What does a successful singing strategy look like?


In the (soon to be ‘refreshed’) National Plan for Music Education in England, music hubs were tasked with the core role of ‘developing a singing strategy to ensure that every pupil sings regularly and that choirs and other vocal ensembles are available in the area.’ Since 2012 hubs across the country have been working on this role, but what have the challenges been, and how might these be addressed under a ‘new’ national plan?

At one of our early annual Singing Strategy Symposium events, there was much debate around what singing ‘regularly’ actually meant, during which a representative of Arts Council England attending the event revealed that the ACE definition of regularly was ‘at least once a week.’ The general consensus amongst delegates was that this was not enough, and that we should really be aiming for daily singing.

I do believe that this is the right aim, however hubs are not in every single school leading singing on a daily basis, and therefore this aim cannot be achieved without schools taking the initiative for themselves. (This, in fact is a common theme across many of the core and extension roles, and especially across the more recent additional SMEP responsibilities added to the hubs’ portfolio of duties). It is all very well hubs providing vocal and choral teaching, choirs, vocal ensembles, and ‘Big Sing’ events, but by their nature these are not going to be ‘regular’ enough or reach ‘every’ pupil.

The only way to reach all pupils is through schools, as part of statutory music provision, and in the case of singing also through collective worship. Relying on ‘buy-in’ (whether chargeable or free) to hub services and events is not on its own going to be able to achieve the aim of ensuring that every child sings on a daily basis (although if hubs are providing weekly singing sessions in schools that of course does meet the ACE definition of ‘regularly’).

Singing strategies which focus on school staff development and provision of singing resources to schools rather than events and projects, would therefore seem to be a stronger and more sustainable model moving forward as we approach NPME 2. Looking back to pre-2012 and the original free Sing Up programme, this was incredibly successful in encouraging all schools to sing, but (no offence at all intended to Sing Up, who do wonderful work!) cannot be said to have the same national impact now that it is chargeable. Having a singing strategy which provides free or heavily subsidised singing training and resources for schools, along the lines of the previous Sing Up model, would perhaps be a more sustainable and impactful approach to singing strategy moving forward.

In addition, we also need to be clear that the NPME is not just a ‘hub thing’ but is a guidance document for everyone involved in education, which sets out clear responsibilities for all partners including schools. It is crucial that the messaging around the ‘refreshed’ NPME is clearer and more extensive than the original version, which most schools had not heard of in the first few years, and some still haven’t heard of even now! Only then can we all work together to ensure that every child in England sings daily, and once we’ve achieved that aim we can work on phase two – making sure they enjoy it!

Dr Elizabeth Stafford, February 2020.

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