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®