The National Plan for Music Education is published

25 November 2011

The National Music Plan has been a long time coming and was finally published this morning. It was greeted by a flurry of interested Twitter followers and a range of responses from the sector. This post gives you a summary of the headlines and the initial reaction from our partners. We will be publishing further thoughts and analysis from our members over the next few days.

What is it?

The creation of The Importance of Music: A National Plan for Music Education (note the promising alignment of the title with the recent DfE schools' White Paper The Importance of Teaching) was initially a recommendation of the Henley Review of Music Education back in March. If you can’t remember what was in Henley's report – read our summary.

The National Music Plan (NMP) is meant to provide a ‘flexible template for high quality music provision throughout a pupil’s education’ and aims to serve until 2020. It also sets out plans for funding and infrastructure until 2015.

Key themes

As the title suggests, the NMP very clearly sets out the central and critical role that music should have in the lives of children and young people. It is extremely heartening to see that both the intrinsic and instrumental arguments for music education are enshrined in the document's vision:

‘The value of music as an academic subject lies in its contribution to enjoyment and enrichment, for its social benefits, for those who engage in music seriously as well as for fun. High quality music education enables lifelong participation in, and enjoyment of, music, as well as underpinning excellence and professionalism for those who choose not to pursue a career in music.’

We are delighted that partnership and collaboration are seen as central to the success of the plan. If young people and parents are able to access all their local musical experiences, services, forms and support in one place, then some fantastic practice will be strengthened and delivered across the country and we could see some great things happening.

It is also very interesting to see that the Plan clearly states that hubs will have the responsibility to determine quality and need at a local level. They will need to consult communities and audit provision to do so. Parents, schools and partners are encouraged to govern projects and hold them to account, aligning the delivery of the NMP to other coalition ideas of localism, parental voice and the big society.

What’s missing?

  • An understanding and recognition that music is only one of a wide number of cultural learning experiences which should be equally championed, funded and supported alongside music.
    We are extremely concerned by some of the language in the plan – particularly by the assertion on page four that music is the ‘greatest of art forms’. It is absolutely critical that the government follow this plan with a similar commitment and level of support for all other cultural learning disciplines. We also need much greater clarity on the ways that the different cultural forms should work together through this new infrastructure, with real synergy being created with other arts and cultural learning providers. For example, any local determination of quality principles must link with the Arts Council’s current enquiry into this issue.

    We absolutely expect the forthcoming Henley Review of Cultural Education and the government response to it to robustly and directly address these issues.
  • A broader understanding of progression
    There is very little mention within the NMP of the place of music in the creative industries or of the ways in which practical and theoretical experiences or workplace learning can be used to develop young people’s skills in a range of different ways.
  • Clear links to the National Curriculum Review
    If music does not continue as a statutory part of the National Curriculum then it will have a great impact on the ability of partners to deliver the Plan. For the NMP vision to thrive it is essential that music (alongside other cultural subjects) remains statutory at Key Stages 1-3, and that cultural subjects take their place as a ‘sixth pillar’ of the English Baccalaureate.
  • A recognition of the wider cuts facing the cultural sector
    The DfE expects their funding to ‘supplement and draw-in local and national funding for music - from local authorities, cultural organisations, businesses, trusts, foundations and philanthropists.’ Whilst it is absolutely right for all our partners to be looking at innovative and efficient ways of working, making savings and moving forward, the plan doesn’t recognise that cuts to contributing services such as Youth Services (the average gross spend on local authority services for young people is down 25% in 2011/12 compared to 2010/11) and 16-19, Higher Education and Early Years (all seeing cuts of approximately 20%), make this an increasingly desperate climate.

What’s in the plan?


