Ofsted Inpection. Music Deep Dive. February 2024

MUSIC ‘Deep Dive’

Walking into the building I meet a governor busy with blue tac. It’s not going to be a normal day. It never is. Up in the Music Room I remove my weekly timetable from the wall because we don’t want the inspectors to realise that we are not following the usual timetable. Glancing at my emails I read a warning about suspicious men in the area taking photos of children outside schools. Police advice has been emailed to all staff.

At 8.20 all the staff meet the lead inspector and the two other inspectors. “We are here to support you, just do what you normally do” etc. etc. As if! Who is kidding who here?

At 8.30 my headteacher introduced one of the inspectors to a member of Senior Management and to me. The inspector warmly shakes my Senior Management colleague’s hand and ignores my hand. We make our way to the Music Room. There is no table for the inspector to put his laptop on. I quickly grab one from our Music Studio. He plugs in. It’s going to be a long day.

To start with he explains that he will be staring at his laptop throughout the whole ordeal and that I should not be put off by this. He also says it is OK if I need to collect my thoughts and pause before answering questions. Finally, he tells me that if I want to add more information at the end then I will have an opportunity to do so.

He begins by asking for some context. How long have I been at the school? I tell him that I am in my seventh year. He then asks me to sum up the delivery of music at Rhyl in one pithy statement: “Building musicianship through singing” I boldly declare. I then go into a more expansive reply explaining some of the principles behind what I do. I mention Kodály and solfa, rhythm names and ‘sight before sound’. Does he know what I am talking about? It’s impossible to tell, but he keeps typing. He does say “That is very clear thank you” so I have to assume that things are going well. He then says “The National Curriculum states Key Stage 1 children should ‘learn to play tuned and untuned percussion in time’. Can you show me where you have this in your own curriculum?” It’s make or break time. I produce my printed ‘Rhyl Primary Music Curriculum Map’ and point to the Year 1 ‘Skills’ column (in between the ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Appraise’ columns). It says ‘I can play simple two-note songs on a tuned percussion instrument’. He nods. I start to elaborate on the two-note bit, about how important it is to move from the simple to the complex and why the actual two pitches in question have considerable significance in the greater scheme of my work. He says “I get the passion, but we need to move through these questions.” Like everything that happens in a school, things must be done with a sense that there isn’t quite enough time to get them done. Does the day stretch out before a child invitingly when he or she arrives at school. No, it doesn’t. There’s a hell of a lot things to be done and not enough time to do them all.

Next, he asks how I include music from different historical periods in the musical learning at Rhyl. This gives me a chance to hold forth on the great variety of music that the children are exposed to through musical outings, musical guests, Singing Assemblies, musical productions and so on. I tell him about the unit of work on Hip Hop that we do in Year 6. Does that count as historical? I’ve heard horror stories of music teachers being berated because a child in the school did not know who Beethoven was. He asks me if I can point to the hip hop work on my Curriculum Map. Is he suggesting that I am lying? I point to the proper column. Again he nods and taps.

These are predictable questions but you never know what an Ofsted inspector might come out with. This is an organisation that has been undermining teacher confidence for decades. “How do you ensure progression?” Again, I have a go at describing the superb pedagogical principles inherent in the Kodály approach to teaching music. Is he listening? Is he a musician? Does any of this make any sort of sense to him? Was he once a teacher? He’s asked me who I am, I have no idea who he is. Having replied at some length he asks where I can see this. These are the crisis points in this interrogation. If I didn’t have something on paper that I can point to there would be serious problems. It would be like trying to go abroad without a passport. I show him my ‘All Songs and Rhymes in Every Year Group’ document. It clearly shows the songs and activities becoming progressively more complex and demanding as the years go by from Nursery to Year 6. He can’t possibly understand most of what I am showing him. For example, there are solfa letters indicating the particular pitches in all the songs. There’s way too much information on the sheet for him to take in at a glance. And, of course, he only has time for a glance.

The next question is text book. How do I support children with Special Educational Needs? It’s a sensible question. I tell him that Mixed Ability Pairs are enormously helpful in an active, practical subject like Music. I tell him I can arrange music we are going to perform into easier and more difficult parts. I then waffle a bit about using peers to demonstrate, making teaching points out of mistakes and praising success. It’s not a great answer but the truth is, the Mixed Ability Pairs are well established and extremely useful for supporting the most needy in the class. Having told him this he seemed to want more so I tried my best to give him more but it wasn’t very inspired. When you see me teach you can see how I support the most needy: endless patience, care and a willingness to break things down into tiny steps.

How do you ensure that children remember what they have learned from one year to the next?” There is a simple answer to this. Repetition! I told him that there are Year 3 classes at Rhyl singing songs that they may have sung in Year 1 or even Reception. I decided to emphasise here that I do not teach discrete units of work (e.g. jazz or ‘pitch’). My teaching is an ongoing progression, always building on what has gone before. The crucial word here is ‘incremental’. It’s a word that Ofsted like at the moment so I made sure that I used it. They may be strongly against the word ‘incremental’ in a few years but for now it is a good one.

We’ve been talking for about half an hour. It is time for him to wrap up with a final pair of questions about safeguarding. He asks me when I had my last Safeguarding training. I tell him September, although I realise now that the training in January (about keeping safe online and good practise with regard to internet use) was also Safeguarding. He asks me to name the most recent developments in the ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ (KCSiE) document. I tell him I do not know. He is kind enough to tell me the answer himself: Children with a Persistent Absence (PA) of more than 10% are now regarded as ‘Children Missing in Education’ (CME). He also explains that children who witness Domestic Violence (DV) are now considered to be victims of DV. I thank him for telling me this.

He then asks me what I should do if a child makes a disclosure about the executive head teacher. I tell him, correctly, that I would have to take this to the Chair of the Governors. He makes sure that I know the name of the Chair of the Governors, which I do.

In the final moments before he dashes off I tell him about our Year 5 ‘Advanced Musicianship Group’ (two 15-minute sessions every week) and also about our Youtube channel and, in particular, the background to the latest song up on the channel. He makes some extra notes.

During the rest of the day, he watches 20 minutes of a Year 3 lesson and 15 minutes of a Year 1 lesson. I don’t know what he thought about these as there was no time (naturally) for feedback of any sort.

It was a relief to me that he did not mention the National Plan for Music Education (NPME) because this is something that I haven’t paid a lot of attention to. I did look into it and it seemed to be describing what I do already. It’s a mystery to me how a thirty-minute interview and two very short lesson observations can be regarded as a ‘Deep Dive’.

Here are the subsequent notes, with regards to Music Teaching at Rhyl, from the senior Leadership Team’s feedback meeting with the inspectors:

  • Leader has strong subject knowledge and expertise – explanations and skills are very clear to pupils, especially technical vocabulary
  • An ambitious curriculum informed by National Curriculum requirements
  • Is ambitious for all pupils with well thought out curriculum
  • Vision and intent is clear – to build musicianship through singing
  • Is clear culture of music across there school
  • Curriculum is well thought through with cumulative progression of skills and knowledge
  • There is effective assessment and intervention. Misconceptions are addressed when needed in the moment for pupils
  • Skilful use of questioning
  • Impact of curriculum is very evident