Achieving QTS: Teaching Arts in Primary Schools

Author(s) Penny, Stephanie; Ford, Raywen; Price, Lawry and Young, Susan
Publisher Learning Matters, Exeter
Published 2002
Pages 192
ISBN 1903300355
Reviewed by Vanessa Young
Faculty of Education, Canterbury Christ Church University College
Review published 1 December 2004

At first glance, this book gladdens the heart. It is unusual to find such specific reference to the arts in relation to the 'Professional Standards' for gaining QTS (TTA/DfES, 2002). The book is part of a series providing course material specifically for trainee teachers. On closer examination however, it is disappointing in its conception.

One of the key problems is that at no point is there a clear definition of what constitutes 'The Arts' as a coherent set of disciplines or as a way of knowing about the world. We are told that this is an introduction to the teaching of "four core arts subjects: art and design, design and technology, music and physical education". Whilst not denying that there may well be artistic components to design and technology and PE (i.e. the design and dance), to call them "core arts subjects" is misleading at best, and more seriously could result in student misconception about artistic process and about the arts as a way of knowing about the world.

The opening chapter deals with generic aspects ("to avoid needless repetition") which, it is argued, are applicable to all the arts. The advice under the some of the headings however (Planning a Scheme of Work, Teaching Strategies, Monitoring and assessment, Self-evaluation) is very general and could apply to any subject at all. This is a missed opportunity to examine subtle but important distinctions that could apply to teaching and learning in the arts. What issues does it raise for the arts, for example in always having pre-specified objectives and targets against which to measure achievement? There is a potentially useful table at the end of this first chapter, which matches the standards for QTS with implications for teaching the arts. Though valuable when specific examples are given, at times it is impossibly vague. Consider this extract from the table under Knowledge and Understanding (TTA, 2002):

Those awarded QTS must demonstrate that they:
Know a range of strategies to promote good behaviour and establish a purposeful learning environment

Implications for teaching the arts in primary school
Develop a range of appropriate teaching strategies that need to be applied [!]

Each of the subsequent chapters focus on one of the four 'arts' subjects. As well as giving an overview of the subject, each includes some relevant professional advice, practical tasks, which are always useful for both tutors and trainees and anecdotal examples which help to contextualise and particularise the content . The readings at the end of each chapter are also a worthwhile addition.

These chapters are undoubtedly valuable summaries. To take the music chapter as an example, this is written by an author who is highly respected and very experienced in the field of primary music - Susan Young. The chapter is a helpful mixture of information, ideas, advice, examples, anecdotes and practical tasks. It provides an excellent overview of what music in the primary school involves and how the trainee's engagement in teaching this subject relates to the TTA standards. I shall certainly be making use of this chapter with my trainee teachers. Both specialists and non-specialists would benefit from this comprehensive, but manageable introduction.

At the end of the book there are some very useful audits for each of the four subjects which would provide a helpful instrument for reflection and identification of further needs which could inform the trainee's Career Entry Profile. What a pity these are not in 'photocopiable' form. There is also an example of a scheme of work, but only for PE. The glossary at end is a good idea in principle, but the selection of terms included appears to be somewhat arbitrary. In music for example, 'pulse' and 'pitch' are included but 'rhythm' and 'dynamics' are not.

To summarise then, this is a curate's egg where the parts are diminished by the whole. The book suffers from a spurious clustering of subjects under the heading of the arts. One gets the impression that the publishers were not prepared to give each of these subjects a book of their own in the series. It is interesting to note that in the Learning Matters series there are four separate books for each of the core subjects. There is another that groups the humanities subjects together (history, geography, RE, citizenship). Most would agree that this is a coherent grouping of disciplines. What remained it seems were a few anomalous national curriculum subjects which were not worthy of a book in their own right. As a result, the pragmatic decision was made to group them together under the amorphous heading of "The Arts". This contrivance has weakened the content of what otherwise is strong, valuable material. The book would have been more accurately entitled "Achieving QTS: Teaching 'All the Rest' in Primary Schools".