What’s Bubbling? – Looking forward to schools re-opening in England

On July 2nd 2020 the UK Government published guidance for the full opening of schools in England from September.[1] The over-arching concern is to ensure that public health advice to minimise coronavirus (COVID-19) risks are carried out. Unfortunately, guidance for music is “coming later” and there is much speculation and discussion as to what can and might happen.

Online forums are “bubbling “, (sorry!) with questions that fall into four categories –  Curriculum, Visiting Teachers, Singing, Ensembles and with so much repetition and different interpretations it is difficult to deduce anything which is definitive. This is not surprising as every school in England is opening in a different way dependent on their buildings and interpretation of Government guidance. Online forums are full of conflicting descriptions of what might happen. These range from no music to be taught, music to be taught, but not in a specialist classroom and business as usual. In the first two instances advocacy is key.  Music is as important a subject as any in a school. Students who receive a diet of catch up on the “core subjects” will, I fear soon become disaffected and their specialist teachers worn out.  If Music is not being taught in a specialist classroom then what about the other subjects that require specialist equipment, Science, D&T etc?  More than ever there is the need for Heads of Department in “non desk-based” subjects to talk to each other and present a unified approach

Music Mark have updated their guidance for schools [2] and music providers[3] and their literature review[4] shows the sources of their advice.  James Manwaring, a leading practitioner in the world of secondary Heads of Music , has written two excellent blog articles[5][6] which are well worth reading.  

The Professional Associations, (NASUWT, NEU etc.) have also a role to play and it is well worth visiting their websites to view their guidance and support.

Many music services have developed an excellent suite of online resources during lockdown. They have used online teaching to work with individuals and some small groups in their homes. Given the small size of practice rooms and to minimise movement around the school it could be decided that online teaching direct to students’ homes might be advisable. However we know that digital poverty is a problem and in the BBC Programme Music Matters, ( 4,7,2020)Head of Hull Music Service, James Dickenson estimated that his service was delivering to maybe 50% of the normal clientele  ( Listen to him  from about 27 minutes) [7]. Some Music Hubs are reported to be delivering to more, some less. To compensate for digital poverty or to comply with arrangements for visiting teachers that some schools are creating there is evidence that a number schools are installing laptops, microphones , cameras etc.so that online teaching can continue in their own practice rooms. Other schools are designating larger spaces in which instrumental or singing teaching can take place.

Whole Class Tuition resources have also been developed and some music services have set up their own premises with high tech equipment to broadcast lessons into schools.

Some private teachers have installed perspex screens in their home studios. This could be considered for installation in small practice rooms.

It is known that the length of time a person is exposed to the virus is one of the factors that increases transmission risk . A visiting teacher may well be in a room for a number of hours interacting with individual or small groups and this may increase the risk factor. Although there is no research evidence to support this the re-locking down in Leicester has mentioned that children are transmitting the virus at a high rate, but hitherto that did not seem to be a factor. Yet non peer-reviewed research from France [8] found that children appeared to be both “less contaminated and less contaminating”, than was generally thought at the outset of the epidemic. They are in fact “very low spreaders” of the virus, the author said. Hence in this and in many other areas, conflicting research still abounds

If you listen to the BBC  Music Matters programme (referenced above) at 13.30 minutes into the broadcast you will hear a discussion on the research and it is good to know that the government has commissioned research into singing from the ENT specialist Declan Costello. Further research into singing is being done by the University of Alabama and on Friday 10th July there is the initial release of findings from the University of Colorado which is believed to be a study including students of faculty members who are young musicians.

Many American states have already provided guidelines for arts subjects. One of the most fulsome comes from New Jersey[9] and from that I have picked out suggestions that I have not seen elsewhere in discussions on music teaching.

