Regulations for teaching music are included in the new national curriculum for state primary and secondary schools in England, which was published on 11 September and comes into force in September 2014. Music is one of seven ‘foundation subjects’ at key stages (KS) one and two (ages five-11) and nine at key stage three (ages 11-14) that must be taught in addition to the three ‘core’ subjects of English, maths and science. It is not compulsory beyond KS3.
With its requirement for pupils from KS2 onwards to ‘understand staff and other musical notations’ and at KS3 to ‘perform, listen to, review and evaluate music across a range of historical periods, genres, styles and traditions, including the works of the great composers and musicians’, the new music curriculum reflects the rigorous, some would say old-fashioned, approach to academic standards of the current secretary of state for education, Michael Gove.
Music education blogger Jonathan Savage of Manchester Metropolitan University says that the development of a national curriculum for music, first introduced in 1992, has always been affected by the dichotomy in the minds of policy-makers between ‘a view of music as factual knowledge set against the idea of music as a practical activity (involving no knowledge)’. The 2014 version is weighted towards the former view, although it does reflect the recommendations of the government-commissioned Henley report on music with an insistence on all children being given the opportunity to sing regularly and to learn to play a musical instrument.
Some amendments to the initial draft curriculum have been made as a result of the consultation process that has taken place since its publication in February. The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) was a major player in the consultation, having first surveyed its many teacher members to establish their views, and was quick to produce an analysis of the changes. They consist mainly of the inclusion of references to creativity, which had been at the heart of the previous curriculum, and the use of music technology.
‘This curriculum will not hamper excellent teaching; we are grateful that musicians have not been micro-managed in the way that – for example – historians have been,’ commented ISM chief executive Deborah Annetts. ‘But sadly, it gives little scope for challenging less good teaching, and risks doing nothing to improve our world class music education. Teaching as a profession needs to be promoted and protected and a genuine commitment to professional development is needed if we are to see this slim curriculum have any value.’
The curriculum has been criticised for not setting specific assessment levels or attainment targets, but some teachers have welcomed the increased flexibility that this allows. Others have pointed out that the government’s enthusiasm for setting up independent academy schools in both the primary and the secondary sectors makes the statutory curriculum increasingly irrelevant. Either way, music teachers in KS1 and 2 are free to teach what they please for the next 12 months as the previous curriculum programmes have been ‘disapplied’, according to the Department for Education, and are no longer mandatory.