Why training must be at the heart of the new NPME

The National Plan for Music Education is being ‘refreshed’ and we are led to believe we may see it at some point in the Spring. A public consultation was carried out pre-pandemic, a report into this published last year, and a panel of luminaries has been convened to shape the new plan along the lines set out in the consultation report. There has been much discussion about what the new/refreshed plan should include, and I added my own voice to this some time ago, in this blog post. But now I would like to make a renewed plea that training and teacher development is placed at the heart of our National Plan for Music Education.

The part of the old NPME which had the most potential to transform music education in England was in fact quietly shelved after a short trial period. This was the idea of additional music-specific content to be included in ITE / ITT courses to ensure that all primary trainee teachers were equipped to teach music, whatever their own musical background.

I have said this before many times, but the only place that you can guarantee parity of access to music education is within the curriculum. It’s all very well providing funding for ‘transformative’ projects to be helicoptered in to schools, but these by their nature can only ever benefit comparatively few children. It is our school-based teachers and the curriculum which need to form the bedrock of our national plan, otherwise it will once again result in a patchy, postcode lottery of provision; particularly if, as we are led to believe, music education hubs will have to retender for their roles within the plan, opening the market to completely new organisations to whom a part as a cog in the NPME machine may be a new role.

First and foremost we need to ensure that effective curriculum music teaching is taking place. This means investment in training at ITE / ITT level, and beyond. Of course, we are in the middle of a market review for ITT, so by the time the NPME is published that ship may already have sailed in terms of restructuring courses to include more music content. But CPD is something that we can definitely do something about. Music Education Hubs only currently have it as an extension role to provide access to training for school-based staff, and yet they have also been tasked to produce Schools Music Education Plans to make music better in their areas, as part of an historic gigantic stitch-up by Ofsted! The new NPME needs to recognise the importance of support and training for school-based staff, and if appropriate to the structure of any new delivery plan, consider this to form a core role for music education hubs in the future.

There also needs to be consideration of the quality and effectiveness of any CPD provided as part of or linked to the NPME. We need to move past a CPD course being ‘learn a couple of songs that you can do with your class tomorrow’ into something more considered, reflective, and impactful for teachers and their pupils. The DfE already provides a set of standards for Teacher Development, and it would be good to see any training offer within the NPME referencing alignment with these. (Incidentally if you see anyone displaying a ‘badge’ on promotional materials saying that they meet the DfE Teacher Standards, there is currently no such official recognition process for this, and I believe the DfE are already aware of this dubious practice starting to become more prevalent).

Training is also required for non-school-based teachers involved in delivering elements of the NPME, such as instrumental and ensemble programmes. Many Music Hubs have found their hands increasingly tied when it comes to training their workforce, as local authority funding has dropped away and they have had to move to a self-employed workforce model. Anyone with any experience of IR35 will know that this is an absolute disaster on many levels! In terms of quality of teaching and learning the particular problem is that mandating attendance at training events can be viewed as a condition of employment, therefore requiring your self-employed workforce to attend training could under some circumstances provide supporting evidence for a legal claim that they are employees. Fortunately the majority of our wonderful music hub teachers across the country are only too happy to volunteer for training – providing this is held on a day that they are not contracted elsewhere, which is no mean feat when self-employed contracts often mean part time hours… There is no easy answer to this conundrum, and I would hope that the panel for the NPME will be considering supporting appropriate working practices and organisational structures with significant, long term funding as part of their discussions.

There are a vast number of music educators working outside the direct control of hubs and schools, and my own experience as Programme Leader for the first and largest Level 4 CME centre in the world, is that the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators is a brilliant way to deliver training to this hard-to-reach group. This of course was a qualification developed as part of the original NPME, and has gone on to become a global qualification validated by either Trinity College London or the ABRSM. While I wouldn’t wish to see this qualification become mandatory, I think the refreshed NPME could reaffirm its commitment to the CME, making this more widely known to schools and suggesting it as one of a range of suitable ‘entry level’ qualifications. This would again ensure that schools are providing quality musical experiences for their pupils. There is a big difference between a musician and a music educator, and sometimes schools and early years settings do not realise this because music feels like something ‘specialist’ which they don’t really understand. Having the NPME list a suite of qualifications one should hold or be working towards when teaching in schools and early years settings would, I feel be hugely beneficial. It is after all what we already do with school-based teachers and teaching assistants.

The cost of training and development also needs to be considered. Rather than throwing millions of pounds at flagship projects which can only benefit a handful of schools, shouldn’t we instead be creating a training and development fund that any school can apply to, in order to satisfy their particular, bespoke needs? Having been on the senior leadership team for the only ever government funded national CPD programme for music, the KS2 Music CPD Programme, which ran during the same period that Sing Up was funded free to all schools and also providing training to them, I can attest to the massive impact that a relatively modest amount of funding can have nationally when spent on training and development. We don’t need the panel to dream up new initiatives and impose them from the top down, we need funding released at the bottom to grow our own initiatives from the ground up.

For the National Plan for Music Education to truly make an impact it needs to make efforts to secure the place of music in the curriculum (hello Ebacc!) and ensure that this is delivered effectively through appropriate teacher development. It needs to secure the future of music education hubs (if they are to remain a key delivery partner in the NPME) through long term funding, and designate core roles which support inclusive access to music education within and beyond the curriculum. It needs to highlight to schools the requirement for music to be delivered by a professionalised workforce, whether that be through in-work training, or entry level qualifications. And it needs to be released in a draft version for sector-wide consultation before it is set in stone!

Dr Liz Stafford, 20th January 2022