Music Education Solutions

Statement: The Future of the National Plan for Music Education

When the National Plan for Music Education was first released, 2020 seemed like a long way away. Well here we are in 2019 with the end of the plan just around the corner, and it seems that a new plan is in the offing.

The two subject associations for music, the Incorporated Society of Musicians, and Music Mark (of both of which Music Education Solutions is a member), have set out their visions for a new plan. Since these recommendations were made, the government has announced some more funding for music hubs, and a new panel to work on a model music curriculum. In the light of these new developments, we at Music Education Solutions® would like to add some recommendations of our own.

We believe that the government should instruct all schools that they must deliver music as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, even if they are academies which currently do not have to abide by the national curriculum. This recommendation would be the single most useful element of a new National Plan for Music Education. Most of the issues with music education boil down to the fact that schools if they wish are allowed to ignore it, and in many cases have felt encouraged to ignore it due to the Ofsted inspection framework (and associated myths about it – both of which are thankfully now changing!), and the introduction of measures such as the EBacc and Progress 8. There is very little point introducing a new NPME if music is not statutory in all schools.

We believe that the next most significant element that could be included in a new NPME would be a commitment to proper training of primary teachers in music BEFORE they enter the classroom. This was part of the original NPME that was dropped almost immediately, which in our view was a catastrophic error. If teachers are not trained to deliver music properly, then unless they happen to be a musician themselves, they will be playing catch-up for the rest of their careers. The extension role for hubs to provide CPD for school-based staff is not an adequate substitute for proper music training intervention in ITE. We need to ensure that all our trainee teachers receive a proper grounding in music, and not rely on that being addressed once they enter the classroom. Once these teachers are out in the world, they have to jump over the barriers of finding suitable CPD, in a suitable location, on a convenient date, at a price that they can afford, and then request cover so that they can attend. This means that we cannot guarantee the quality of music teaching across all our schools. CPD should be a continuation of, not an introduction to, the music education that our teachers receive when they are training.

It cannot be overstated how important the above issues are to the success of music education in England. If we do not ensure that schools are teaching music, and that teachers are properly trained to do so, we cannot build a stable future for our sector. This makes the remaining content of a national plan almost irrelevant, and certainly not deliverable with parity across the country! Our Music Hub system as set out in the NPME should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. We cannot expect Hubs to solve all music education’s problems. They should be free to focus on enhancing and extending our children’s musical experiences beyond the classroom, not picking up the pieces and replacing classroom provision. The only way to achieve this is for the government to ensure that children are having music lessons, delivered by competent and confident teachers, in the classroom in the first place.

Dr Elizabeth Stafford; Director, Music Education Solutions®

Dr Elizabeth Stafford explores themes from Unit 2 of the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators.


 When preparing the learning environment – the room that you are going to teach in – there are three things to consider:

  1. The technical and creative requirements of the activities that will be taking place.
  2. The specific needs of your pupils
  3. Health and Safety


Technical and creative requirements

It goes without saying that all teachers want to teach in a suitable environment for the activities that they are going to be carrying out. However, those of us who work as visiting teachers in schools are well aware that is not always the case!

In an ideal world we want the learning environment to be perfectly suited to the musical activity. Those of us who are in charge of our own environments – for example private teachers working at home, community musicians who teach in a music studio in an arts or community centre, or school-based teachers who are lucky enough to have a dedicated music room at their disposal – should therefore aim to make our spaces as suitable as possible for the activity in hand.

When preparing the learning environment it is important to consider all the activities that are likely to take place in it. Do you need space for movement? Do you want to play videos or audio tracks, and have you got the equipment to do so? Do you need a whiteboard or display boards for notation reading activities?

Whatever type of musical learning you deliver, you should ensure that you deliver it in a technically and creatively suitable environment.


Specific needs of pupils

Another area to consider when planning your learning environment is the specific needs of your pupils. This could be a diagnosed need like autism, dyslexia or another special educational need or disability, or it could be a less formally defined need, like knowing that one particular pupil doesn’t work well when they have to sit too close to other pupils.

However well suited your space is to the activities that you will be delivering, you also need to consider your pupils’ needs during those activities, to establish whether further adjustments need to be made to the learning environment.


