Category Archives: National Curriculum

Support Materials for the National Curriculum for Music

I’m delighted to highlight the provision of some excellent support materials for the new National Curriculum. These have been produced by Ally Daubney working with the ISM. I can thoroughly recommend them.

Here’s Alison’s description of the materials:

On behalf of the ISM (the subject association for Music), these documents support teachers to develop their music curriculum in line with requirements of the new National Curriculum for Music.  Embedded in the documents are links to other useful sources of information to assist with curriculum planning, points for consideration and implications for schools, departments and teachers.  There are separate guides for both primary and secondary phase teachers; the classroom work is linked directly to the role of hubs.

All documents can be found from this link.

There will be some further DfE materials (produced by the group that I used to chair) at some point in the future. These will be posted on the ISM page once published. Thanks for all your hard work on this Ally.

Please complete this ISM survey on GCSE Music

As part of my support for the ISM campaigning, I am very happy to alert you all to a survey into GCSE Music that the ISM are undertaking. Please take time to complete a response as they seek to influence Government policy in this area. Here is the ISM’s request:

As you may be aware, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) began looking at the role of GCSE music towards the end of 2012, as the threat from the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) reforms reached its peak. You can read more about this work, and read our useful glossary of terminology online.

Following the Government’s u-turn and further redrafts of the GCSE subject guidelines for music from the wider music education community we are now keen to hear what colleagues think of GCSE music. 

We have launched a survey to inform our work.

Please take a moment to complete the survey and encourage colleagues across the music and education professions to do likewise. The website address for the survey is:

National Curriculum and Assessment from September 2014

The DfE have published their latest guidance surrounding the National Curriculum and the ‘new’ assessment framework. You can download the 4 page document here.

Key highlights (I use the term loosely) include:

  1. The removal of levels of attainment. Schools will need to decide how to assess pupils’ progress (beyond the Key Stage 2 SATs and GCSE examinations);
  2. There is no national support for the National Curriculum. Schools know best, apparently, and teaching schools will be central to helping schools within their alliances prepare for the new National Curriculum;
  3. The DfE expect publishers and other providers to bring new materials to market to help support the new National Curriculum;
  4. The DfE are promoting the work of subject associations and other membership organisations, such as The Princes’ Teaching Institute, who are developing new materials (but at a considerable cost to teachers and schools – just check out their fees!). Or check out this offer from Music Mark in conjunction with Pearsons – only £275 per primary school teacher per day!

For the record, I acted as Chair of the Key Stage 3 (Music) Expert Panel for around 6 months between April and September 2013. I worked with a fantastic group of teachers and others, providing an audit of resources and planning future work to support the implementation of the new National Curriculum. This work was done freely by all the members of the panel in the spirit of wanting to make a positive impact on music education as the National Curriculum was developed and introduced.

Following the announcement that the DfE were not going to commission any new work to support the National Curriculum and had ignored completely our well-founded suggestions for future work, even our ideas of working collaboratively with publishers and others, I resigned from this position in early September. The DfE plead poverty at every turn in respect of this new National Curriculum and its support, yet they are able to find hundreds of millions of pounds for vanity projects such as Free Schools. The whole thing is sickening in my opinion.

Please pause for a moment and consider what we have lost …

The publication of the new National Curriculum by the DfE a week or so ago has left the National Curriculum in England in a sorry state. Whilst some may celebrate its brevity, I can’t help feeling a sense of loss. Critics will argue that the National Curriculum is a stifling document, that works against creativity and undermines teacher autonomy. I would argue the exact opposite. When I’ve got more time on my hands I’ll write about why I think that the National Curriculum is important and why the current framework is a poor reflection of previous versions.

For now, I’m happy to make this document available. I wrote it around 2007 when the previous version of the National Curriculum was being published. It outlines the key changes that were afoot then. I challenge you to read it and not conclude that the current two sides of A4, written as they were by an anonymous civil servant in the DfE without specialist knowledge or expertise, are a backwards step.