For the classroom

  • Keep the door open so that students don’t have to touch the handle (However remember sound travels and if you are not in your normal teaching room……. )
  • Assign seats before entry
  • Insist there is sanitizer in your room(s)
  • If GDPR permits and you do not show student, record your lessons so that those who don’t attend can catch up
  • For those who don’t attend create tasks that families can participate in at home and use found instruments
  • When singing, if possible avoid plosive consonants (p,b,t,d,k,g)
  • Negotiate preparation time for online resources
  • Establish stations for instruments that have been sanitized and need to be sanitized
  • Where possible use smartboards rather than books
  • Place music stands around the room with the tasks displayed on them

For ensembles

  • Investigate the ability to use larger spaces, such as the school gym, multipurpose room, theatre, cafeteria, community centre, etc.
  • When possible, use the outdoors to rehearse while adhering to the recommended social distance standards.
  • Create alternative schedules where the group is divided into smaller groups that do not rehearse at the same time. A non-extensive list of examples includes: large ensembles split into smaller ensembles; jazz bands split into combos; concert bands split into woodwind ensembles, brass ensembles, percussion ensembles, brass/percussion ensembles, or chamber groups; orchestras into chamber groups.
  • To support alternative groupings and unconventional instrumentation and voicing, options include alternative instrument arrangements, such as Flex Band arrangements[10]  or the Kaleidoscope  series and chamber ensemble arrangements.
  • Bubbles burst so discuss with SLT how your ensembles can carry on, this is within the DfE Guidance (“ If it is not possible to maintain bubbles being used during the school day then schools should use small, consistent groups.”)
  • Prepare for how students enter and exit the rehearsal space, along with how materials such as instruments, sheet music, and stands are used.
  • Marks should be placed on the floor to mark where chairs should be set up.
  • Chairs and stands should be arranged by a teacher in a socially distanced configuration.
  • Wherever possible, create one-way traffic patterns for entry and exit of rehearsal rooms and access to areas such as instrument storage, music folder storage, and sanitizing stations.
  • Establish routines for students entering the classroom, sanitizing hands, and gathering and setting up instruments and music folders.
  • Ensure that your SLT are  aware that creating and implementing these new routines will result in more setup/takedown time and less rehearsal time.
  • Choirs will need to sing forward-facing, not in a circle or facing each other
  • Students must not share music stands during a rehearsal. Music stands should be wiped down in between rehearsal groups (consider making this part of your procedures for students as they pack up).
  • Students must not share sheet music or folders. Additional sheet music may need to be purchased to ensure all students have their own copies.
  • Percussionists should be required to have their own stick bag and sticks. Alternatively, school sticks could be assigned to specific students for their own use. This may require students to be assigned to specific percussion instruments for a concert cycle to avoid movement between instruments.
  • A sanitization routine should be established at the end of the day for percussion instruments,
  • Percussionists could wear sterile gloves while playing school percussion instruments

In time we will perform again. Consider the creation of a Phased Performance Programme

Phase 1 – virtual recitals (live, featuring individual performers), pre-recorded and edited virtual collaborations/performances (refer to technology recommendations for additional technology needs for virtual performance options).

Phase 2 – small groups, spaced out, no audience (live streaming and digital license required as well as quality microphones and/or pa system)

Phase 3 – small groups, small audience, still live streaming, consider outdoor concerts

Phase 4 – phase back into what you consider “normal” in increments

As with all things Covid, the above is a moveable feast and guidance will change day by day as will schools’ responses. Yesterday’s news was that there was concern that the virus was airborne. [11] today professional performances can take place outside! [12] Whilst this is good news there are still concerns about singing, wind and brass instruments.

  • “Current assessment is that both singing and playing wind or brass instruments carries a potential higher risk of transmission such that participation in these activities requires particular attention to the risk involved. Non-professionals should not currently engage in singing or playing wind and brass instruments with other people given these activities pose a potentially higher risk of transmission and whilst research is ongoing.”
  • “Singing and playing wind and brass instruments, especially in groups, are considered higher risk activities because of the potential for aerosol production and the absence presently of developed scientific analysis to assess this specific risk. The evidence is being developed rapidly, but – in this initial phase – additional risk mitigation should therefore be considered in these contexts”

Further clarification is seen in section 4 and I quote

Objective: To minimise the risk of transmission whilst singing and playing wind or brass instruments.