Health and Safety

“Health and Safety” has been the butt of endless jokes for years now, but in reality the health and safety of our pupils is of paramount importance. If you work in a school or other formal environment there will be a Health and Safety policy to which you must adhere, and if you teach from home you may wish to create a policy or set of guidelines of your own, just to show that you have thought of this aspect in the event of any accident or injury befalling your pupils.

Whilst Health and Safety can cover a great many areas of teaching, in the context of the CME we are looking specifically at making the learning environment safe for your pupils. This means that when you set up your teaching room (or when it is set up for you by the school or other organisation where you work) a risk assessment should be carried out considering all of the activities that will take place in the space, the possible risks during these activities, and what you should do to reduce the risk. Once you have set up the room to reduce any risks to your pupils, it is important that you check the room every time you use it to ensure that the measures you have put in place are still effective.

When carrying out a risk assessment you should look for any hazards, identify how your pupils might be harmed by them, and then work out how to eliminate or mitigate these. For example, maybe there is a tattered old carpet in your teaching room that is a trip hazard. You could eliminate this by getting rid of the carpet, but if that’s not possible you could mitigate the risk by taping down the affected areas, or rearranging the furniture in the room so that the pupils do not have to walk across the affected areas of carpet.

You also need to ensure that your pupils understand how to keep themselves safe in the learning environment, for example when handling instruments and equipment. This is both so that the pupils do not harm themselves, and also so that they do not harm your equipment! For some teaching situations, this will include an element of instrumental technique, for example correct posture, alongside the physical handling of resources, and may also include an auditory health aspect.

The more we can do to ensure that our learning environments are safe and suitable, the greater the chances that our lessons will be successful!

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I know, right, what a ridiculous statement. I’m sure your blood was boiling when you clicked on the link. How dare I suggest that NO child should be taught to read music! But, actually, is that any more ludicrous than the statement that EVERY child should be taught to read music?

Those of you who keep an eye on these things will be aware that over the last few years there has been a drive towards a more ‘academic’ vision of music education. In the 2013 Ofsted Report ‘What Hubs must do,’ statements were made about practical music making not being linked enough to theoretical musical understanding. In the 2014 new National Curriculum, staff notation reading was made a compulsory element at KS2 rather than one of a range of music notation options as was the case in the previous iteration. And, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, the review of the GCSE system included exam boards being asked by senior DfE officials if composition could be assessed by writing out music under silent exam conditions. Most recently we have newspaper reports suggesting that it is the Minister of State for School Standards’ wish that every child learns to read music.

Alongside this trend towards ‘academic rigour’ moves a slow but insidious creeping towards the classicalisation of music education. Make no mistake. The reason that senior figures in education, and in music, believe that it is vital for every child to learn to read music, is because they believe – consciously or not – that Classical music is BETTER than all other forms of music.

I have written about this before. Classical music is not BETTER than other forms of music. No form of music is BETTER than another. They’re just different. Music cannot be separated from the culture that incubated it. Saying Classical music is BETTER than Gospel music is saying that music invented by white western (usually) men is better than the music invented by black people, and therefore that white culture is BETTER than black culture.

Now before your blood pressure begins to rise again let me elaborate. It is fine if YOU as an individual PREFER Classical music over all other forms of music. That is not a problem. In fact it’s the entire POINT of music, which exists to inspire and enrich its audiences. It is also fine if you as an individual DISLIKE Gospel music – this does not mean that you are racist. What is not fine is using our education system to devalue the music of other cultures. Insisting that all children learn to read music, which is only a requirement for success in the western classical tradition, is to tell them that the music of other cultures, which may rely on aural learning, improvisation, or other innate musical skills is inferior.

Perhaps you think that this is too great a leap? But then let us consider the fact that the last big new music initiative that the government backed was the creation of Classical 100, the classical music listening resource for primary schools. This, by the way is a brilliant resource, which many schools are finding extremely useful. I have no issue with the resource on its own, but why hasn’t the government been seeking out people to create a similar resource for pop music, or jazz, or any of the many ‘world musics?’ After all, ‘the music of different traditions’ is in the national curriculum. It’s because they think classical is BETTER. Now consider the money given to In Harmony and the Music & Dance Scheme, which are by and large designed to use classical music (and art forms) to improve the lives of the disadvantaged. Why? Because ‘high art’ is BETTER than ‘low art.’