Contrast the support for the old National Curriculum with the lack of support for the new one

I found this in a folder of old work that I was looking through today. It outlines the various subject associations and the support that they gave to the new National Curriculum, as it was, in 2007. Back in those days, the National Curriculum was truly national. It was also taken seriously by the Government and supported sensibly by a planned programme of implementation. Neither of those things are true today, sadly.

The consultation on the National Curriculum Programmes of Study is over (but the political machinations rumble on)

I think it is fair to say that the production of the proposed National Curriculum Programmes has been one of the most political processes in the history of the National Curriculum. As I wrote about in a previous post, even in the production of the original National Curriculum the Secretary of State for Education at the time was at pains to try and keep some political distance from the process. For Music, this meant that key academics like Keith Swanwick played a prominent role in co-ordinating responses.

Not so today. Gove’s imprint is all over these reforms, with charges being made (in the New Statesman) that he actually wrote the History PoS himself (something that he has not refuted). This week, I read outrageous stories of Gove’s direct political interference relating to the production of the ICT programmes of study.

For Music, we are still none the wiser as to who wrote the actual Programmes of Study. Perhaps I should open a book? Equal odds on Dick Hallam or a faceless civil servant within the DfE perhaps? Continue reading

The Original (1992) National Curriculum for Music

Whilst writing one of my previous posts about the history of the National Curriculum for Music, I referred back to my paper copy of the original (1992) National Curriculum for Music which I had in  my office. One colleague asked me whether I had an electronic copy of this anywhere. I didn’t, and  I was surprised that I was unable to find any archived copy on the Internet either.

So, I took my paper copy to our university librarians and they have very helpfully managed to get the whole thing digitised and put online. You can get your own copy of the original 1992 National Curriculum for Music from here. All 77 pages (compare that to the current 4!). Anyway who tells me that we haven’t lost something of great value in the current reform of the National Curriculum under Gove and his bullies better be prepared to duck quickly!

The National Curriculum for Music: Origin, Philosophy and Perspective

Given the recent announcements from Gove et al about a new National Curriculum, I thought I’d take a longer view and consider some of the issues surrounding the introduction of the National Curriculum for Music in 1992. Like now, this caused considerable politically-charged debate! Within a review of correspondence from this time and the contributions of the main protagonists, we find many resonances with curriculum issues today. This article explores some of the key thinking behind the original National Curriculum, before outlining a series of exchanges between Keith Swanwick and a number of other music curriculum theorists of the day.

Keith Swanwick, chair of the Music Education Council from 1991 to 1995, summarised the position as it was in 1992 like this:

In Britain, the idea of a National Curriculum replaces a situation where no subject was required by law and where choice of subject content was largely in the hands of teachers. The shift towards national specification is therefore of great consequence and has caused a wide and often heated debate. The essential nature of subjects and the appropriateness or otherwise of cultural content has been an educational and political issue. (Swanwick 1992, p.162)

Continue reading

The New Draft National Curriculum for Music

As announced by Gove in the House of Commons today, here is the new draft of the National Curriculum for Music. It is good news that Music will be retained within the National Curriculum at Key Stages 1 – 3 although what that actually means in reality will be interesting to observe. Here is the draft Music documentation, taken from the full .pdf which is available here.


Purpose of study

Music is a universal language and every pupil should have the opportunity to become fluent. A high-quality music education should provide all pupils with the opportunity to sing and to learn a musical instrument. Pupils should leave school with an appreciation of how music is composed and performed, allowing them to listen with discrimination and judgement to the best in the musical canon.


The National Curriculum for music aims to ensure that all pupils:

  • perform, listen to, review and evaluate music across a range of historical periods, genres, styles and traditions, including the works of great musicians and composers
  • learn to sing and to use their voices, to compose and make music with others, have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and have the opportunity to progress to the next level of musical excellence
  • understand musical notations and how music is constructed, produced and communicated through its inter-related dimensions: pitch, duration, dynamics, tempo, timbre, texture and structure.

Attainment targets

By the end of each key stage, pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study.

