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Response to the Model Music Curriculum

The Government has published a new Model Music Curriculum for England. Chris Walters, the MU’s National Organiser for Education, highlights some key points.

Photo ofChris Walters
By Chris Walters Published: 20 April 2021 | 1:35 PM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:32 PM
Photograph of a school student playing keyboard, as a teacher gestures with
Our criticisms are intended as constructive suggestions that we hope can contribute to an ongoing process of review and renewal. Photo credit: Shutterstock

After a two-year period of development, the Government has published a new non-statutory Model Music Curriculum (MMC), providing teaching and learning guidance for the music part of England’s National Curriculum at Key Stages 1 to 3 (Years 1 to 9).

Primarily targeted at classroom teachers, the MMC may also be useful for instrumental and vocal teachers as an insight into the Government’s vision for music education, supplementing the existing National Plan for Music Education.

At over 100 pages, the MMC is much more detailed than the National Curriculum, seeking to flesh out the latter into detailed guidance and expectations for musical learning at different levels. (Both documents apply in England only – the devolved nations of the UK are responsible for their own education policies and guidance).

Schools are encouraged rather than required to follow the MMC, and Ofsted has clarified that it will not inspect schools on it.

Points about the MMC which we welcome

It is significant that music has a model curriculum at all, which we hope sends a positive message about the importance of music in schools. Also welcome are the following statements:

  • “Having the opportunity to study and explore music is not a privilege; it is a vital part of a broad and ambitious curriculum.”
  • “The aim of the MMC is to ensure a universal provision of music education, for all pupils in all schools.”

The MU has been contacted by members with differing views on the MMC, ranging from those who broadly support its principles and already follow them, to those who feel it represents an outdated or incomplete version of music education. It is good to see such an engaged and critical debate, and we encourage more members to contact us with their views so that we can pass them on to the Department for Education.

We are pleased that the MMC acknowledges the importance of instrumental learning and ensemble activities alongside and as part of the classroom-based curriculum, highlighting the value of the instrumental/vocal and ensemble teaching that so many MU members provide in schools.

We are also pleased that the MMC highlights the value of music for students with special educational needs and/or disabilities, although we would have welcomed much more on ensuring that all students are included in music education.

Our concerns about the MMC

The MMC states that it is focused on introducing “the next generation to a broad repertoire of music from the Western Classical tradition, and to the best popular music and music from around the world.”

Because of the risk that this balance of content will be interpreted as “classical and the rest” – and the sensitivity of such issues when planning a music curriculum – we would have welcomed the opportunity for a broader community of educators to contribute to this discussion.

Some MU members have shared with us their perception that the MMC’s interpretation of “the rest” is not sufficiently up to date, inclusive or relevant.

Although we acknowledge that the appendices include some very recent repertoire suggestions, few of these are integrated into the MMC itself. There is also minimal focus on applied uses of music technology. These issues may affect the MMC’s ability to engage some cohorts of students.

We have also had feedback that some non-classical musical genres are misidentified in the MMC, including some genres of Black music.

The MU notes that trainee music teachers are no longer predominantly from classical backgrounds. Given the quantity of western classical terminology in the MMC, it is not clear that its authors have recognised that teachers themselves have changed, and that there is a need to prevent the exclusion of teachers as well as students from the MMC.

Our thoughts on how the MMC will be delivered

We are concerned that the Key Stages 1 and 2 sections of the MMC will not be viable for some primary teachers to deliver without significant CPD (continuing professional development) and/or support.

We welcome the involvement of music education hubs in providing CPD, although the extent of what is needed may go beyond what hubs have the capacity to deliver. In this regard, the MMC does not resolve the longstanding issue of how primary teachers can access the music training they need, or how it will be funded.

We welcome the ongoing involvement of hubs in providing whole-group instrumental tuition (WGIT), although at current funding levels it will be difficult for hubs to provide as much of this as the MMC suggests.

“Appendix 5 – Case Study of Integrated Learning in Years 3 to 6” describes a hub providing year-round WGIT for Years 3, 4, 5 and 6 in one school, up to two hours per year group every week. We do not believe there is sufficient funding to roll this out universally without significant subsidy from school budgets and/or parents, challenging the MMC’s aspiration of “universal provision of music education, for all pupils in all schools”.

Our concerns over the wider music education policy landscape

We remain concerned about the Government’s overall music education policy in England which, although ambitious in its stated aims, is disjointed. We call on the Government to review flawed policies like the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), rather than promoting music through the MMC while the EBacc simultaneously discourages it.

The fact that academies (now a majority of schools) are not required to follow the National Curriculum is a further inconsistency, and it remains to be seen how academies will engage with the MMC.

The MU notes that the 2021-22 funding agreement for Music Education Hubs contains the following requirement: “Through your School Music Education Plan […] Music Education Hubs should show how you intend to support the Department for Education’s new Model Music Curriculum through your delivery, communications and support for schools, where appropriate[.]” This potentially creates confusion over the extent to which the MMC is truly non-statutory.

There remains much scope for development and improvement

Despite our various concerns about the MMC in its current form, we are not against the idea of a Model Music Curriculum, and we value its clear statements that music is important. However, we believe there is much scope for it to be developed and improved.

Our criticisms are intended as constructive suggestions that we hope can contribute to an ongoing process of review and renewal, capitalising on the debate the MMC’s publication has sparked across the music education sector.

The important questions in the coming months and years will be the extent to which the MMC is adopted by schools, whether it will increase the amount of classroom time spent on music, and whether it will affect the quality and substance of what is learned.

MU members who are concerned about how the MMC may impact on their teaching, or who wish to discuss any aspect of it with us, are welcome to email us at teaching@theMU.org

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