The classical model is so ingrained in our education system that even when we attempt to include other genres they end up being ‘classicalised.’ For example, Rap artists traditionally learn in an informal context, through self-driven study and practice, through listening and emulating, through performing. We know that most kids love to rap, but instead of respecting that musical culture, we ‘classicalise’ it by offering rap peripatetic lessons in schools. Or, we learn ‘African drumming’ – which is not even a thing, in the same way that ‘Africa’ is not a country – by copying down rhythms and playing them on unauthentic instruments in a classroom context. We have even classicalised western popular music, it just happened so long ago that we’ve nearly forgotten that most guitarists and drummers used to be self-taught – and it’s now those self-taught musicians who have suddenly become teachers of an art form that never used to be ‘taught’ in the first place.

I am not saying that reading music is a bad thing. I am not saying that classical music is a bad thing. I am not even saying that culturally insensitive approaches to other musical genres are wholly bad – at least they are placing the music of other cultures into our children’s consciousness. But when we state that ‘every child should learn to read music’ we should be aware of the – often unconscious – cultural prejudice that sits behind that claim. Yes, being able to read music is useful for those children interested in pursuing music in the western classical tradition, but then learning Mandarin is also useful for children who may eventually want to go on to live in China. I haven’t heard anyone at policy-making level insist that all children should learn Mandarin at school.

Children already have to learn and regurgitate so many random facts that our system demands of them, why add learning to read music into the mix when they may have no interest in it and it may never prove useful? No one is going to get turned down for a job in Tech because they can’t write out a D major scale, or turned away from a career in finance because they can’t sight-sing to Grade 5 standard. It is perfectly possible to function as an excellent musician in most traditions – if indeed that is ever your goal – without being able to read music, and it is incredibly easy to function as a useful member of society without a shred of theoretical musical knowledge.

Shouldn’t we be focused on giving our children the tools to make meaningful musical choices of their own? If they want to learn the cello and play in an orchestra, GREAT, crack-on with the music reading. But if they want to explore the music of other traditions, they will need aural skills, improvisational skills, performing skills, and exposure to the music of other traditions in the first place. Yes, the national curriculum (as it currently stands, pre the introduction of the ‘model curriculum’) covers these aspects alongside music reading, but the proclamations that are reiterated in public time and time again centre around music reading, and the appreciation of classical music, giving the message to teachers, parents and pupils that notation and classical are the most important things. It’s time we stopped with the musical colonialism and embraced the whole of music in all its splendour.

Dr Elizabeth Stafford

January 2019

Copyright © 2019 Music Education Solutions Limited. All Rights Reserved.

We close for the Christmas holidays on Friday 21st December at 3pm and reopen on Tuesday 8th January at 9am.

Please note that our booking system is manual, and therefore course and event bookings received during our Christmas closure will be confirmed on our return.

Wishing you all a happy and restful Christmas holidays!

The Music Education Solutions Team

BIG NEWS! We now offer Skype Training Packages! Perfect for schools and teachers on a tight budget, an hour’s training comes in at just £69.95! Choose from sessions on pbuzz, singing, the national curriculum, behaviour management, whole class ensemble teaching, creative instrumental teaching, and more! Visit our Skype Training page for all the details!



In the last of our 10th anniversary ‘top ten tips’ blogs, Dr Liz Stafford offers some advice for music teachers on surviving the Christmas concert season. 

