UK Gov guarantees one school hour of music a week

UK Gov guarantees one school hour of music a week


norman lebrecht

March 26, 2021

The long-awaited Model Music Curriculum was published this morning with a commitment to bring back proper music teaching to all schools.

Here’s a clip from the summary:
The plan aims to support all pupils in their musical progression from Year 1 – where they’ll be introduced to beat, rhythm and pitch – through to secondary school, where pupils will be introduced to more technical aspects of music like quavers, treble clefs and staccato and legato.

At Key Stage 1 and 2, listening to a variety of music styles and sounds is designed to broaden pupils’ musical horizons and encourage them to be open minded about the music they listen to. At Key Stage 3, pupils will have the opportunity to discuss and interpret the musical meaning behind songs, and develop their creativity through improvisation and composition.

As well as ensuring all pupils can benefit from knowledge rich and diverse lessons, the Model Music Curriculum is expected to make it easier for teachers 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.

Veronica Wadley (Baroness Fleet), Chair of the expert panel, said:

I passionately believe that every young person should be able to experience music and have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument. This experience can build confidence and self-esteem and also helps raise the aspirations of what children and young people can achieve in all areas of their life.

Music unites people and communities – and gives great joy and comfort. In schools, it brings together young people through the shared endeavour of whole school singing, ensemble playing, experimenting with the creative process and through the love of listening to friends performing.

The new curriculum, with its year-by-year guidance, is designed to help schools provide high quality music education for all pupils and reinforces the important role that music plays as part of a broad and balanced curriculum for all children.

To read the whole proposal click here. It’s a rare example of joined-up writing across government departments.



  • John Borstlap says:

    But this is all about pop music, not art music. The text reads as if there does not exist anything like a musical culture in the West. It is definitely NOT a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ and NOT ‘designed to broaden pupils’ musical horizons and encourage them to be open minded about the music they listen to.’ The last bit of this last line reveals what is behind the initiative: not to make children aware of the impressive culture of art music in the West which has developed over a couple of ages, but to serve them in their own undeveloped tastes: ‘… the music they listen to’. THAT is clearly the starting point: the children listen already to some pop music and the curriculum is meant to broaden their ‘understanding’ and ‘taste’ within the entertainment genre they already got to know.

    With culture, this has absolutely nothing to do. Also it has nothing to do with the violins that are seen in the picture. The description reads as a political program designed to make sure future generations will not know about their own culture so that this elitist, difficult, white male authoritarian stuff can be happily forgotten.

    I know from some music teachers at British universities that a majority of students, interested in classical music and thus subscribing to the course, are entirely ignorant, and merely heard of some names like Bach and Beethoven, but are otherwise completely unaware of the art form itself – everything they hear at such a course is shockingly new and very hard to absorb becasue there is no background. This initiative is not designed to improve any cultural awareness, but seems to want to prevent it.

    • Marfisa says:

      You must read very quickly, to have got through the entire Department for Education proposal! I haven’t, but at a cursory glance it covers a very wide range of all sorts of musical listening experience (including Western Classical, starting with Hildegard of Bingen) and performance training for all 5 to 11 year olds. You complain of no cultural background in the school curriculum; this proposal addresses exactly that issue.

      As for ‘pop’ (i.e. everything that is not ‘art’), one of the lamentable things about some classical musicians is their resistance to and ignorance of the huge variety of contemporary mainstream music. Most trained musicians will make their living, or part of it, somewhere in the ‘pop’ music industry. So it is important, both culturally and economically, that today’s kids learn to understand it properly.

      • Marfisa says:

        Correction – 5 to 14 year olds.

        Isn’t it an admirable ambition, that all children should learn about music in the broadest sense (generically, historically, geographically), and take part in ensemble singing or instrumental playing? And it is not only about Western music in the Classical tradition. Why would anyone think it should be?

        • Bob says:

          Dear Marfisa,

          I mean, I love coffee, and I love my wife, but that love is hardly the same. The same difference between Beyonce and Beethoven, there is no comparison, between jolly popping-along music, and music worth loving, that, at its best, justifies life, and convinces us that that justification is entirely unnecessary. You are incredulous at the idea that music should focus on western art, but the difference is beyond degree.

          Aesthetics has always lacked a robust theory of good and bad.

          • Marfisa says:

            Bob, ‘jolly popping-along music’ is only part of the broad spectrum of popular music. Try listening to David Bowie’s BlackStar album, and see if that makes you feel jolly!

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed I stopped reading after the introductory blurb which set-out the intention and painted the broad canvas of the initiative. No mention of the most important music in the West therein. If it is put somewhere down the list, that only shows my point.

        There is nothing against pop music, apart from some hiphoppers and rappers, but why should children be fed with the low level things their ears have already been spoiled with? To simply suggest that all musical genres sit nicely next to each other on the same level, is a blatant lie or revealing terrible ignorance.

        To understand that there are some things in life which are much more important or meaningful than other things, does not mean that these other things are stamped upon in contempt. Most of what goes for pop music, is awful rubbish and – as Solzhenitsyn called it – acoustic manure. But I would not waste contempt over it.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Not sure from what hymn sheet Mr Borslap is singing, certainly not this one:

      Key Stage 3 of the Music Curriculum, which contains “Ave verum corpus” by William Byrd.

