Dr Jonathan Savage, Reader in Education, Institute of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University
The publication of the National Plan for Music Education (NPME) today has been met by a wave of responses from the numerous sectors of the music education community. Here are a few opening thoughts. I’ll be posting further comments during the next couple of weeks.
Can I say, first of all, that I welcome the general tone of the document? Having read it, I was left with the lasting impression that this Government clearly values the role that music education should play in the life of every child. I was also pleased to read the continual assertion throughout the document that Music is an academic subject worthy of serious study as well as engagement with for fun. Both of these are vital (and not mutually exclusive!).
So, I would urge you to read the document for yourself. There are lofty aspirations contained within it and the challenge will be to turn these into meaningful realities throughout England. In this post, I want to make a few early comments about how I think it will shape and impact music education here in England over the next few years. Future posts will explore the role of workforce development, music technology and other significant aspects of the Plan. Numbers below refer to the paragraph numbers contained within the Plan itself.
Firstly, I was delighted to read that all schools will be required to provide high quality music education as part of a broad and balanced curriculum (7). But, as we were expecting, schools will not be able to do this on their own. They will have to work collaboratively (8). The new partnership 'hubs' will 'augment and support music teaching in schools' (9) to combine classroom music making with instrumental teaching, vocal teaching and working with professional musicians. Of course, in many parts of the country, this happens extremely well already. But, as Henley pointed out, this quality approach is not as consistent as we would like. Whilst each local area will devise its own specific arrangements (10), partnership working is clearly the new model and will characterise all our work from September 2012 onwards (17).
Secondly, on the important matter of curriculum arrangements for Music, the NPME is, as expected, unwilling to preempt the findings of the National Curriculum Review. Paragraph 27 was interesting in this respect. It asserts the importance of schools delivering a high quality music education as part of a broad and balanced curriculum whatever the findings of the National Curriculum Review. So, if Music falls outside the remit of the new National Curriculum, there will still be an expectation that this will form part of a core curriculum entitlement for children. This is good news.
However, the reality is that this is not happening – even today. Recent evidence reported on this blog presents a clear picture of school-based music education being cut and displaced in various ways. The careless imposition of the English Baccalaureate is the most extreme example of a Government policy that has impacted on music education severely, despite assertions to the contrary by Ministers. So whilst the rhetoric and aspiration of the plan is encouraging, I am not assured that the mechanisms are in place to hold individual schools to account for their provision in this area.
Thirdly, the tables set out in the NPME as part of Paragraph 28 caught my eye. These set out what the plan describes as, 'what pupils should expect from schools and hubs at each age and Key Stage. The footnote says that they are 'aligned with the current National Curriculum Key Stages'. For each Key Stage, the first bullet points emphasise that 'schools make their own decisions about how they teach music, based on the statutory National Curriculum (subject to outcome of the National Curriculum Review)' (sic). Having said that, the following bullet points in each Key Stage outline a range of musical activities that the school/hub should be providing. Most of the focus in these bullet points relates to musical performance activities; there are some scant references to composition-type activities and listening.
My initial thoughts on these tables is that they compare poorly with the current programmes of study that the National Curriculum for Music contains. They certainly do not represent the richness of a broad music education as outlined within the National Curriculum and argued for by Darren Henley in his report. I will provide some further examples of why I think this is the case over the coming weeks.
However, throughout the document (e.g. in paragraphs 29-31), there is a strong emphasis about the high quality music teaching that is evidenced in many schools already. The role of the National Curriculum in setting this standard and providing a framework for this work is recognised. I was pleased to read this and it confirms to me how important the National Curriculum is as a framework for ensuring a statutory minimum entitlement for all children in England.
So, finally, I have to say that the provisionality in statements throughout the NPME relating to the National Curriculum Review do worry me. It will be absolutely crucial that this Review maintains Music’s place as a core curriculum subject. Anything less than this will be disastrous. Does the NPME provide any clues as to what might happen? No, I don’t think so. You could presume that it is not beyond the power of Ministers to state, clearly and unambiguously, what should happen. If they did that, I can see that some, maybe me included, would argue that they are interfering in a process that, rightly, should be conducted by curriculum experts. However, on the other hand, we have numerous of examples where they have interfered or ignored the findings of expert panels. So, what should we read into their reluctance to do so here? If Music is all the things the NPME says it is, is it really unthinkable that it should fall outside of the National Curriculum framework?
My view is that Music will disappear from the National Curriculum next year. The reason for this is that the NPME provides an alternative way for music education to be delivered to schools i.e. through partnerships working with schools via hubs. As the NPME argues, music education should still be taught in every school as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. But what this involves, and who does the teaching, will look very different in a few years from now compared to what is currently in place. Only time will tell whether this new approach will maintain or build on the quality provision that many schools have provided for the last twenty years or so.
So, what’s my summary of all this? I was amused to find myself quoted in the NPME (first footnote). In various conversations at the TDA’s consultation event related to music technology, I had stated in discussion that I felt that music education in England was world-leading. I am firmly of the belief that this has been the case for many years. However, I also said that I was worried that this would not be the case given the current direction of travel in respect of this Government’s policies. They seemed to ignore that bit!
But the NPME is a better document than I had hoped for. It contains many aspirational statements that encouraged me. I am pleased with the general assertions about Music and what it can do in the lives of our children. However, the devil is in the detail. Will these policies result in a reinvigorated model of music education that builds on our traditional strengths and empowers us to work together in new ways? Will our fragmented music education community be able to work together in a way that ensures that partnership models like that espoused within the plan will work?
We have a significant challenge on our hands. Recent history has shown that we are not good at working together in this joined-up way. We are a disparate musical ensemble in need of coordination, leadership and direction. Although our individual voices may be distinctive and strong, they need to be blended and honed together; we need to learn to appreciate each other better and work towards a common, shared ideal. Where will this coordination, leadership and direction come from? I’m not sure. And I don’t think the NPME knows the answer to that either. There is a vision, of sorts, within the NPME. But turning it into a reality will be another matter entirely.
This article first appeared on Jonathan Savage's blog, jsavage.org.uk