Key Stage 1

Pupils should be taught to:

  • use their voices expressively by singing songs and speaking chants and rhymes
  • play tuned and untuned instruments musically
  • listen with concentration and understanding to a range of high-quality live and recorded music
  • make and combine sounds using the inter-related dimensions of music.

Key Stage 2

Pupils should be taught to sing and play musically with increasing confidence and control. They should develop an understanding of musical composition, organising and manipulating ideas within musical structures and reproducing sounds as part of an aural memory.

Pupils should be taught to:

  • play and perform in solo and ensemble contexts, using their voice and playing musical instruments with increasing accuracy, control and expression
  • improvise and compose music using the inter-related dimensions of music separately and in combination
  • listen with attention to detail and recall sounds with increasing aural memory
  • use and understand the basics of staff and other musical notations
  • appreciate and understand a wide range of high-quality live and recorded music from different traditions and from great musicians and composers
  • develop an understanding of the history of music.

Key Stage 3

Pupils should build on their previous knowledge through performing, composing and listening. They should develop their vocal and/or instrumental fluency, accuracy and expressiveness; understand musical structures, styles, genres and traditions and identify the expressive use of musical elements. They should listen with increasing discrimination, and appreciate and understand a wide range of musical contexts and styles to inform judgements.

Pupils should be taught to:

  • play and perform confidently in solo or ensemble contexts using their voice and playing instruments musically and fluently with accuracy and expression
  • compose, extend and develop musical ideas by drawing on a range of musical structures, styles, genres and traditions
  • use staff and other relevant notations appropriately and accurately in a range of musical styles, genres and traditions
  • identify and use expressively the inter-related dimensions of music with increasing sophistication, including through extended use of tonalities, different types of scales and other musical devices
  • listen with increasing discrimination to a wide range of music from great composers
  • develop a deep understanding of the music that they perform and listen to, and its history.

Some further reflections on the National Curriculum Review report

I’m in the process of re-reading the report published yesterday about the future shape of the National Curriculum for England. The debate on Twitter has thrown up some good points, some of which, although basic, are worthy reiterating here.

Firstly, the Government has announced that there will a one year delay in implementing these changes. Those of us in the music education community are used to Government delays and extended deadlines! So, a new National Curriculum will not be in place until September 2014 (at the earliest). I’m not sure I really buy the reasons given for this by the DfE (more debate, taking time to get it right, etc). It smacks of incompetence to me, and a recognition that making all your curriculum experts redundant last year really wasn’t the best move.

Secondly, when the new National Curriculum is launched it really won’t be a ‘national’ curriculum in any meaningful sense. By then, if the current trends continue, the vast majority of secondary schools and many primary schools will have opted out by becoming academies and will not be obliged to follow the ‘national’ curriculum at all. The accountability structures for academies are already causing many people a great deal of concern; this will only continue and concerns will deepen I suspect as some of the legal frameworks and apparent  financial benefits (they’re not looking so attractive now are they?) underpinning academies begin to unravel.

Thirdly, in all the exuberance about the report it is worth remembering that it is just a report from a group of experienced, well informed and intelligent education experts. On that basis, it seems highly likely that Gove will ignore the whole thing. Only kidding! But whilst the report might, on the whole, be encouraging in many respects, there is still campaigning and advocacy work to be done. This report is not Government policy and there are no guarantees that the Government will adopt each recommendation here. So, for music education, let’s not starting counting any eggs before they are hatched.

Finally, an apology. I was a bit hasty with the negative prose about our music education organisations yesterday. One organisation, the Incorporated Society of Musicians, has done sterling work over the last year. Their Public Affairs and Policy Officer – Henry Vann – deserves particular praise for his tireless advocacy and campaigning on behalf of the music education community. Thanks Henry and apologies for overlooking the excellent work you have done. You are a valued colleague and I really appreciate your sustained and powerful advocacy. I know much of this takes place behind the scenes but it is important to recognise, publicly, your contribution which does, I know, go well beyond the legitimate demands made of you by your employer.