    • Matthew says:

      I agree, but I wonder how much anything can be done. Someone is only drawn to art because something is inherently responsive in them, and can any education impart that first difference? The problem of margaritas ante porcos.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It seems rather simple: expose children regularly, in short doses, to classical music on a level they can absorb, give some general information in terms of cultural background, and leave it at that. The children who don’t respond, will at least know it exists, they may come back to it later in life, and more perceptive children will want to know more, to hear more.

        There is this beautiful passage in a novel by – forgot the writer – where, in some midwest little town where never the word ‘classical music’ ever is heard, a teenage girl passes a house where someone plays a recording of some classical piece. It hit her as lightning, she stands still, because in her lonely life this was the first time that something, someone, told her something about her self, about her most intimate Self that she knew so well but had no words for, and it brought tears to her eyes – mysteriously. That is what classical music can do – even in the most unlikely situations.

  • FrankUSA says:

    I think it’s a good idea. As students mature they can find out if they are truly interested in music. I believe that any person who is truly likes music and especially if they play an instrument will tend to begin to look at all classifications of music.

  • V.Lind says:

    How long is primary school in the UK these days? How many years does it get to arrive at a treble clef? If there are any kids in these schools taking piano or any other instrument privately, they will be bored to death by this pap.

    Sure, you start with singing — in unison to begin with, and maybe some solo work, then move into choral, introducing harmony, etc. But you can use “Doe, a deer” to illustrate the nature of reading music. This sounds like the musical equivalent of teaching a language phonetically.

  • exScienceTeacher says:

    Let’s not forget that this is a proposal for non-statutory guidance on the National Curriculum, which does not apply to the ever-growing ranks of schools which have chosen or been forced into Academy status. I can think of schools with a high number of kids on free school meals (ie kids from poor households) here in Newcastle which do not offer music at KS3 and this proposal doesn’t offer any change to that.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Unless I’ve been misusing the word “proper” all these years, one hour a week is not proper music teaching. It is dabbling, at best.

  • SVM says:

    I am glad to hear that music is being taken more seriously, but does it really make sense to stratify the model curriculum by age or year group? Of all disciplines, music is the one where progress has the least to do with the age of the pupil. As V.Lind has already observed, it is an inescapable fact that, in music, some children make *significantly* greater progress than others by a given age (and this would still apply even if all children had regular one-to-one instrumental or singing lessons with a good teacher, which they do not).

    Surely, it would make more sense, for everybody’s sake, to stratify music classes by ability rather than by year group (e.g.: there should be nothing preventing a precocious Year-2 child from being in the same music class as a Year-6 child).

    Moreover, music is probably the discipline least amenable to being taught by the generalist primary-school classroom teacher. It really needs to be taught by someone with specialist musical training at a high level, and, since most primary-school teachers lack such training, this has implications for timetabling and personnel (e.g.: it entails rotating the minority of teachers capable of teaching music among all the classes, or having visiting specialists).

    • Marfisa says:

      If this was only about teaching a child to sing or play an instrument, I would agree. But the educational aim is much broader. Music needs appreciative well-informed audiences just as much as (or maybe even more than) star performers!

  • Hugh Molloy says:

    How utterly disappointing and unimaginative. I had hoped that – after YEARS in the doldrums – UK Music Education might get an insightful injection…. but no… this document is as dull as could be. Brexit, Covid and Climate Change had brought me to my knees, but this has me crawling round the floor – crying.

  • Jennifer Hillman says:

    SVM hits the teaching problem on the head: so few teachers have any educated background in music that they mostly have nothing to convey on the subject to children. This has not always been the case during my life, and it is not the fault of present teachers – they were introduced to very little musical when they were at school, and few parents encouraged their interest.

    We need an evangelical band of teachers, who know their way about music, to catch children’s imagination. There are already many wonderful organisations doing this, but they are so few in the whole picture. Musical education needs to return not just to schools, but to general teacher-training. And we must not shrink back from introducing children to the greatest in musical literature. I know — others will say – ” And what is that?” Alright, it is different for all of us. But one of the reasons some can tolerate, and even revel in a real composition is that they were introduced to music in a welcoming way as children.

  • Maria says:

    But are there any primary school teachers in the UK that can play the piano, or even read music, or have any knowledge of music that isn’t pop music-orientated – or just encouraging kids to sing in chest voice only to a backing CD?

  • Bone says:

    I’m retiring from public school music teaching after 25 years in the classroom. The support and appreciation for fine arts – or, as they are affectionately known by many educators these days, one of the “non-testing subjects” – is certainly on the wane. Fortunately, there are still viable music programs that flourish in spite of the disdain for any curriculum elements which don’t contribute to either standardized test scores or other mysterious school improvement initiatives. I look forward to continuing my involvement with school music groups in the southern U.S. and working privately with my grandkids and any other interested children; I just don’t want to continue working at a place where a child is plucked from my classroom anytime a teacher in a testable subject decided they want to test a student again.

  • Marfisa says:

    Bill Eddins (see SD post, April 5) nails this splendidly in a blog dating from 2013:

    “The only way you are going to get black folk, or latino folk, or ANY folk interested in classical music is to not look at these people as black folk, or latino folk, or anything else. Look at them as people. Stop worrying about what race/culture they are and just push music education, whether that’s classical, jazz, pop, rock, funk, world, disco, whatever. Push the instruments and the music, and the positive effects that those things have on the culture at large.

    Even if this happens on a large scale I don’t expect everyone to suddenly download the complete Ring cycle. But enough people will filter over to classical music to make it worth while, and we should be satisfied with that.”

  • Marfisa says:

    Bill Eddins – April 2nd.