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Issue 6077

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COVID CANCELLATION - Saddleworth and Oldham Whit Friday off again

SQA under fire after brass students invited to 'retrain'

Friday 27 November, 2020

Music teachers, instructors and pupils in Scotland have reacted with anger and disbelief after students were encouraged to consider learning an alternative instrument by the country's exam body.

Brass, woodwind and voice pupils are currently not permitted to perform in school, amid continued uncertainty over potential increased risks of virus transmission. The predicament is placing increasing pressure on staff and pupils, with 60 per cent of the mark for Higher Music  weighted towards performance - in spite of the continued 'ban' on playing in school.

While some pupils have been able to receive instrumental lessons online, that option remains somewhat of a postcode lottery. Many teachers and instructors have instead been using recordings and feedback sessions in an effort to aid pupils in their progress, often meaning they have to review the recordings outwith school hours - but now the latest document from the SQA suggests the students may be better pursuing an alternative instrument altogether.

In a consultation document from the Scottish Qualifications Authority entitled Technical consultation on proposed further modifications to National 4, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher Music performance for session 2020–21, it reads: "Brass, woodwind and voice candidates, who are unable to be supported by face to face learning and teaching leading up to their assessment, might wish to consider the option of learning a different instrument."

The document goes on to provide suggestions on what these alternatives might be for a guitar or keyboard student - but fails to suggest a suitable alternative for a brass player.

The statement was met with disbelief by music teachers. One, who did not wish to be named, told British Bandsman: "The latest statement is a complete farce. It calls on brass students - along with those studying woodwind and voice - to consider learning a different instrument. Clearly they don't mean a related instrument, because that wouldn't help the situation. Do the people writing this document have any idea how specialised learning an instrument is? 

"On top of that, if a pupil can be expected to learn a completely new instrument in a term and perform it to a satisfactory standard for Higher Music, that makes a complete mockery of the entire system."

The suggestion that those studying brass and woodwind should consider alternatives has also renewed fears over the security of instrumental instructor posts, as pupils may move away from orchestral instruments in favour of alternatives like guitars and ukuleles.

Commenting online, Ross Greer MSP wrote: "I wish I could be surprised by this level of incompetence from the SQA but I just can't any more. They are a public body utterly unfit for the purpose of supporting young learners."

Studies are ongoing into the aerosols generated during the playing of a brass instrument, although a recent publication from the Music Education Partnership Group concluded that that the playing of brass instruments does not present a statistically significant added risk of viral transmission of COVID-19 on top of that already posed by gathering socially in both domestic and public settings when suitable mitigations are in place.

The consultation is open until December 3.

A SQA spokesperson said: “We have published a consultation on further modifications to the assessment of Higher and Advanced Higher Music courses, as we acknowledge the challenges that teachers and lecturers are facing with learning, teaching and assessment in Music while complying with Scottish Government public health guidelines. We will share the results of the consultation and confirm the modifications to the assessments week commencing December 7.

“Teachers and lecturers will be best placed to decide which approach will benefit their candidates. There is no requirement for candidates to change instruments, however this could be considered if this was decided to be an appropriate approach for individual candidates.

“As detailed in the consultation, it will be acceptable for assessment purposes for brass, woodwind and voice candidates to record themselves performing at home.

“We have developed these proposed modifications for Music performance with members of our examining teams, who are practising Music teachers. The proposed modifications intend to offer more flexibility and optionality for centres and candidates to prepare for assessment due to the current restrictions. These modifications also attempt to ensure performance continues to be assessed and remains a component of the Music courses. For Higher Music, there will be more time for candidates to prepare for assessment which will need to take place by no earlier than the end of April.

“We welcome feedback from a range of audiences, including young people, to help us to determine how these modifications might work in practice. The consultation is open until Thursday 3 December.”