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The MU welcomes the publication of a new National Plan for Music Education for Wales, the first ever to be produced by the Welsh Government. It means that England is now no longer the only country in the UK with a National Plan for Music Education.

Notably, the new plan promises a review of terms and conditions for instrumental and vocal teachers to ensure they are treated equitably and recognised properly, an issue that the English plan currently overlooks. Following much advocacy from the MU on this, we are pleased to see it being written into policy and look forward to contributing to the review when it commences next year.

What the plan includes

In addition to a review of teachers’ terms, the central pillars of the plan are as follows:

  • A ‘First Experiences’ programme to offer children in primary schools a minimum of half a term of musical instrument taster sessions, delivered by trained and skilled music practitioners
  • A ‘Making Music with Others’ initiative, including opportunities for children and young people in secondary schools to gain industry experience through working alongside musicians and creative industries
  • A new national instrument and equipment library to support access to a resource bank to be shared across Wales

Several specific programmes of work are also identified. These include ‘music pathways’ (ways for young people to explore their own musical interests, including careers); ‘live music experiences’; ‘professional learning support’ (CPD and professional development); ‘improving equity, diversity and inclusion’; ‘music for lifelong learning’; and ‘making music with others’ (groups and ensembles).

The plan states that its equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives will aim to prevent bias, inequality, bullying, prejudice or stereotyping based on protected characteristics and support access for children and young people from low‑income households. These initiatives will also look to include under‑represented and Welsh‑speaking musicians as part of the delivery of the plan.

The plan was preceded by several official reports highlighting concerns over quality, access, progression, challenges faced by local authority music services, and workforce sustainability. The plan can therefore be seen as a means of tackling long standing problems in Welsh music education as well as offering a new vision.

Funding and delivery

Welsh Government funding for music education will be trebled from the current £1.5m per year to £4.5m per year for the next three years. An additional £6.82m was made available in December last year for the purchase of instruments and digital resources.

The delivery of the plan will be through a new National Music Service, to be coordinated by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA). Existing music services and other providers – including MU-supported music teacher co-ops – will develop their existing delivery to incorporate the aims of the plan, which will likely mean an increase in the quantity of work. The WLGA has appointed a National Music Service coordinator to bring everything together.

The plan follows the launch of the new Curriculum for Wales, which includes music as one of the five disciplines within the Expressive Arts Area of Learning and Experience. The MU welcomes this commitment to a central role for music on the Welsh school curriculum.

Making the plan work

While the MU sees the plan as a significant step forward, we will be watching closely to see that it delivers all that is promised with sufficient evaluation and accountability.

Most crucially, it will be vital to ensure that all schools are required to engage with the plan. It will be important not to replicate the situation in England, where schools are under no obligation to engage with music education hubs, which has led to patchy provision. Time will tell if the allocated budget is sufficient to include all schools and all children, and this will need to be kept under review.

It will be important to provide follow-on tuition after the ‘First Experiences’ initiative, and the plan does allude to this. A half term’s free instrumental tuition is a start, but children will then need a way to continue their learning and participate in ensembles, especially where it is impossible for families to contribute financially. Ideally, all instrumental tuition should be free throughout a child’s school education, and we would like to see the Welsh Government work towards this goal.

There will need to be independent oversight of the delivery of the plan and a mechanism for evaluation and accountability. Further information on this has been promised later this year. In particular, there will need to be a review of whether the WLGA, with just one new staff role dedicated to the National Music Service, is sufficiently resourced to oversee the roll-out of such an ambitious project.

Final thoughts

This is great news overall and a real victory in terms of some important ideas making their way into Welsh Government policy – universal access to high-quality music education, and proper support and recognition for instrumental teachers. There’s a long way to go, however, and the MU will continue to engage constructively.

The National Plan for Music Education in Wales is a 32-page document containing a great deal of detail, not all of which it has been possible to discuss here.

If you are an MU member and would like to discuss the plan with us, please email or contact your regional office.

Photo ofChris Walters
Thanks to

Chris Walters

Chris Walters is National Organiser for Education and Health & Wellbeing at the Musicians' Union. He leads on the Union's music education advocacy and policy work in the four UK nations and oversees services for music teachers. He previously developed the Certificate for Music Educators qualification at Trinity College London and was editor of Music Teacher magazine for Rhinegold Publishing, where he helped launch the Music Education Expo. He has taught music in the UK and Kenya and began his career as a professional clarinet player.

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