ANSWERS PROVED BY MR STASIO SLIWKA, DIRECTOR OF MUSIC, KING EDWARD’S WITLEY
Can you tell us about your music department and the resources it provides?
Our music department almost represents a school within a school; we have the academic ‘timetabled’ music lessons but in addition to this we have the ‘music making’ sessions which fall outside of the classroom. At King Edward’s Witley we have five full-time staff including a music administrator as well as 17 visiting music teachers who bring specialist coaching across a broad choice of instruments – 30% of our pupils have additional music lessons outside of the core school timetable.
Music is a mandatory lesson up to Key Stage III (Years 7, 8 and 9) allowing each pupil a 55-minute lesson every week. Years 7 and 8 all sing in a choir in line with the national drive to encourage singing within schools. Years 7 and 9 (some pupils join the school in Year 9) are also given the opportunity to learn an instrument of their choice.
As the child progresses they will tend to focus more on listening / composing and performing music and this is certainly the case by Year 9.
The music department runs 150 lessons per week outside of the curriculum and it is this 1-1 tuition that is the backbone of the music department.
We have a full orchestra and 15 different ensembles from a string quartet to a saxophone group and a pop group! Our belief is that music is accessible to all, whatever your level …
All Year 7 and 9 pupils are provided with the opportunity to have 15 free lessons to learn an instrument of their choice.
Our Chapel Choir enjoys an excellent reputation and because of the School’s historic links with the City of London, the Choir sings in London at least once a term for a City related occasion. In addition, the Chapel Choir is regularly invited to sing in UK cathedrals (again once a term) and embarks on a foreign tour every other year.
The music department is open from 07.45 to 21.30 every day and at weekends from 09.00 to 19.00.
How important is music education?
Music is part of everyone’s daily life, it is something that we are exposed to on a daily basis and it has a tremendous effect on us, both consciously and sub-consciously. We know that 20% of children learn an instrument and 60% of adults wish they had! The School has a strong commitment to music and as a result, places significant resource behind this aspect of school life. Learning an instrument helps to encourage independent learning because the emphasis is on the individual to practise. In addition to this, this type of learning helps a child to improve their analytical, mathematical, organizational, literacy and teamwork skills. Finally, for many music is also a release, it helps the pupil to relax, it provides access to a new network of friends and can often provide a number of socializing opportunities. As Confucius said ‘Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without’.
How many music lessons a week do students have?
Years 7, 8 and 9 have one lesson a week. Years 10 and 11 (GCSE) have five lessons a fortnight (2.5 hours / week). Sixth Form pupils following the IB have nine lessons a fortnight (4.5 hours / week) and those following the A-level course have around 12 lessons a fortnight (5.5 hours / week). In addition to these timetabled lessons pupils will be having private instrumental lessons and taking part in various ensembles / groups.
Are students encouraged to take up an instrument/choir as an extra-curricular activity, if so, how?
As above, all pupils in Years 7,8 and 9 take up music within the curriculum. Those that are talented may choose to take up extra-curricular music based activities and are encouraged to take up at least one ensemble, maybe more.
What advice/guidance is given to pupils to help them find an instrument that suits them?
That’s a difficult one. Our pupils join us from a broad cross section of schools – prep schools, state schools and overseas schools, the latter of which generally does not include music at all in the general curriculum. We encourage our pupils to have an open mind. In Years 7 and 9 children are provided with 15 free lessons to learn an orchestral instrument of their choice – each child is required to put down a first, second and third choice and obviously we strive to meet their first choice request. This is a real opportunity open to all and one that is not affected by the cost of the instrument / a child’s background or experience. At King Edward’s we are very fortunate to have access to a large stock of instruments and we have around 60 available for loan. We’re constantly surprised by the choice of instruments some pupils will request – we’ve even managed to fulfil a pupil’s desire to learn the bagpipes!
Do you have any reward schemes in place, if students spend time practising?
In short yes and these have taken a few years to put in place. We recommend each pupil practises three times a week and this is timetabled before and after school and is always supervised. We also have a points system based on the feedback from our visiting teachers, points may be awarded for effort / progress and performance in a lesson. These points are regularly updated on the school notice board and at the end of each term, points are turned into vouchers that are redeemable in our school café. Ultimately though, the best motivation stems from pupils witnessing the progress that can be made by regular practice.
What essential skills can music teach, any transferable to other parts of school life?
Makes pupils make better use of time and improves organisational skills
Boosts team skills
Betters mathematical ability
Improves reading and comprehension
Exposes pupils to culture
Provides a route for pupils to express themselves and relieve stress
Creates a sense of achievement
Helps pupils make friends
Improves listening skills
Teaches pupils to be disciplined
Helps reduce stage fright
Promotes happiness in the pupil’s life and those around them
Pupils learn better
Pupils perform better in exams
Pupils make friends throughout life – school, university, life beyond….