Schools at the centre of music education: the refreshed National Plan for Music Education

01 August 2022

The Cultural Learning Alliance is built with diverse representation and voices across cultural and education sectors. This month CLA Advisory Panel member, Dr Steven Berryman FCCT FRSA CTeach, brings his perspective on the new national plan for music education ‘The power of music to change lives’ launched on Saturday 25 June.

There appeared to be a positive reception to the refreshed National Plan for Music Education (NPME). Despite the variety of commentary that it was overdue, it seems to have galvanised the complex music education ecology. Music enjoys a considerable array of organisations beyond schools that deliver education work, so many will feel the plan is an important document that will guide their work.

‘The Power of Music to Change Lives’ provides a compelling title for this refreshed plan, with an equally compelling revised overall vision ‘to enable all children and young people to learn to sing, play an instrument and create music together, and have the opportunity to progress their musical interests, including professionally’. There is clearer inclusion of early years settings and a stronger account of progression beyond the initial compulsory phases of education. This is really pleasing to see. As a member of expert advisory panel for the NPME, I know we all advocated for inclusion and progression throughout the discussions.

Plan expectations

There will undoubtedly be some tension as a result of the non-statutory nature of the NPME, but there is a strong steer for school leaders to consider how they resource music in their settings. The plan suggests there should be ‘timetabled curriculum of at least one hour each week of the school year for key stages 1-3’. This is welcomed by music educators but could appear to be a significant ask for those settings that have until now provided a much leaner diet of music in their curriculum.

Depending on the relationship with a Music Hub, there might not be instrumental/vocal lessons and ensembles, but the plan suggests that schools should have instrumental lessons on offer, as well as at least one school ensemble and a choir. The plan expects schools to offer a termly performance and the opportunity for students to see a live performance at least once per year.

For many schools these expectations will seem far below the breadth and depth of their musical culture, but there will be some who will see these expectations to be considerably greater than their current provision.

Music curriculum guidance

As a music educator, and I know many colleagues agreed, I was pleased to see detail around what a strong musical culture in a school can look like; we needed this as a sector. It does present a challenge for those settings, particularly primary and Early Years Foundation Stage, where there might not be the musical expertise in the staff to deliver on the NPME expectations.

The Model Music Curriculum (MMC) receives plenty of mentions throughout the plan, and this has attracted a great deal of discussion by the sector. This model is very much a model, and it has instigated, to good effect, a lot of curriculum related discourse. To my knowledge we are without data that provides insight into the adoption of the MMC but with the strong emphasis of the model in the plan I imagine we might see more of it in how settings are approaching their curriculum design.

Strength in scale

The plan expects schools to have music represented at all levels of leadership, and there are a growing number of MATs with music leaders operating across their network. Sam Cairns, CLA Co-Director and I previously spoke at a Confederation of School Trusts (CST) event about leading arts at scale, and this approach to system leadership working across a number of schools, is one that the NPME features more heavily than the first NPME in 2011.

Colleagues and I who do work as system leaders know the strength of sharing expertise across a network to create artistic events and projects that would otherwise be unachievable on an individual school basis. There is such strength in working at scale.

Music Education Hubs

Music Education Hubs have a refined set of functions though remain very much a key component in the music education ecology for all children and young people. Arts Council England recently shared more information (through a webinar and supporting website) of the changes to the Hub investment programme.

The NPME hints that a reduction in the number of Hubs is a desirable outcome of the new investment programme. There is strength at scale, particularly working strategically, and there is a need for the Music Hub programme to work considerably more strategically with and for schools. Music Hub lead organisations may reduce in number, but I hope this strengthens the nature of the work and builds larger partnerships that have a more sustained and sustainable connection with schools.

Most excitingly, the NPME announced that all Music Hubs will be asked to appoint new Lead Schools for Music by Spring 2024 – at least one focussed on primary, and one secondary – to work with Hubs in the design and delivery of peer-to-peer support and development for other schools in their area. This will allow professional learning and curricular support to be driven by peer-learning, with genuine classroom expertise at the heart of such work. I’m very thrilled to see schools being part of the Hub offer in this way.

Additionally, the plan announced DfE intends to appoint four Music Hubs as new national centres of excellence in inclusion, CPD, music technology and pathways to industry. The centres will support the local Hubs to build capability and capacity in these specialist areas, from Autumn 2024. And finally, the NPME states that all Music Hubs should develop and publish an Inclusion Strategy and all Music Hub Lead Organisations should have an Inclusion Lead by 2024. This is a strong message regarding the importance of inclusive working across the Hub programme, and to see stronger peer-learning across Hubs.

There is so much more to say about the NPME and whilst the length of the plan could be off-putting to the busy school-based leader and teacher, I urge all colleagues to spend some time reading. You can find useful summaries on sector body websites (such as the Music Teachers Association) but there is such valuable detail in this plan that I encourage all to read. The challenge now is how this lengthy plan is animated and activated by the various music education ecology organisations; only in genuine partnership can children and young people experience the power of music this plan aspires to provide to all.

Dr Steven Berryman FCCT FRSA CTeach
Trust Director, President-Elect of the Chartered College of Teaching


Image credit: Matt Wainwright