Singing from the same music sheet?

Written by: HTU | Published:

Are schools tuned-in to the range of support that is now available for music education? Mark Burke reminds schools of what the new National Music Hubs have to offer...

Last year, funding was made available for the creation of 122 music education hubs. Their remit was to provide more opportunities for young people to get involved with music and address the “patchy” music provision in different areas of the country.

To assess the initial impact of the funding, Ofsted has begun a series of subject visits, monitoring the effectiveness of music subject leadership.

Music education has been through a great deal of change in recent years. The National Plan for Music Education (NPME) signalled a commitment from the government to support the provision of music for children and young people and was supported by £170 million funding over three years to provide every child aged five to 18 with the opportunity to sing, learn a musical instrument and perform as part of an ensemble or choir.

This plan was needed to address a disparity in the quality of music education available to children and young people in different parts of the country and draw in a wider range of providers who could potentially enrich the offer.

Inspecting music

Despite being in their infancy, Ofsted is keen to monitor the early impact of music education hubs and assess how schools have embraced the support available. There will be a particular focus on how hubs augment and support the school’s provision and management of music. Visits will take place in schools with headteachers being given up to five days’ notice.

While many schools have paid a great deal of attention to the NPME, others have failed to take full advantage of the support on offer, and as a result pupils are potentially missing out on valuable opportunities to get involved with music.

For primary schools in particular, where there may not be a specialist music teacher, engaging with a hub can prove invaluable. Hubs enable primary schools to access a network of previously untapped local and national providers. In addition to accessing specialist instrumental music teaching, schools can benefit from high-quality training and CPD, digital teaching resources, in some cases links to the outreach programmes of professional orchestras, as well as links to specialist music workshops.

Good practice

There are some fantastic examples of hubs going above and beyond expectations to make music education exciting and increase participation, particularly of older primary school pupils. As well as high-profile performance opportunities, many hubs are supporting schools with resources to enrich everyday music lessons. Many teachers – general and specialist music teachers – are looking for ways to offer an up-to-date music curriculum that embraces a wider range of music genres alongside a greater use of technology that resonates with pupils.

Many hubs have incorporated contemporary educational resources into their primary training and CPD provision and have used their group purchasing power to provide them at a much-reduced cost, or in some cases free for education. Schools just need to get in touch with their music hub to start using them. Of course while there are many proactive schools that already had substantial music provision before the creation of hubs, others are not as far ahead with this agenda and are still unaware of the NPME and of the support on offer.

Because of this there is a huge concern, as to reach the target of significantly improving the quality of teaching and music curriculum provision by 2015, the inspectors will expect to see schools and hub leaders working together to lay the firm foundations for these improvements.

Subject visits will not only monitor curriculum music lessons but also the lessons provided by hub partners such as the music service, community music groups or other arts organisations.

The view from the hub

Essex Music Services received a £4 million grant from Arts Council England to deliver the NPME in its area and it already providing support to around 600 schools.Andy Hill, head of Essex Music Services, said that one of the biggest challenges in their early stages has been the misconception from schools that the service is exactly the same as before.

He explained: “Previously the focus was mainly on providing musical instrument tuition and ensembles, whereas today we are working with a number of organisations, charities and professionals to deliver a diverse range of musical services.

“Receiving the grant to lead and establish a music education hub has meant that we can cast the net wider and ensure there are more activities and performance opportunities for children to participate in. Music is vibrant in Essex and that’s clear through the popularity of groups such as the Essex Youth Orchestra, the Wind Orchestra, Essex Beginners Choir (pictured), the Essex Fun Singer group, and so on.

“Our Royal Opera House partnership has also enabled us to organise a summer school for singers and instrumentalists, working with other music hubs from the Thames Gateway area. Participating children will have the unique chance to be mentored by professionals and work together to put on a performance at the end of the course.”

Challenges of communication

As with all new initiatives in education, it is sometimes challenging for schools to see that hubs have been created to make better use of time and money and provide a service that is tailored to their needs.

Schools, if they wish to, can now take a much more central role in determining the level of support they need to deliver robust music opportunities.

Mr Hill continued: “We understand that schools are often bombarded with lots of information from local suppliers offering similar services. While they have complete freedom to work with whichever supplier they choose, we are trying to get across that by engaging with their hub, they gain access to many music services and resources at a subsidised rate or completely free of charge, covered by the grant.

“Music in schools promotes creativity, and whole-class ensembles can encourage teamwork and a sense of community. I am confident that our relationship with schools will continue to grow and by working together, the place of music will be strengthened in schools.”

An unprecedented level of support is now available via local music hubs and nurturing the relationship between primary schools and hubs will ensure that everyone is working together to provide high-quality music education.

• Mark Burke is director of Charanga, a partner to 71 music education hubs.

Further information
• For more information on the National Plan for Music Education, visit
• For details of the Music Education Hubs, which are being co-ordinated by the Arts Council, and contacts details for hubs across the country, visit

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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