The recently published National Plan for Music Education in Wales sets out the Welsh government’s vision and support plan for revitalising music education across the country. Accompanied with a funding package of £6.82 million initial investment and then £4.5 million annually, the plan sees the creation of a new National Music Service for Wales to ensure that all children will have the chance to learn a musical instrument.
The plan shows that the Welsh government has a firm grasp of both how the music education ecosystem functions, and the challenges currently experienced in music education. The extensive research and consultation process gone through to produce the plan is in clear evidence here, and the comprehensive and broad-sweeping nature of the priority areas is complemented by a laser-like focus on the main issue at the heart of the plan – equality & inclusion.
The key priorities outlined are:
- Promoting equality by ensuring access for all learners to play, sing, take part, progress and create music
- Supporting schools and settings
- Building stronger music learning communities
- Improving health and well-being through music
- Increasing diversity and representation in the music education workforce
- Connecting the music industry with higher education and lifelong learning
The establishment of a National Music Service should remove the detrimental ‘postcode lottery’ effect of music education provision; an effect which is felt in all corners of the UK, but perhaps especially in Wales where urban and rural areas have vastly different access to provision. The report feeding into the plan accurately identifies the oft-cited barriers to musical learning of cost of tuition, and access to provision, but also goes further to identify a lack of range /diversity of provision, lack of professional learning opportunities, and problems with networking / signposting as other significant issues.
The role of the school plays a central approach in this plan. In Wales of course a new curriculum is coming into play, and there had been worries from some existing local music services about the place of music in this curriculum where it now falls under the umbrella category of Expressive Arts. This plan should assuage those fears, as it makes a clear case for the importance of music in its own right, and for music organisations to support schools in the delivery of the new Curriculum for Wales. However, the plan is also clear that it is schools who ultimately have the agency and expertise to decide which experiences and opportunities are right for their pupils, recognising that the plan should be something that is done ‘with’ schools rather than ‘to’ them.
Key actions outlined in the plan are:
- Establishment of the National Music Service
- Development of a Music in Schools Programme
- Development of a Making Music with Others Programme
- Establishment of a National Instrument, Resource, and Equipment Library
- Provision of Professional Learning Support
Each of these key actions is addressed in a set of Programmes of Work; clearly articulated plans which state exactly what will be on offer, which link back to the plan’s key priorities, and which provide a solid framework to both plan for and evaluate the success of each strand of the plan. With this level of detail provided, the plan is set on firm foundations indeed.
Much of the work outlined in the plan is targeted towards children and young people from low-income households, disadvantaged learners, and those from under-represented groups; again placing inclusion at the heart of the plan. The Programmes of Work should ensure that all children and young people in Wales have access to musical activities in and out of school, and to the resources they need to participate in them. However, accessibility is only one barrier to engagement, and often children and young people will choose not to participate in activities which they don’t feel are ‘for them’. It is great to see a commitment as part of this plan to increase diversity within the music education workforce, as this will be one way of showing young people that music is for everyone.
There is also a strong focus within the plan on music for health and wellbeing, recognising the social, emotional, and physical health benefits of engaging with music activities. As the world recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic this is a commendable addition to a comprehensive plan, and one which ensures that it will impact everybody, not just those who want to pursue further study or a career in music.
Overall this plan represents the start of a hugely exciting time for the music education sector in Wales, and the early indications are that the plan will be delivered with a true sense of partnership between all the key organisations across the country.