Is there a problem with WCIT?

By #hhmusicburton and #hhmusictamworth director Alison Jackson

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Since the trials of whole class instrumental teaching (WCIT) in the early 2000s, it has become a popular choice for schools to bring this particular music education into their KS2 curriculum. The trouble is, there is never a ‘one size fits all’ answer to a child’s music education. Many secondary school music educators are often negative towards it, but can it work?

In 2010 I was trained in part of the ‘Class Band’ model, delivering a music lesson to one class of year 7s in school as part of a wind band (popular in the USA and Germany). These children played their instruments ranging from Flutes to Tubas until year 9 in the hope they will have gained the skill to continue to KS4. Initially, when I first arrived at the school, there were not any KS4 lessons.

The children loved playing their instruments, and they enjoyed playing as part of a group, the lesson included a visiting teacher and me. The class were enthusiastic, and their progress was phenomenal, I was only in my NQT year so embraced everything about it. Unfortunately, I witnessed the negative of whole-class teaching…the change in dynamic.

A new teacher joined us and a different way of teaching, within a term of the new teacher I found myself trying to convince most of the children to carry on. It was not the programme’s fault; it could work; it is just that some people had different ways of teaching. It took me a while to figure out what made those teachers so different, but then I realised the second one treated the session as a prolonged instrumental lesson, not a music lesson.

What is a successful WCIT?

If you have never done whole-class music teaching before I highly suggest you watch someone before you start yourself. Where most people go wrong is concentrating on technique rather than the musical learning itself. Most of the children will not continue with that instrument, and that’s ok, but you need to have a whole-school approach to what happens after their year of WCIT.

If they choose not to elect to play their instrument, what will they do? The whole point of WCIT is to help children develop musically, to have an authentic and practical musical experience.

We hope that by children learning on instruments, they become engaged with music-making, composing. Improvising with a group of people can be so much fun when playing a new instrument, you only need two notes and a bit of rhythm to make a great improvisation, so let them experiment!

A teacher in music is a facilitator, teachers who tell children what to do rather than guiding and modelling aren’t confident in their ability, we forget that the children don’t expect an Albert Hall worthy performance from you. I have often got a round of applause from being able to play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’!

The relationship between the music teacher and the school is essential, if you have your WCIT from an outside provider, then catch up with what they are doing. Find out those transferrable skills that the children have learnt and act upon them in your lessons.

What can you do alongside WCIT?

Earlier, I said that WCIT is not an instrumental lesson; instrumental lessons are so important from primary school age. During a recent conversation with a secondary school music head of department, they said WCIT is having a detrimental effect on the standard of music the children are coming to secondary school it took me back to when I was running a music department.

Schools are generally reluctant to bring in instrumental teachers due to costs that they have to try and recoup, but if children start from the basics of an instrument in KS3, they are unlikely to get to the standard they need to be at to take GCSE at KS4. WCIT is not a replacement for instrumental lessons, and some children may not want to pursue the instrument they had in WCIT, but they may want to play another instrument.

That’s the difference Hot House Music; we do our finances to ease the burden on schools. We love to do WCIT, it’s great for children to have such a practical music education, but we can also help with those transferrable skills once WCIT has ended for them. Remember, whole-class programmes are always best when they are part of a ‘whole school’ process, integrated with other instrument lessons, choirs, bands.

For more information, why not give us a call on 03303 200 880 or e-mail

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