New year plans from the Department of Education

28 January 2019

The start of this year has been marked by a flurry of announcements from different members of the Department of Education: from music curriculum reform and the launch of a new Primary Activity Passport, to funds for international visits and an interview about the value of arts degrees. This post gives you the low-down on what our DfE Ministerial Team has been up to.

More funding and a new curriculum for Music

Schools Minister the Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP announced plans for a new model music curriculum to be created by an independent panel of experts and published in 2019. The government hopes to help teachers by making it more straightforward for them to deliver music in schools.

The panel will be Chaired by Veronica Wadley, Former Chairman of Arts Council London, Council Member of the Royal College of music, Governor of the Yehudi Menuhin School and co- Founder of the London Music Fund. You can see the full panel of experts involved here.

Music Hubs

This announcement was accompanied by a warmly-welcomed boost of £1.33 million for Music Hubs across the country. This helpful article from Music Mark shows the funding breakdown: ‘£490,000 is to be added to allocations for the current (2018/19) financial year, and the remaining £840,000 will be added to allocations now confirmed for 2019/20.  Arts Council England will allocate the funds across the Music Education Hubs based on the existing funding formula and details will be communicated directly to Hubs.’

The article also points out that this funding is much needed due to hub budgets being stretched by last year’s increased teacher’s pay settlement and other incremental pressures.

You can read Nick Gibb’s accompanying article in The Times (paywall) where he states that he wants

‘every child to leave primary school able to read music, understanding sharps and flats, to have an understanding of the history of music, as well as having had the opportunity to sing and to play a musical instrument’.

As is usual for the Minister, the article also includes a denial of the fact that the take up of the arts has declined in schools.

Most useful Gibb quote:

‘Having the opportunity to study and explore music isn’t a privilege, it’s a vital part of a broad and balanced curriculum – and that’s why I’m determined that all pupils should have access to a world class music education.

All pupils at least up to the age of 14 should study music in school. We want to make sure their lessons are of the very highest quality and pupils leave school having experienced an excellent music education so those who wish to do so can take up opportunities to pursue musical careers’

An Activity Passport for Primary Schools

The Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, has worked with a number of organisations, including the Girl Guides and the National Trust, to create a list of suggested enrichment activities for primary schools.

Broken-down by year-group, the list sets out a number of activities that every child should experience; from watching a sunset to dressing like a pirate. The full booklet includes tick-lists and is downloadable here. It has been sent to every Primary School in England.

As we would of course expect, well-over half of the activities mentioned are creative or related to the arts and culture, with the emphasis on making and doing.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that the list will not be assessed by Ofsted and is not mandatory, it is merely meant to act as inspiration. There is no money attached to the Passport.

You can read more about the packs in Schools Week and the Times Educational Supplement.

There has been a range of responses from professionals on Twitter with some colleagues feeling that this is a useful prompt to schools to ensure a more holistic approach to providing experiences to young people, some feeling that the Passport does not have enough force to be effective, and others feeling that it is an unhelpful extra layer of expectation for already-stretched teachers. We’d love to know your thoughts.

New: £2.5 million funding for international cultural visits

The DfE has announced that schools in England will be able to apply for grants to take pupils aged 11 and above to visit partner schools around the world, giving them the chance to experience different cultures, improve language skills and build independence, character and resilience.

The programme, which will be principally focused on supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds, will be run in partnership with the British Council – whose own research has found that only 39% of secondary schools run international exchanges. For independent schools, the figure is 77%.

New Minister for Universities praises arts degrees

In December Chris Skidmore MP was appointed as the new Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. This month he gave his first interview (paywall) to the Times in which he helpfully stated the international value of the British arts degree.

Most useful Skidmore quote:

‘Part of that (international) reputation is around the value of the liberal arts degree and the humanities degrees. And I think we’ve got to make sure that we recognise that’s a vital part of our education system in the UK’.