At the sharp end: teaching music in 2016-2017

26th August 2016 at 00:00
Let’s stop music being squeezed out of the curriculum

Music is often enthusiastically promoted in school prospectuses. Because of its power to engage and its “showcase” impact, it is a subject that is highly valued by pupils, parents and the community. But music is currently under significant threat in the curriculum.

Ironically, approaches to music education in the UK – placing importance on creativity and critical engagement – are well-regarded around the world. We need to build on our success and make sure that “music for all” remains integrated within the curriculum. To do that, schools must address some key problems:


  • Many schools do not teach music regularly.
  • Little or no music is included on many primary initial teacher training courses.
  • Over-emphasis on the core curriculum and Sats results pushes music out.
  • Not enough senior leaders champion music.
  • The range and quality of resources is poor.


  • The English Baccalaureate is negatively affecting key stage 4 uptake of music.
  • Booster classes in core subjects negatively impact extra-curricular music engagement.
  • The shift to a two-year key stage 3 in some schools means there is less time for music.
  • Music teachers are often isolated in small departments.
  • One-size-fits-all school assessment systems are not fit for purpose in music.

With the right support and strategies, such problems can be resolved. Here is my advice for teachers and schools in the coming year.

Focus on music-making

Making, creating and critically engaging with music is emphasised in the 2014 curriculum. Only through active engagement can students develop an understanding of the context of music. Ofsted supports the drive to make musical assessment fit for purpose, and there is much to do to support teachers in this.

Get timetabling right

Whether it is one hour every week or every term, music must receive a regular timetable slot. Carousel timetables are rarely satisfactory and undermine progress. Cross-curricular approaches can be an issue if music is always subsidiary to another subject.

Professional development

Meeting with educators with a shared passion reinforces pedagogical values but does not replace the need for targeted professional learning. This can help to promote music in your school, including to governors and senior managers. National and local music organisations run courses and you could consider developing support groups with local schools, though a TeachMeet, for example.

Get the right balance

Teachers need to ask themselves whether they are getting the balance right between curriculum and extracurricular music.

Consider the percentage of learners who are actively making music on a weekly basis. How much music-making is within the curriculum and how much is outside of it? Try to ensure that extracurricular activities cater for all learners and that these activities interact with the curriculum in a way that enriches it.

Seek further support

Try the following organisations:

The Incorporated Society of Musicians has curriculum and assessment materials available for download, as well as details of forthcoming courses.

Music Mark also has updates about training opportunities.

David Wheway is chair of the expert subject advisory group (ESAG) for music

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