  1. Start taking Lemsip now. I don’t care if you don’t have a cold, you will do by the time the last day of term comes round and by then you’ll be too knackered to recognise the symptoms.
  1. Remember that John Rutter is a lovely, lovely man with an immense amount of talent. It’s (probably) not his fault that your choir can’t sing in tune, so try not to harbour murderous thoughts every time you hear the introduction to the Star Carol.
  1. Also remember that other Christmas music composers do exist – Bob Chilcott, Will Todd, George Fredrick Handel, The Pogues…
  1. Insert some earplugs. There are going to be a lot of performers having crises of confidence; but if you can’t hear them, then there isn’t a problem. In fact, why not leave the earplugs in during the concert. They never watch you when you’re conducting, so why should you listen to them?
  1. Never, EVER operate a backing track yourself. It’s bound to go wrong and leave you in the firing line of an angry parent whose little darling didn’t get the chance to shine. Instead, give that responsibility to your least favourite pupil – if you happen to teach at the school that your own children attend, that would be ideal.
  1. Resist the temptation to shout at anyone who calls it ‘The’ Messiah.
  1. Resist the temptation to shout at anyone who asks why you didn’t do the Hallelujah Chorus in your performance of ‘The’ Messiah. Bide your time until Easter Sunday, turn up at their house at 6am and play ‘The’ Messiah at full blast on your car stereo.
  1. Never get involved in the ‘Staff Performance’ – remember that you are a professional, and you don’t want your musical credibility ruined by accompanying the rest of the staff as they belt out a questionable rendition of ‘All I want for Christmas is You.’ Less ‘Love, Actually’ more ‘Cringe, Actually.’
  1. Remember that Christmas is a joyful time of giving and sharing and you should be grateful for every… no sorry, I was just testing to see if you were still reading.
  1. Don’t eat the post-concert mince pies – they will inhibit the mulled wine from getting into your bloodstream. Nobody needs slow release alcohol after suffering through ‘It was on a starry night’ 476 times in three weeks. In fact, why not get to the buffet table early and take the entire drinks tray – you’ve earned it.

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At the moment I am in the middle of one of my regular work trips to Jersey. This is lovely for many reasons – the people, the scenery, the food, the weather (not this week, admittedly!) – but fundamentally because unlike in England, the place of music in the curriculum is secure.

There is no question of music being ‘cut’ from schools in Jersey – it’s in the curriculum, therefore it’s a statutory requirement. Yes some secondary schools opt for BTec rather than GCSE – and vice versa – but they are all DOING music. In the primary sector the majority of schools are teaching music enthusiastically and, with the help of the fabulous JMS Music Development Partners Katy and Gina, with increasing levels of confidence and skill. Many primary schools have a music specialists teaching throughout the school, giving them an enviable overview of progress. Even those primary schools where music isn’t their foremost priority have access to a comprehensive development programme for all staff through the MEPAS initiative.

Now obviously Jersey is a much smaller place than England, they have their own Education Department so are not governed by the vagaries of DfE policy, and one suspects that they have a bit more money to play with. However, their commitment to music is in my experience not drawn from these factors, but from the understanding that music is in the Jersey Curriculum (their equivalent of the National Curriculum), and is therefore a statutory right for all children. Music in the curriculum is supplemented – rather than replaced by – a vibrant programme of extra curricular projects and ensembles, and as a result pupils are able to progress and develop regardless of their socio-economic background.

With all the focus on ‘inclusion’ in music education in England at the moment, I think perhaps we could learn from the Jersey model. There are multiple meanings of ‘inclusion’ but at its most basic level it surely means ‘access for all.’ It is right and proper that we should strive to make our extra-curricular music projects and ensembles accessible for differing needs and abilities, but I think we may have lost the idea that however ‘accessible’ we make our projects and extra curricular offers, they can never be truly inclusive. Projects and ensembles are always going to have a limit on the number of participants that can be involved. The time and place that they are run will prohibit attendance for some. Many projects are finite and therefore at some stage will cease to be accessible to anyone. Many have a cost implication that precludes poorer children from attending, or even if they are free they rely on funding which may eventually run out. And ultimately, even with the removal of every single accessibility barrier, children and young people can simply choose not to attend.

The only place that we can truly guarantee an inclusive music offer is in the curriculum. Every child has to go to school and attend curriculum lessons*, and there is no danger that we will decide to close all the schools! Extra curricular provision whilst important can never by its very nature come close to this level of inclusivity in the purest sense of access for all.

So this is why the Jersey model makes me happy. All children are experiencing music in the curriculum to some degree, and some choose to engage further through extra-curricular activities. I think that in England the messaging that we sometimes receive from on high is that extra-curricular music provided through centrally funded initiatives as part of the National Plan for Music Education is somehow ‘the same as’ or ‘instead of’ music in the curriculum. It isn’t. We need both. Without curriculum music there would be limited participants for extra curricular music, and without an extra-curricular offer there would be limited progression routes for those who want to extend their learning.