This is the initial phase of the recommended guidance. Further guidance will be issued when there is sufficient scientific evidence to support a move.

Singing and playing wind and brass instruments, especially in groups, are considered higher risk activities because of the potential for aerosol production and the absence presently of developed scientific analysis to assess this specific risk. The evidence is being developed rapidly. This Section sets out the additional risk mitigation appropriate to the initial phase of returning to singing and playing wind and brass instruments.

Singing

Steps that will usually be needed:

  1. Limiting singing in groups or in front of audiences to professionals only (i.e. for work purposes only).
  2. Observing extended social distancing (current guidance is that if the activity is face-to-face and without mitigations, 3 metres is appropriate) between each singer, and between singers and any other people such as conductors, other musicians, audiences or accompanists.
  3. Limiting singing in groups to group sizes which are as small as possible in one discrete space, and only considering increasing this number if a comprehensive risk assessment has been conducted which includes but is not limited to:

    – the size of the space
    – the ventilation levels within the space
    – the positioning of singers within the space
    – the effectiveness of any booths, barriers or screens in use
    – the use of fixed teams to reduce contacts
  4. Avoiding exposure of audiences, crew and other performers through using alternative programmes, technology or re-orchestrating for fewer voices as the first priority.
  5. Operating outdoors wherever possible.
  6. If singing indoors, limiting the numbers to account for ventilation of the space and the ability to observe extended social distancing.
  7. For singers working with other individuals, positioning side-to-side or back-to-back and avoiding singing face-to-face even when following the required distance.
  8. When essential, if it is not possible to maintain recommended extended social distancing whilst singing, using one or multiple fixed teams to manage risk of transmission and considering

    – Wherever possible, limiting the number of singers in any fixed team to the smallest number possible
    – Where a very small fixed team means professional work cannot resume, considering a larger fixed team only if a comprehensive risk mitigation plan has been put in place which may include but is not limited to:

    – Reducing the number of singers in the fixed team as much as possible
    – Conducting rehearsals and training in smaller fixed teams wherever possible and gradually increasing the number of people in the fixed team over time in order to observe and manage risk
    – Communicating clearly the maximum number of people allowed to engage as a fixed team at any one time
    – Screening of anyone in a fixed team prior to entry into venues, which may include, but not be limited to, a COVID-19 symptom questionnaire
    – Determining what level of monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms or for COVID-19 is required to achieve as reasonable a level of risk mitigation as possible. This may include regular private testing, noting that this will not allow any relaxation of other control measures
    – Ensuring there is a clear policy in place for managing a COVID-19 positive individual, and abiding by government and PHE guidelines and reporting requirements
    – Appointing an existing member of staff or of the organisation as a COVID-19 officer who will be responsible for oversight of fixed teams, including the risk assessment and ensuring the appropriate mitigations are in place
  9. Within the fixed team, positioning side-to-side or back-to-back and avoiding singing face-to-face wherever possible.
  10. Observing extended social distancing (current guidance is that if the activity is face-to-face and without mitigations, 3 metres is appropriate) between the fixed team and any other people such as conductors, other musicians, audiences or accompanists wherever possible.
  11. All members of a fixed team self-isolating if one member displays symptoms of COVID-19, which again reiterates the need to keep fixed teams as small as possible.
  12. It is unlikely that this fixed team approach will be possible where professional performers work with more than one group or organisation simultaneously.
  13. Considering using booths, barriers or screens if possible between individual singers who are not part of a fixed team, between fixed teams of singers and others, and between performers and any audience, noting that:

    – The effectiveness of the booth, barrier or screen varies substantially depending on the type of booth, barrier or screen used
    – Only some types of booth, barrier or screen will be effective enough to be viable for use in situations where extended social distancing cannot be maintained
    – Comprehensive risk assessments will be needed whenever using booths, barriers or screens to ensure that transmission risk is appropriately contained and that other health and safety risks such as noise exposure are managed, particularly when using booths, barriers or screens in situations where extended social distancing cannot be maintained.
  14. Considering regular private testing (noting that this will not allow any relaxation of other control measures) with an accredited provider, particularly for members of a fixed team, and those who sing with more than one group at a time such as deputising musicians and teachers.
  15. Making sure that no singers are participating if suffering with symptoms of COVID-19 or when advised to self-isolate.
  16. Results of further research conducted will lead to updates in this guidance.