  • The first thing to note is that there continues to be ring-fenced funding for music education, which is an excellent achievement in the current climate. However, this funding has been sharply and significantly reduced and will continue to reduce over the next three years. The Department for Education’s funding for music education services is currently set at £82.5 million a year (and this represents a slight real-terms cut from previous years). It will fall to £77m in 2012, £65m in 2013 and £60m in 2014. That’s a reduction of approximately 27%.
  • Funding has been broken down by local authority and will move toward a per-pupil national funding formula, weighted for free school meals (with an interesting swing towards targeted funding within a universal model). Individual LA allocations have already been set out in this spreadsheet, which can be downloaded from the Department of Education. This means that there will be real winners and losers in areas which experience differing levels of deprivation or population.
  • Funds for music education hubs will be awarded following an open application process run by Arts Council England. ACE have already published the criteria and info on their website. They will be responsible for monitoring and assessing the hubs and reporting to Ministers – though there is an interesting line at point 85 in the plan that hints that the Arts Council Bridge Organisations will have a role in this too: ‘their work will align with and support the Arts Council’s fund holder role’.
  • As we say above, the DfE expects the funding to ‘supplement and draw-in local and national funding for music - from local authorities, cultural organisations, businesses, trusts, foundations and philanthropists.’ Youth Music’s new funding modules are flagged up several times a likely match sources.
  • The plan states that this funding does not replace funds allocated to schools to deliver the music curriculum (though these aren’t ringfenced that we know of). Hubs can provide services/teachers to schools on a chargeable basis.

What is a Music Education Hub?

  • Any consortia / partnership of suitable organisations can bid to become a Music Education Hub as long as they can deliver to every child in their chosen local authority. Collaborators can bid to provide for more than one LA , and, in fact the Arts Council guidelines encourage this.
  • Arts Council England says that: ‘We expect music education hubs to involve a range of partnerships including strategic, delivery and information sharing partnerships and many others, depending on local circumstances, need and the objectives of the music education hub. Partnerships might involve a local authority, school, other hubs, a national, regional or local arts or music organisation, an Arts Council Bridge organisation or National portfolio organisation, a Youth Music funded organisation, or a community or voluntary organisation.’

    ACE has created a useful information sheet on partnership working to aid applicants.

What will the Music Education Hubs be expected to do?

The Hub funding must be used to deliver a range of core provision for every child and young person. Hubs must:

  • Ensure that every child aged 5-18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument (other than voice) through whole-class ensemble teaching programmes for ideally a year (but for a minimum of a term) of weekly tuition on the same instrument
  • Provide opportunities to play in ensembles and to perform from an early stage
  • Ensure that clear progression routes are available and affordable to all young people
  • Develop a singing strategy to ensure that every pupil sings regularly and that choirs and other vocal ensembles are available in the area

The NMP goes on to state that the DfE expects that most of the hubs will be able to take on the following ‘extension’ roles, by being creative with their funding allocation:

  • Offer CPD to school staff, particularly in supporting schools to deliver music in the curriculum (see funding).
  • Provide an instrument loan service, with discounts or free provision for those on low incomes.
  • Provide access to large scale and / or high quality music experiences for pupils, working with professional musicians and / or venues. This may include undertaking work to publicise the opportunities available to schools, parents/carers and students.

Hubs will work with the Bridge Organisations to share good practice, signpost to other provision, and undertake regular auditing of provision and need.

Links to the curriculum

On first reading the NMP appears to provide very welcome and positive hints about the on-going place of music as a statutory curriculum subject:

‘The Government is currently reviewing the National Curriculum with a view to making it slimmer with a greater focus on the key knowledge that all pupils should be taught. The review is considering the place of a number of current National Curriculum subjects, including music, and expects to bring forward proposals early in 2012. While we cannot pre-empt the outcomes of that review, we are clear that all schools, including academies and free schools, should provide high quality music education as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. Schools will want to review how they do this in light of this National Plan and following the conclusion of the National Curriculum review.

However, there are two key things to note here. The paragraph above says ‘schools should’ and not ‘schools must’. It also differentiates between the terms ‘curriculum’ and ‘National Curriculum’. This could well mean that schools will be urged to include music in their school curriculum as a guideline, whilst the subject itself still isn't included as a statutory subject.

Workforce development and training

The Arts Council will be working with Creative and Cultural Skills to facilitate development of a music educator qualification by 2013. This is aimed at practitioners and will ‘ensure the wider music workforce is better skilled, and properly recognised for their role in and out of school’.

Finally, we are delighted to see that ‘from summer 2012, the Teaching Agency will develop a new Initial Teacher Training add-on module to boost new teachers’ skills and confidence in teaching music, and in networking with hubs. This new module also has potential to be delivered as continuing professional development for serving teachers, thereby increasing its reach and impact.’

This is a very similar action to those recommended in our submission to the Henley Review and so we are delighted at its inclusion.

Responses from the sector

The music sector has been generally welcoming towards the plan. Here you can read responses from the Guardian, (and its Music Blog), the Federation of Music Services, and the Incorporated Society of Musicians. You can also read the DfE press release.