The National Plan for Music Education – a response from Sound and Music

Sound and Music believes the recently published National Plan for Music has considerable strengths. However, we also recognise some worrying omissions and distinct under-ambition, particularly when it comes to key areas of listening and appraisal, imagination and creativity.

This is the first time a Government has taken this step; it extends as far as 2020 and will be resourced in the first instance by three years of ring-fenced funding, which will be reduced each year and is in effect a 27% reduction from this year’s figures by 2014/15.  The biggest headline has been how the vision of the new plan will be delivered through music education hubs. They will become the centre of music education provision regionally and supersede existing music services. Another key change is that Arts Council England will take on responsibility for distributing the Department for Education funding, and for assessing performance.

Sound and Music believes that despite the interim upheaval and uncertainty, there is potential benefit to the new structures and the relationships the National Plan will forge and strengthen between music services, schools, other music education providers and arts organisations.

We agree with the central objective of the plan:
“to enable children aged 5 – 18 from all backgrounds and every part of England to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; to make music with others; to learn to sing; and to have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence”

We also agree that recognising the importance of partnership working, the need for continuing professional development, the role of music technology and reaching the musical needs of all children are vitally important in ensuring all children across England have access to the best musical education. As we await the outcome of the review of the National Curriculum, it is hoped that this plan goes some way to arguing the case for a musical education to remain a part of every child’s journey through school. 

Arts Council England will have an important role to play in allying educational policies with the scope of their ambitious national priorities. Arts Council England are planning for a 50% reduction in the resourcing of their infrastructure and we hope they will be able to maintain this new workload through this crucial time of change and upheaval.

Sound and Music is a national organisation that promotes contemporary music and sound art through a range of projects. We deliver a diverse range of education and learning initiatives across the UK with young people of school age and beyond; the ages of school children we work with covers the full spectrum from 3 to 19. Recent projects for these age groups include the annual Sound and Music Summer School and Go Compose workshops for young composers and creative musicians; the national Minute of Listening project which brings a new minute of music or sound to primary school classrooms each day; one-off sound and technology projects inviting children to explore their local environment by means of sound; and the Listen Imagine Compose action research project investigating the teaching of creative composition at Key Stages 3 and 4.

Sound and Music believes that children should have opportunities to listen, experiment, compose and create.  We strongly believe that music education should go beyond learning an instrument and performance. Music education should expand creativity, providing platforms to question and analyse musical experiences as well as excite and engage pupils across a wide range of genres. We believe that this is where the National Plan falls short: despite placing an emphasis on progression routes through learning an instrument, for the most part it fails to address the importance of both listening and creating in a child’s wider musical understanding and development. By listening, we mean the foundation of a musical education, exploring, understanding and being amazed by a wide range of aural stimuli that help children engage with the world around them and promote a wider appreciation of music and musicianship. By creating, we mean exercising the imagination and putting into practice the skills learnt.  

We can and should be creating a generation of engaged, inquisitive and original participants and audiences for a wide variety of future cultural activities. To quote Sir Ken Robinson’s 1999 report “All Our Futures”, creativity is important because:

  • “It meets economic needs by encouraging young people to be adaptable and innovative
  • It has a cultural purpose by helping young people understand the world and the values they live by
  • It has a personal value by engaging and stimulating young people and reducing drop-out rates.”

Sound and Music is concerned about the imbalance at the core of the government’s plans. The result produces a conflict with the National Curriculum for Music in its present form with its broad emphasis on composing, appraising, listening and understanding.  As composer and sound artist Duncan Chapman illustrates, the National Plan for Music Education mentions the word “compose” 6 times, “improvisation” once, “listen” 11 times, “listening” 8, “perform” 54 and “performance” 33. This is simple and revealing.

As we await the final outcome of the National Curriculum Review, Sound and Music calls for music to remain as part of the core curriculum, and for the curriculum to embrace listening, appraising and composing. We urge all who care about children’s broad and creative musical education to do the same.  

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