Model Music Curriculum emphasises practical craft of music-making

Written by: Chris Cobb | Published:
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The DfE’s new Model Music Curriculum for key stages 1, 2, and 3 will promote regular performance opportunities, emphasising the practical craft of music-making, composition and collaboration, says Chris Cobb

We can recall the mis-judged “Fatima” advert last year suggesting that a ballerina should retrain in cyber, so it is pleasing to finally see the Department for Education’s launch of a new curriculum for music in schools reasserting the importance of arts subjects in a broader educational landscape (DfE, 2021).

I am proud that the panel of music experts behind the new curriculum included contributions from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) and delighted of the direction now set-out to provide young musicians with routes for progression.

The new Model Music Curriculum (MMC) has the potential to reverse the recent decline in take-up of music in schools and, in due course, increase the currently miniscule numbers of pupils taking music at A level.

The recent Music Commission report (2019) highlighted a 25.4 per cent drop in students taking music A level in just four years, compared to a decline of 2.6 per cent in A level entries overall. It also charted a 15.1 per cent decline in the uptake of GCSE music since 2016.

What makes the new curriculum particularly compelling for me is that it will promote regular performance opportunities, emphasising the practical craft of music-making, composition and collaboration. As an organisation that celebrates and recognises performance, such opportunities to encourage learners’ confidence in engaging with an audience feel very important.

At primary level, the curriculum focuses on giving pupils a minimum of one hour of music a week to broaden pupils’ musical horizons by exposing them to a range of styles and sounds and encouraging them to be open-minded about the music they listen to.

It will give teachers an understanding of what is required, and how they can go about delivering music teaching. It will also make it easier for them to plan lessons and help to reduce workload by providing a structured outline of what can be taught in each year group (case studies for each year of key stages 1 and 2 are provided as part of the plan to clearly demonstrate how teachers can combine knowledge, skills and understanding in a practical way).

At secondary level, it will promote a weekly music period for pupils in the first three years and give them chance to discuss and interpret the musical meaning behind songs, and develop their creativity through improvisation and composition. For their part, teachers will get the support they need to give all students a sound grounding in music teaching and prepare those who want to progress to GCSE and A level music.

For me though, the real potential of the new curriculum lies in its eclecticism (something that echoes my own diversity in musical tastes). The repertoire includes music from the film, Slumdog Millionaire, to Argentinian tango; Benjamin Britten to Errollyn Wallen and Anna Meredith. There is Beethoven and Tchaikovsky but also Little Richard and Elvis Presley, Nina Simone and rapper Loyle Carner.

It is exciting because it creates the opportunity not just to strengthen the pipeline of musical talent, but to broaden it by inspiring young people from all backgrounds with a love of music and, with the right supporting conditions, challenge the sense of privilege which, for too long, has accompanied music learning.

The guidance provided in the curriculum rightly recognises the part that we all – schools, music services, music education charities, parents and other partner organisations – have to play in supporting delivery of the model curriculum.

The announcement of funding for music hubs and charities which accompanied the curriculum launch (the DfE has allocated £79m in the 2021/22 financial year for Music Education Hubs which provide pupils with instruments and £1m for charities to teach pupils about different styles of music) is vital to support this and the impact that the new curriculum can have far beyond the lives of the young people it inspires and the communities of partners involved in its delivery.

By promoting progression routes for young musicians and opening up new talent pipelines for the conservatoires and universities, the MMC has the potential to fill the concert hall stages of the future by inspiring a whole new generation of talent from all backgrounds.

Universities and conservatoires all have a role to play in supporting the new curriculum, whether it is through knowledge exchange, research collaborations or training for the next generation of performers, teachers, practitioners, collaborators to shape the future of music education.

My short time at the ABRSM has given me a glimpse of the kind of power that music wields, and which inspired the Plato quote in the opening to the first National Plan for Music Education published by the government 10 years ago: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and life to everything. Without music, life would be an error.”

Over the last year many of us have witnessed the true meaning of these words and seen the power of music to sustain us through difficult times.

There are other issues to address in the music education sector but the MMC is a vital starting point. With the recommendations of the Music Commission as our guide, it can be a springboard for the transformation of the music education landscape of the country and a permanent reminder to the nation of just what the performing arts in general can do for us all.

  • Chris Cobb is chief executive of Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), which was contracted by the Department for Education to draft the Model Music Curriculum under the guidance of the expert panel.

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