered start and finish to a lesson, maximising learning time for children.
3. Plan for pupils with additional learning needs
In mainstream primary, it is important to consider pupils with additional learning needs (sensory, environment, physical, processing).
With the correct information and the right support these pupils can take a full and active part in the WCIT lessons, without creating anxiety or misunderstanding.
Services For Education has an Inclusion Department, available to support staff regarding SEND.
We also deliver WCIT in special schools by trained staff, offering the same provision in a way that is appropriate for the setting.
4. Involve parents at the earliest opportunity
Regular performances that are valued within school will create strong connections with parents as they are invited to celebrate the achievements of their children.
5. Get class teachers involved
WCIT is a CPD/CPL opportunity for the class teacher and/or Teaching Assistant.
Evidence shows that the classes showing most progress during year 4 are those where the class teacher is actively involved with the lesson, learning alongside their pupils.
6. Encourage pupils’ passion for music
Encourage pupils to continue their music journey, and nurture their passion, by electing to play in Year 5 and 6.
During these years, pupils will have instrument focused lessons, with the possibility of music medals or music grades. Pupils will also have free access to an area ensemble, which will extend their music experience.
Year 5 and 6 pupils will be able to represent the school in the wider community, sharing their achievements and music making.
7. Prioritise WCIT
To get the most from the Whole Class Instrumental Teaching programme, do not view it as a bolt-on, but as an integral part of your music curriculum delivery, and as a priority.
It may be that the logistics and practicalities of arranging the necessary space and staff timetabling pose some initial difficulties, but by committing to making it work, the rewards will be more than worthwhile.
What amazing achievements will your pupils enjoy as they take their first step on this journey?
How will WCIT benefit your school?
Including WCIT within the school curriculum brings music to the heart of school life. It provides opportunity for pupils to explore expression, connection, sanctuary, belonging, engagement, and understanding, and as a class the pupils build a strong team ethic, learning what it means to be part of a collaborative event, such as a performance, where everyone’s contribution is vital.
The friendships that we build through music making can become lifelong and connect us with people who may otherwise have stayed strangers.
Music has the power to feel emotion and make connections that would otherwise stay hidden.
If you would like to have a chat, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In writing this blog, I am sharing my passion for equality in music education.
This aspect of our teaching can transform the lives of our pupils. I see it happen every day.
Music is an area of education that provides equality, equity, inclusivity and can inspire and be a significant factor in engaging young people.
About the Author
Helen Brookes GMus PgCe PgCert SOI – Head of WCIT, Services for Education
Born in Birmingham, Helen attended primary and secondary schools that valued and promoted excellence in musical education. In 1986, she completed her music degree at the University of Huddersfield. Helen completed a PgCe at Birmingham City University and is a qualified secondary school teacher. Her teaching has covered both primary and secondary as a music specialist and during this time she developed projects specifically engaging boys in music. In 2018 Helen completed the PgCert ‘Music and Children with Special Needs: Sounds of Intent’ (University of Roehampton). Helen is committed to inclusion and equality in music education opportunity. Helen has conducted orchestral and choral ensembles and has promoted performance opportunities for local communities. In addition to her Head of Department role Helen continues to teach violin across all school settings. Helen has worked for the Music Service since 2005.