Wind and brass

Steps that will usually be needed:

  1. Limiting wind and brass playing in groups or in front of audiences to professionals (i.e. for work purposes only)
  2. Observing extended social distancing (current guidance is that if the activity is face-to-face and without mitigations, 3 metres is appropriate) between each player, and between players and any other people such as conductors, other musicians, audiences or accompanists.
  3. Limiting wind and brass playing to group sizes which are as small as possible to n one discrete space, and only considering increasing this number if a comprehensive risk assessment has been conducted which includes but is not limited to:

    – the results of further research currently being conducted
    – the size of the space
    – the ventilation levels within the space
    – the positioning of players and their instruments within the space
    – the effectiveness of any booths, barriers or screens in use
    – the use of fixed teams to reduce contacts
  4. Avoiding exposure of audiences, crew and other performers through using alternative programmes, technology or re-orchestrating for other instruments as the first priority.
  5. Operating outdoors wherever possible.
  6. If playing indoors, limiting the numbers to account for ventilation of the space and the ability to observe extended social distancing.
  7. For wind and brass players working with other individuals, positioning side-to-side or back-to-back and avoiding playing face-to-face wherever possible, but with particular regard to the position of instruments with lateral transmission such as piccolos and flutes.
  8. When essential, if it is not possible to maintain recommended extended social distancing whilst playing wind or brass instruments, using one or multiple fixed teams to manage risk of transmission and considering:

    –Wherever possible, limiting the number of wind and brass players in any fixed team to the smallest number possible
    – Where a very small fixed team means professional work cannot resume (for example, for a large professional brass ensemble), considering a larger fixed team only if a comprehensive risk mitigation plan has been put in place which may include but is not limited to:

    – Reducing the number of wind and brass in the fixed team as much as possible
    – Conducting rehearsals and training in smaller fixed teams wherever possible and gradually increasing the number of people in the fixed team over time in order to observe and manage risk
    – Communicating clearly the maximum number of people allowed to engage as a fixed team at any one time
    – Screening of anyone in a fixed team prior to entry into venues, which may include, but not be limited to, a COVID-19 symptom questionnaire
    – Determining what level of monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms or testing for COVID-19 is required to achieve as reasonable a level of risk mitigation as possible. This may include regular private testing, noting that this will not allow any relaxation of other control measures
    – Ensuring there is a clear policy in place for managing a COVID-19 positive individual, and abiding by government and PHE guidelines and reporting requirements
    – Appointing an existing member of staff or of the organisation as a COVID-19 officer who will be responsible for oversight of fixed teams, including the risk assessment and ensuring the appropriate mitigations are in place.
  9. Within the fixed team, positioning side-to-side or back-to-back and avoiding playing face-to-face wherever possible, but with particular regard to the position of instruments with lateral transmission such as piccolos and flutes.
  10. Observing extended social distancing (current guidance is that if the activity is face-to-face and without mitigations, 3 metres is appropriate) between the fixed team and any other people such as conductors, other musicians, audiences or accompanists wherever possible;
  11. All members of a fixed team self-isolating if one member displays symptoms of COVID-19, which again reiterates the need to keep fixed teams as small as possible;
  12. It is unlikely that this fixed team approach will be possible where professional performers work with more than one group or organisation simultaneously.
  13. Considering using booths, barriers or screens if possible between individual wind and brass players who are not part of a fixed team, between fixed teams of wind and brass players and others, and between performers and any audience, noting that:

