Curriculum for Wales – An innovation in music education.


In January of this year, the new Curriculum for Wales was released, in advance of schools having to adopt it by 2022. This innovative new curriculum is built holistically around the ‘purposes’ of education, blurring the boundaries between individual subjects, and acknowledging that knowledge and skills bridge the gaps between individual subjects. The focus is very much on developing pupils as learners and citizens, and much less about stuffing them with knowledge!

This new curriculum is an extremely exciting development for many reasons. I particularly like the fact that music is grouped into ‘Expressive Arts’ and that teachers have the option to teach these subjects independently or interdependently. The possibilities for delivering music, dance and drama through ‘performing arts’ style projects are obvious. On a smaller scale there is scope for non-verbal response to music through movement and drama, allowing pupils to develop the expressive capabilities of their bodies, and supporting them to articulate concepts which they may not be able or willing to verbalise.

I also love the fact that the curriculum specifically articulates that both breadth and depth of study should be achieved. This, I think, will be a godsend to music as it will help schools move away from a focus on variety of experience to a focus on breadth of learning. Schools will have the freedom to make meaningful connections between different styles and genres studied, in order to provide both breadth and depth.

Each discipline within the expressive arts has its own set of subject-specific considerations. For music these are:

pitch, melody, dynamics, texture, tempo, timbre, rhythm, metre, form and structure, tonality, musical devices (e.g. repetition, ostinato, sequence), harmony, intonation

binary, ternary, rondo, round, minuet and trio, strophic, theme and variation, through-composed, sonata

performing (including vocal, instrumental, technology e.g. DJ-ing), improvising and composing (including vocal, instrumental, acoustic, electric and digital, editing/production), listening (including analysing, evaluating, and appreciating a range of musical forms and styles across genres and periods of time)

Curriculum for Wales (2020)

As someone who currently teaches in England the first thing to say is HURRAH for the use of ‘rhythm’ rather than ‘duration’ in this terminology! How nice to have vocabulary that is actually ‘a thing’ in music!

Also the addition of ‘form’ as well as ‘structure’ is really important, as these are in fact different concepts; my English colleagues all have different opinions as to whether structure is a stand-in for ‘form’ (like ‘duration’ is for rhythm) or whether it means something else.

To further elucidate the curriculum, it is great to see some actual examples given of musical forms that might be studied, rather than just leaving it up to the teachers to work out what on earth that might entail, as the English curriculum does! I also love the fact that pitch, melody, harmony and intonation are all included in the list. Again in England at primary level we just have ‘pitch’ in our list of ‘inter-related dimensions of music’ which rather encourages a cursory ‘high and low’ discussion and then no further exploration! The inclusion of intonation in particular excites me as it makes a link between theoretical concepts and practical skill – showing why pitch is important.

I think it’s great to see technology woven in to the performing and improvising/composing strands. The English primary music curriculum mentions technology in the opening statement, but then it never appears again so it is completely unclear how to integrate the use of appropriate technologies into lessons! This also unwittingly encourages the ‘classicalisation’ of music education, so the fact that this new Welsh curriculum specifically highlights skills like DJ-ing is a really positive step towards the decolonisation of music in schools.

Perhaps one of my favourite parts of this curriculum is the focus on ‘analysing, evaluating, and appreciating a range of musical forms and styles across genres and periods of time.’ Not for Wales the directive to study ‘the history of music’ (which doesn’t exist in a singular form) and the shadowy ghosts of ‘the great composers’ (which we all suspect were shoehorned in by a certain former Education Minister!) Instead there is a musical approach to the study of how forms and styles have developed and changed as a result of different influences over time. What amazing freedom – to be able to pick a form or a style and make meaningful musical connections across centuries and continents! Such a long way away from creating a timeline of composers’ birth and death dates, and colouring in a picture of Beethoven’s head!

I think I might move to Wales!

Dr Elizabeth Stafford
Dr Elizabeth Stafford is Director of Music Education Solutions®, Editor of Primary Music Magazine, and Senior Lecturer in Music Business & Professional Studies at Leeds College of Music.Copyright © 2021 Music Education Solutions®