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Government Publishes New National Plan for Music Education

The document, which applies in England only, sets out the Government's vision for music education running to 2030. Various supporting materials have also been published. Here is what teaching musicians need to know.

Published: 27 June 2022 | 12:56 PM Updated: 06 October 2022 | 12:04 PM
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The new plan emphasises the role of schools at the centre of music education, supported by hubs. Image credit: Shutterstock.

What has been published?

On Saturday 25 June, the Government published The power of music to change lives: a national plan for music education, jointly authored by the Department for Education and the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport.

Information on funding was provided alongside the plan’s publication. £79m will be allocated per annum for music hubs up to and including 2024-25 (£79m for this financial year and the same for each of the next two years). In addition, a new £25m fund will be provided for the purchase of musical instruments over next few years.

Further funding will be announced in due course for two new initiatives: a Music Progression Fund “to support disadvantaged pupils with significant musical potential, enthusiasm and commitment” by autumn 2023; and four new Centres of Excellence, based in music hubs, for inclusion, CPD, music technology and pathways to industry by autumn 2024.

Case studies and supporting resources have also been published by the Government. The case studies “are intended to provide practical guidance for early years providers, schools, academy trusts, music hubs and others looking to strengthen their music education provision, and to inspire young people by showcasing individual musical journeys and the variety of music pathways.”

The resources are “a starting point for those looking for further information or support around music education, including careers advice”, listing many of the key organisations and providers that operate in music education.

Arts Council England, which remains the fundholder for hubs, has published new music education posters from schools and a blog by Chief Executive Darren Henley.

The Music Teachers’ Association, which was represented on the Government’s expert panel that guided the writing of the plan, has published self-evaluation tools and other resources to help schools review their music provision against the contents of the plan.

Music Mark, the subject association for music education and also represented on the expert panel, has published a page of free resources and useful links, including details of online events to discuss aspects of the plan.

What does the plan say?

Unlike the first national plan, which was published in 2011 and focused mainly on the role music education hubs, the new plan emphasises the role of schools at the centre of music education, supported by hubs.

The plan states that:

  • Schools should deliver high-quality curriculum music for at least one hour a week in Key Stages 1-3, supported by co-curricular learning and musical experiences.
  • Music should be represented in every school’s leadership structure, with a designated music lead or head of department at school and/or academy trust level, for primary and secondary phases.
  • In partnership with hubs, schools should create a music development plan that captures the curricular and co-curricular offer and sets out how it will be staffed and funded. Multi-academy trusts should develop trust-wide plans.
  • Hubs should identify and partner with a small number of Lead Schools with high-quality music provision (including academies) to work with hubs on the design and delivery of CPD for schools in their area by Spring 2024.
  • All hubs will develop an inclusion strategy, appointing an inclusion lead by 2024, and a local plan for music education.
  • There will be an open retendering process for the lead organisations of music hubs. The Government would like to see this result in fewer hubs covering wider areas.

Many other recommendations are made with the plan’s 80 pages, but the above points could be described as its core recommendations.

What does the plan mean in the short term?

Initially, there is unlikely to be significant change. Hubs are in the middle of a funding agreement that lasts for the current financial year, so the result of the retendering process is unlikely to take effect before spring 2023. Similarly, other parts of the plan are not required to happen until different dates in 2023 and 2024.

Details of the hub retendering process have not yet been provided, but given the stated preference for fewer hubs overall, it is possible that some MU members who teach for hubs will end up working for different organisations. The MU will follow this process and provide guidance when possible.

What the MU welcomes

We welcome the plan’s clear statements on the value of music education and the vision it describes of meaningful partnership between schools and hubs. We are pleased to see the inclusion of early years and FE/HE, which were not part of the first plan.

We welcome the confirmation of funding for hubs for the next three years, which allows longer-term planning than recent years, when funding has often been renewed at the last minute.

We welcome the new investment of £25 million capital funding for musical instruments and technology, including adaptive instruments where needed for disabled young people or those with additional needs.

We also welcome the Music Progression Fund and Centres of Excellence as new funded initiatives. We await further information on the funding and detail of these.

The plan is the most coherent description of a vision for music education in England that the Government has provided to date. While specialists in individual areas may well take issue with details, the totality of what is described – were it to happen – would lead to significant improvements.

Where we have concerns

While the renewal of funding for hubs is welcome, funding levels have been roughly the same for the last decade, representing a significant real-terms cut. With various new roles for hubs outlined in the plan, there is a risk that hubs will be asked to do more for less. One consequence of this could be a stagnation of pay for teachers in hubs.

Unlike the recent national plan for music education in Wales, the English plan contains no commitment to review pay and conditions for visiting music teachers. We will continue to engage with Government officials and sector colleagues on fair terms for the workforce, which is vital to ensure high-quality outcomes for children and young people.

We are concerned that the plan is non-statutory, suggesting that accountability could be a challenge where schools do not engage with the plan. In contrast, hubs will be required to deliver certain outcomes as part of their funding agreements, which means that parts of the plan clearly are statutory. This potentially sets up a clash between hubs and schools and would benefit from further clarification.

A further criticism of the plan could be that it does not fully engage with more challenging aspects of the current music education landscape, such as the decline of social mobility within music education, broader issues that mitigate against music in schools, and cuts to HE arts courses that are closing off routes into the industry.

“The plan is only the beginning”

Chris Walters, the MU’s National Organiser for Education, said:

“This plan is a welcome publication from the Government, showing that ministers understand what a high-quality music education for all children and young people could look like.

“The plan, however, is only the beginning, and we will be watching closely as its key initiatives are developed and rolled out. Ultimately, the proof of its value will be in outcomes for children and young people, and it is vital that these are monitored effectively.

“We are grateful for the time and effort that has clearly gone into this plan, and for significance of its publication as a statement that music education matters. We look forward to playing an active role in its further development and roll-out.”

The MU will publish a more detailed analysis of the plan in due course.

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