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Music curriculum – Applying the National Plan for Music Education

July 9, 2024, 18:57 GMT+1
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  • How to use the non-statutory National Plan for Music Education, introduced in 2024, to improve your music curriculum...
Music curriculum – Applying the National Plan for Music Education

England’s second National Plan for Music Education (NPME) was released in June 2022, and was made operational from September 2024. It runs until 2030. It requires that ‘all children and young people receive a high-quality music education in the early years and in schools’. A list of features for ‘excellent provision’ are included in the document. It’s up to subject leads to write a school music development plan that outlines how you address these in your music curriculum.

This entire approach, of course, is advisory rather than statutory. This means that you can choose if and how you make the NPME part of your wider vision for your music curriculum.

It’s likely that you already have a music subject leader who produces an annual plan for developing music. Therefore, the logical place to start is by cross-checking your current provision against the content of the NPME. 

Reviewing your timetable

Like the Model Music Curriculum (2021), the NPME states that schools should teach curriculum music for at least one hour every week at primary level.

You know as well as I do, however, that it is impossible to timetable each foundation subject for an hour a week. This is on top of the additional hours we need for English and maths. There is no magic bullet to fix this problem. Something has to give.

The Ofsted Music Subject Research Review (2021) makes a point of stating that music should be taught regularly, not on a carousel.

Therefore, if you’re struggling to fit all the foundation subjects in on a weekly basis, I would say you probably want to hedge your bets and prioritise music in your timetable. 

Having said that, an hour is a long time for KS1. You might want to split that down into two 30-minute blocks each week.

If you have a weekly singing assembly, it might be tempting to try and count this towards your music curriculum time allocation. However, this would be a mistake.

Assembly is collective worship and so is not eligible to be included as ‘curriculum time’. In any case, singing is only one part of the music curriculum. It can’t be delivered at the level of detail required for each year group in a whole school setting.

Specialist or non-specialist delivery?

The NPME sets out an expectation that your music curriculum is developed and ideally delivered by a ‘specialist’. However, it does not define what a ‘specialist’ is.

This is unhelpful considering there is no agreed mechanism for conferring music specialist status in the UK.

If you can attract a qualified teacher with a music subject specialism then that is one thing. However, these unicorns are few and far between.

If you have a bit of money to spend on specialist input, then there are two key places where you can get bang for your buck.

One is to have the specialist input in the development of your music curriculum rather than in the delivery.

This requires a different kind of specialist. You need someone who understands how to design and resource a music curriculum which can be delivered by generalist teachers.

However, it has the advantage that you end up with a bespoke music curriculum that your teachers can then take ownership of. This lessens the risk of them becoming deskilled with music over time. 

Instrumental programme

The second point at which specialist input can be really valuable is in the delivery of a whole-class instrumental programme. This is again a key recommendation in both the NPME and the MMC.

Not only will your pupils all get the opportunity to learn an instrument regardless of their socio-economic circumstances, they will learn to read music.

This is the one area of the KS2 curriculum that is pretty much impossible for a generalist to teach if they don’t read music themselves.

But the real added value from these sessions comes from the fact that they are basically free CPD for the class teacher.

Where else would you get a weekly programme of demonstration lessons for your teachers to watch and in which they can participate? It develops teachers’ musical skills and shows them how to lead and develop musical activities.

The temptation to use these programmes as PPA cover is strong and understandable. However, this is a false economy.

Over time you can upskill every single teacher in your school for no additional cost. The resulting improvement to the delivery of the music curriculum as a whole can be astounding. 

Curriculum breadth and ambition

The NPME states that your curriculum should be ‘at least’ equivalent in breadth and ambition to the Model Music Curriculum.

You will also want to take into consideration the fact that, according to their subject research review, Ofsted would like to see schools taking a less-is-more approach to music. This means prioritising incremental development of existing skills over lots of new content.

Whilst these various statements from official bodies may seem contradictory, it is possible to have both breadth and depth of learning if we follow a spiral curriculum structure.

You may find that placing the interrelated dimensions of music – pitch, duration, dynamic, tempo, timbre, texture and structure - at the heart of your spiral allows you to create depth and breadth. You’ll be looking at these in the context of a different musical style each time you revisit them.

If you’re not sure how to begin, and can’t access the support of a music curriculum specialist for a bespoke solution, there are a plethora of fully-resourced curriculum packages available from multiple publishers.

Most of these let you try before you buy, so that you can select the one that is the best fit for your school.

Extra-curricular programming

Many of the features of excellent provision from within the NPME lie outside the curriculum altogether.

There are suggestions that each school should provide vocal and instrumental ensembles and lessons. We should also ensure pupils take part in regular performances.

It is for this part of the plan that the support of your local music hub will become invaluable. They can offer a range of large-scale events as performance opportunities for your pupils.

They will also be able to connect you with teachers who can offer vocal and instrumental lessons and ensembles.

Supporting your music lead

  • It’s important to recognise that if you are going to take on board all the aspects recommended in the NPME, your music subject lead is going to be very busy indeed. The document does recognise this and encourages schools to consider how this might be managed. However, it does not give any useful practical advice in this regard.
  • Assuming that you do not have lots of money to throw at this problem, then you are going to have to come up with some creative solutions for spreading the load and/or creating spare time in your subject leader’s timetable. For example, administrative tasks could be delegated to a member of your office team. Delegate the set-up for concerts and events to your site team.
  • Even little gestures, such as excusing your music lead from playground duty in lieu of the additional extra-curricular activities they’re running, can go a long way to helping them manage their workload.

Dr Liz Stafford is director of global music education consultancy company Music Education Solutions. She is also editor of Primary Music Magazine and author of The Primary Music Leader’s Handbook (HarperCollins).