    – The effectiveness of the booth, barrier or screen varies substantially depending on the type of booth, barrier or screen used
    – Only some types of booth, barrier or screen will be effective enough to be viable for use in situations where extended social distancing cannot be maintained
    – Comprehensive risk assessments will be needed whenever using booths, barriers or screens to ensure that transmission risk is appropriately contained and that other health and safety risks such as noise exposure are managed, particularly when using booths, barriers or screens in situations where extended social distancing cannot be maintained.
  14. Considering regular private testing (noting that this will not allow any relaxation of other control measures) with an accredited provider, particularly for members of a fixed team, and those who play with more than one group at a time such as deputising musicians and teachers.
  15. Making sure that no players are participating if suffering with symptoms of COVID-19 or when advised to self-isolate.

Could the above be the basis around which DfE will issue musical guidance to schools?

Remember that you and your family’s  health and well-being are of paramount importance and there may be many reasons why you yourself cannot return to the classroom. Without you in situ there will be no music in your school, but there are risks to your own life here, don’t minimise them.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/guidance-for-full-opening-schools?fbclid=IwAR2AiiSZvJUX8jKsXEvfPf8KfB9ibZlkICntlgPGM7zrFFztB62o9RwamsM

[2] https://www.musicmark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Guidance-for-Schools.pdf

[3] https://www.musicmark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Guidance-for-Providers.pdf?fbclid=IwAR03qfKwqrX1CAQGS_pNiDU5v9gDDloZiTmmxQOVUHcPMaSQzMpFeBUBmgI

[4] https://www.musicmark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Literature-Review-May-2020.pdf

[5] https://manwaringmusic.blog/2020/07/06/one-metre-music/

[6] https://manwaringmusic.blog/2020/07/09/september-2020/

[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000kmyx

[8] (http://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20200604-french-covid-19-study-finds-children-far-less-contagious-than-adults)

[9] https://www.artsednj.org/wp-content/uploads/NJ-September-Ready-Arts-Ed-Guidance.pdf

[10] https://www.creativerepertoire.com/

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/08/who-says-evidence-emerging-of-airborne-coronavirus-spread?CMP=fb_gu&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR31jdLqQNbdZ8Jv49367e77_TDY2HS0fI390zVcwViipQlcY6bI98PdLQo#Echobox=1594188362

[12] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/performing-arts


 

Published by askrichardarts

Recently retired (September 2019) after a 42 year career in Music and Arts Education I am an experienced arts educator specialising in school leadership and all aspects of arts education but with particular expertise in music and music education. From 2011 - 2019 I was Music and Arts Strategy Manager in South Gloucestershire leading the South Gloucestershire Music Hub, Arts Council England’s preferred provider of Music Hub activities in South Gloucestershire. Always regarded as a minor risk organisation it provided teaching and ensemble activities to over 4000 children a week and many ensembles achieved national recognition at the Music for Youth Proms and National Festival. From 2005 to 2011 I was National Specialist Coordinator for Performing Arts and Music at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust effectively a national adviser on arts education contributing to many national initiatives e.g. Music Manifesto, Musical Futures, Henley Review of Music Education, and Building Schools for the Future. I also provided curriculum support and professional development to over 600 schools in England and in 2010 gave a keynote speech on Music Education in the UK at Gifu University in Japan. The bulk of my teaching career was at Richmond School in North Yorkshire where I led a highly successful Music Department with over 300 students a week learning musical instruments and large classes at GCSE and A level. I commissioned a number of works for School Wind Band by composers such as Bill Connor, Adam Gorb and Philip Wilby and developed UK and Worldwide commissioning networks to commission works by Christopher Marshall and Marco Putz. As an adjudicator I have worked throughout the UK, in the Netherlands, Australia and the USA and Canada. In retirement I am a Trustee of the Music Education Council ,Independent Chair of the Music Hubs in Somerset and Torbay , and a doctoral student at the University of the West of England.

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