Imagine what could be achieved in England if we worked together to revitalise and secure the place of music in the curriculum as the bedrock of our music education offer, and then built on this to create a symbiotic relationship with extra-curricular provision. Now that really would be inclusive in all senses of the word!

Dr Elizabeth Stafford, November 2018

*Yes I realise it is possible to home school! However my experience of working with parents who home school is that music and the other arts are emphasised more rather than less than in schools! 

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Dr Elizabeth Stafford explores themes from Unit 2 of the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators.

Every good teacher knows the vital importance of planning. The planning process allows us to really think about what we want our pupils to achieve, and factor in any benchmarks – such as exams – along the way, so that the pupil’s learning journey runs as smoothly as possible. It also ensures that we arrive for our lessons with all the resources that we are likely to need, and knowing exactly what we hope to cover in the lesson, meaning that everything is in place to create an enjoyable and productive learning experience for our pupils.

The Four Components of Lesson planning are:

  1. Objectives and Outcomes
  2. Activities
  3. Resources
  4. Evaluation (to inform future planning)

Objectives & Outcomes

Objective = What I want you to learn     Outcome = How you show me you’ve learnt it

Objectives and outcomes are the building blocks of all good lesson plans. Sometimes teachers get carried away thinking of the exciting activities that they could do with their pupils, and try to structure the learning journey around these activities. However a stronger learning journey is created if objectives and outcomes are planned first, and then the activities are devised to dovetail with these.

If Objectives and Outcomes are planned carefully, then as soon as the pupil demonstrates the outcomes, we can be confident that the learning objective has been achieved.


Sometimes teachers make the mistake of thinking that their activity is their objective. For example their objective might be listed as ‘Learn the new Grade 2 piece.’ However, the objective should be thought of as an overarching learning aim which is linked to, but not dictated by, the individual lesson activities. So in this case perhaps the objective is in fact ‘Developing understanding of major and minor’ for which one activity would be to learn the new Grade 2 piece, which is in a minor key, but which would also cover learning the new minor scales for the grade, the recognition of major and minor for the aural test, and so on. Framing our objective in this way means that we are developing our pupils holistically as musicians, rather than ‘teaching to the test.’

It is also the case that sometimes teachers think that their activity is the outcome of the lesson. This is more of a grey area, as sometimes, but not always, it can be! For example, ‘able to identify ¾ time visually from flashcards’ is clearly a discreet activity, the successful completion of which achieves the outcome. ‘Able to play a waltz melody with the correct feel’ however, is the culmination of many activities – sight-reading or copying back the piece to learn it, practising the piece, doing required technical work to master the piece, learning to phrase correctly for ¾ – the combined result of which achieves the learning outcome.


Once you have designed your activities for the lesson, you will need to source the resources that you need to deliver them. In some cases this will be easy e.g. if you are working to an exam syllabus you may just need the exam repertoire book, the student’s instrument, your own instrument, and maybe a piano or audio player (if using backing tracks). However, in other cases you may need to design and print flashcards or worksheets, provide writing materials, or source a particular type of music to listen to.

In all cases, resources should be stimulating, well-presented, high-quality, and interactive, so that they motivate the student to engage with the lesson activities.


Unfortunately for us teachers, it’s not sufficient just to plan a brilliant lesson, we also have to teach it! And during the process of teaching the lesson, we may find that things don’t quite go as we expected! This is where the process of evaluation comes in.

It is important that we plan for evaluation to take place, rather than leaving it to chance. If we do not, then although we may have the best of intentions to reflect on our lessons, we may get distracted by other pressing tasks, and before we know it the next lesson has rolled round, and we haven’t adapted our planning to take account of what happened last time.

At a basic level, we want to establish whether the learning objective has been met. If, as in our example, you are using one learning objective for multiple sessions, the answer to that might be, ‘because we’re still working on it’ which is fine! However, if it is the last lesson in the scheme, or if you had a different learning objective for each lesson, and it hasn’t been achieved, then we need to think a little more carefully about why that has happened.

