A belief in all young people and a desire to support potential lies at the heart of everything The Turning Tides Project engages in. For many of the young people we spend time with, access to learning pathways are often conflicted. Carrying ‘learning disability’ or ‘autism’ labels and trying to fit into institutions, such as schools or colleges, within a society that is often not very accepting of difference, means that support towards future employment is often limited or interrupted.
A particular strand of the current Youth Music funded “Equal Access to Music” programme, looks at how young people with ‘learning disability’ or ‘autism’ labels access routes towards music technology qualifications. Whilst this is still early days for us in this area of the project, I am interested in exploring the questions that are surfacing along the way with a hope that I can get some help finding answers and seeking potential solutions.
Why, if many of the young people we are working with are interested in accessing music technology qualifications, are they not doing so?
School is the first place that supports qualification routes towards future aspirations for many young people. Many schools are now offering a more restrictive and narrow curriculum with a downgrading of subjects such as the arts and sports. Finances are restricted more than ever and this is having a detrimental effect on both resources and support.
I spend a large part of my week in schools making music with young people. I glimpse the battle that schools and teachers face supporting and educating young people in the current climate. I can see that schools are increasingly not a place where everyone can thrive.
The new GCSE structure seems to be more focussed on proving knowledge acquisition: levels, test based evidencing, less coursework. Young people who struggle with this way of engaging are excluded from the process of learning.
What does it say about society when we only cater to the needs of those who are able to achieve within an academic framework; or what the outcomes will be if we only value and expect everyone to learn the same facts?
Currently, Ofsted doesn’t reward schools for being inclusive. If schools remove, exclude, or simply don’t fully support children that aren’t meeting academic expectations because of their bearing on school results/league tables, large groups of young people are not having their aspirations supported in any kind of meaningful way.
Can schools ever be a place where everyone can thrive if they are relentlessly measured by their results?
Our current cycle of education places emphasis on the core subjects. From an increasingly young age, arts subjects are de-valued and squeezed out of the timetable. Yet, it’s interesting to note that within the health sector, doctors are doing more and more social prescribing to improve mental health outcomes (encouraging the joining of choirs, taking art classes etc.)
How can we value and support a learning journey that enables young people to experiment and develop their understanding and skills, whilst emphasising and celebrating the fact that we are all different?
I have been wondering if it is in our nature to compare, categorise and position ourselves. I wonder if the value placed on qualifications is inhibiting our progression towards learning in a meaningful rounded way. When qualification results are regarded as the most valuable outcomes, teachers become focussed on delivering a restrictive curriculum (top down initiatives from government) and students become conditioned to learn and absorb only those elements that will enable them to pass the qualification. Seeking knowledge, collaborating, taking risks or experimenting outside of what is deemed important, becomes a waste of time.
Whilst preparing for the world of work is certainly important, should we imagine that young people only engage in learning for vocational purposes? We often have to question if academic routes will match industry expectations and environments, but being involved in that discourse enables change. It is a human need to progress and build skills.
We are having to look closely at the concept of a special qualification for those that don’t fit the mould. It is hard to truly believe in the value or purpose of a qualification that is not recognised by society and employment.
In Further Education, where there are certain expectations for individuals to critically evaluate themselves and for independent research/enquiry, there are increasing discussions around Support and Authorship of young people’s work. We are also noticing, through our explorations into music technology qualification routes, that there may be issues that arise around delivery and support, and how the two ‘talk’ together. As subjects become more specialist, there is a need for delivery from people who work with and fully understand the application of the subject, however these people may not always be best placed to support young people with ‘learning disability’ or ‘autism’ labels.
Where are the positives arising from our investigations so far?
Opportunities are emerging for young people interested in Music technology. This year there are new types of vocational qualifications being offered through RSL and BTEC. How successful these will be, whilst there is still a cultural bias towards valuing more esteemed academic pathways, will be interesting to explore. I wonder how many schools and students will take up the offer. These courses will require teaching methods to be less prescriptive, more adaptive, and need lots of flexibility in order to choose modules and tailor courses which create unique pathways for individuals in response to their interests and strengths. Will current conditions in schools empower teachers to develop the really broad skillsets they themselves will need, or will they choose to teach modules that sit with their own strengths?
Access into work has the potential to change, both socially through accepting diversity in the kinds of people we feel we can work alongside, and academically, in terms of how learning happens. Working whilst completing qualifications that run alongside apprenticeships is becoming more common, as is learning structured by people working as specialists in their fields. Some graphic design studios are now using open university modules to write their own courses for apprentice’s qualifications.
Qualifications may well not be for everyone, but understanding that there is value in ‘difference’ is maybe just a first step towards encouraging a society that includes and values everyone.
Written byRachel Thame, Published byDom Palfreman