Perhaps the activities weren’t allied closely enough to the objectives and outcomes so the learning has gone off on a tangent? Maybe the activities were too difficult? Maybe the pupil forgot their instrument, or had to leave halfway through the lesson to attend some other activity? There really could be any reason at all, but the important thing is to find it, and see if there is anything we can do about it next time.

We also want to establish whether there were other noteworthy things happening in the lesson, for example certain activities that went down really well, or really badly, or individual students who were having difficulties, or excelling.

Once we have this information, we then want to use it to decide whether our planning for the next lesson needs to change, and also (if we are intending to use these plans or activities for other pupils, or in future years) what alterations need to be made to the existing plan before you teach it again.

Copyright © 2018 Music Education Solutions Limited. All Rights Reserved.




To celebrate our 10th birthday, every month in 2018 we’re publishing our ten top tips for different areas of our work. Drawing on our experience with the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators, and our suite of online learning courses, this month Dr Elizabeth Stafford presents our top tips for Distance Learning.

  1. Distance Learning requires concentration. If you’re doing it on your laptop in front of the TV, then you’re doing it wrong! Set aside a time and place with no distractions and treat it as if it’s a classroom situation. You probably wouldn’t watch Killing Eve in a lecture, so don’t do it when you’re trying to self-study…
  1. Limit your screen-time. Human beings weren’t originally designed to stare at light-emitting devices all day, so just because it’s Distance Learning it doesn’t have to involve your computer 100% of the time. Try printing off some of the materials so that you can read them old-school style instead.
  1. Make the most of your Distance Learning community. If there is a forum, post to it. If you know other people on the same course, keep in touch with them. If you have a tutor or mentor, don’t be afraid to contact them. Distance Learning can be a lonely business, so try and build a community around you so that you can offer each other advice and support, and combat any feelings of isolation.
  1. Set yourself realistic deadlines, and stick to them. When you’re working by yourself, it’s easy to get distracted by the day-to-day and suddenly realise that the end of the course is looming. On the very first day that you start your Distance Learning programme, you should look at how much time you have to complete, and then work backwards from that, factoring in all the other events and commitments in your life, setting some realistic deadlines along the way so that you’re not left with the entire course left to do the day before your deadline!
  1. Don’t procrastinate. You’ve set your deadlines, now stick to them! Don’t let other tasks or projects play havoc with your distance learning timetable. If you procrastinate now, you will pay for it later! Yes life throws us a curved ball once in a while, but most of us can tell the difference between a real unavoidable emergency and the sudden desire to do ANYTHING other than settle down and study!
  1. Don’t rush, mull it over. While procrastination is a no-no, so is rushing through all your distance learning tasks at surface level. While the flexibility of distance learning means that you can often get courses done in a fraction of the time that a face-to-face course would take you, this is not always a good thing! Sometimes taking extra time to think about theories and concepts can deepen your understanding, which in turn can improve the quality of your assignments.
  1. Use external sources. Just because your course provider offers a ‘complete’ learning package, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t more information out there in the big wide world. Depending on when the course was created, there may be more up-to-date material published that you could draw on, or views from different perspectives to consider. Researching outside the course for additional materials can help you to make your assignments richer and more stand-out, which is particularly good if your qualification can be achieved at different levels!
  1. Print out and proof read. Our eyes see what we want them to see – so it’s ideal if you can print out your final assignments and evidence and proof read them on paper. You’ll notice far more of the errors than you would if you were reading on screen.
  1. Relate it to the real world. There’s no point learning anything if you’re not going to apply it in real life. As you go along your Distance Learning journey, make sure you pause to reflect on the relevance of what you have learnt to your current career. It’s ideal if you can start to put the theories and techniques you’ve learnt into practice as soon as possible, otherwise you’ll find yourself thinking in a few years time ‘I sort of remember learning something about that once…’
  1. Celebrate your achievement! Just because it’s Distance Learning doesn’t mean you can’t make a fuss when you pass! There may not be a graduation ceremony, but you can still shout about your achievements to family and friends. We won’t tell anyone if you throw your hat in the air in your own front room!


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