The current climate of Music Education – Inspirations and Challenges…


My thoughts on the current developments in Music Education (and the associated opportunities and challenges new teachers will face)…


Quite a dry blog title, there… Hopefully the following will be less so!

Music Education, generally speaking, is in a constant state of flux. According to Bray (2009), since the advent of the National Curriculum in 1988, the Music Curriculum has had to ‘respond to the changing and often competing needs of students, parents and employers’, the result of which is regular revisions of the guidelines appearing periodically. Indeed, we are at a point in time where we are looking forward (?) to the new Music Curriculum, which will be put into action in 2014.

When the National Curriculum for Music arrived in 2007, schools were encouraged to be more creative with how they would approach the teaching of Music. The curriculum stated the aims and objectives for Music Education in schools in the broader sense, but didn’t make particular reference to how this could be achieved, which is a massive change from the initial National Curriculum for Music, which was a 77-page document introduced in 1992, where objectives were set alongside examples and detailed breakdowns of the ‘correct’ approach to teaching music:

Music today is seen as fundamental part of a rounded education, and as such, educators are being encouraged to go to greater lengths to ensure that music is as inclusive as possible. The new guidelines for the National Curriculum for music 2014 even open with the words:

“Music is a universal language that embodies one of the highest forms of creativity.”

To this end, there has been a shift in the way in which music is approached in schools. In his Review For Music in Education, Darren Henley (2011) recommends that ‘singing should be an important part of every child’s school life from Early Years through to at least Key Stage 3′, as well as going further to suggest that all children should be given the chance to learn an instrument from Key Stage 2 and recommending that this is carried out through whole class ensemble teaching.

There are a few key ways in which schools are starting to redress the balance of music teaching. Schools are working hard to engage more with their students and are embracing new programmes that encourage a more informal style of learning. Some of the more well-known examples of this are:

  • Sing Up
  • El Sistema and the In Harmony Programme
  • Musical Futures


Sing Up ( is a programme built around the idea that singing is a fantastic way to engage with (primary) students, allowing themto gain confidence in and out of the classroom, improve their listening skills, and to generally improve morale across the school. Through the medium of singing, students are able to engage with their subjects and lessons (not necessarily music alone) in a more immersive manner, and can encourage expressive development in all children. The Sing Up mission statement is as follows:

“Singing improves learning, confidence, health and social development. It has the power to change lives and help to build stronger communities. We believe that singing should be at the heart of every educational setting because all children and young people deserve to have regular access to high-quality singing activities throughout their lives. Our mission is to ensure this happens by providing schools with excellent musical resources and workforce development opportunities, supported by a network of expert music education providers.”

Here’s a really good example of what Sing Up are bringing to Primary Schools across the country:

El Sistema is a movement from Venezuela whereby children are taught to play music together in large ensembles or choruses, learning their instruments collectively, rather than on a one-to-one basis. The objective of this method isn’t necessarily to create the next top-flight musicians, rather to give all students a chance to grasp and enjoy music at an early age, as well as helping them to develop socially, through collective music making and being part of a musical family.

IHSE_logo_blue (1)In the UK the In Harmony ( programme is leading the way in this method, inspiring and transforming the lives of children through community based orchestral music making. Young children from the most deprived areas of the country are given group instrumental tuition by top music leaders, and are then placed in orchestras together and encouraged to perform in front of audiences from an early age. In my opinion, there is nothing better for a child’s confidence than to perform in front of an audience, and the fact that they are playing in such numbers means that the pressure and chance of performance anxiety is greatly reduced. I believe that the ideals of this program are perfect with regards to getting children involved in and inspired by music making in all its forms, and that we should be looking to bring this system into schools across the country. Indeed, in an Ofstead review of Faith school, Liverpool, the report stated that “the school’s involvement in [In Harmony] is reaping exceptional rewards, especially in how it engages pupils in their learning and motivates them… By its success in musical performances the school is raising the self-esteem and pride of pupils and their parents”.

Here’s a BBC News report on El Sistema:

And a MUCH BETTER video, looking at In Harmony in Liverpool!

Musical Futures ( is a movement looking to change the balance in the way music is taught in themusfutureshires-splash classroom, embracing the use of less-formal teaching methods and informal learning at its heart to promote relevant and engaging music-making activities for students. Using practical pedagogy, Musical Futures encourages students to find a way into music through learning about music that they value. Because the students value what they are doing (both in a practical and emotional sense), they are far more motivated when it comes to their musical education. As such, once the students are on the inside track with music, it is far easier to encourage them to embrace a broader range of musical styles and practises. Musical Futures defines itself as:

What defines Musical Futures in practice?

  • A variety of non-formal and informal teaching and learning approaches grounded in secure pedagogy
  • Practical work on instruments/voice, creating authentic musical experiences
  • Aural learning, that fully integrates listening with practical music making, improvising and composing
  • Students are motivated and engaged by music they value and that is relevant to them, before moving onto other musical and learning styles
  • Technique, notation and other forms of written instruction are part of the process but are developed through practical playing
  • Teachers and practitioners act as facilitators, through showing rather than telling, and through guiding and modelling rather than instructing
  • Develops skills and confidence in teachers enabling them to deliver high quality MF approaches

This is taken from the Musical Futures conference in Leeds earlier this year:

Opportunities and Challenges New Teachers Face… 

I think that in the present climate of Music Education, teachers both old and new can be really excited. The freedom to teach in an individual style, as is suggested by the National Curriculum, and the range of in-school programmes I’ve mentioned above really opens doors for immersive learning, and for students to really fall in love with music in its many forms. With the advent of Music Hubs in local communities, and their subsequent unification across the board means that today the opportunity to learn about music is more accessible to young people outside the classroom than ever before, which can only be a good thing!

One of the key things i’m excited about when it comes to teaching is the opportunity to develop valued and lasting relationships with my pupils based on a shared love for music in its many forms. By listening to the student voice as a tool for personalising one’s teaching (finding out what students think of their music education is the first step to improving it), we can promote an atmosphere of openness and trust between pupils and their teacher, and creating a safe environment for pupils to be confident in themselves and their own ideas, safe in the knowledge they will be listened to by their peers as well as their teacher.

One major challenge when it comes to music teaching is promoting the importance of the subject to the point that both teaching staff and parents believe that it is important for the pupils, that the whole school can benefit from a thriving musical culture. This is a real toughie, as generally speaking, each subject teacher is inevitably so taken with their own subject that something as ‘trivial’ as music can be brushed off without a thought. Having seen the progress that the Sing Up programme is making though, I’d beg to differ, and see that music can help subjects across the board. In terms of parents, we have to think of a broader issue; that in a multi-cultural community,  the importance of music from parent to parent could be massively different. I think that it is incredibly important to have an open and amicable dialogue with every parent associated with the school, so that they are on the inside track when it comes to their child’s education. If they can see tangible evidence that their child loves to play music, has a talent for doing so, or is even enjoying their own personal development in the subject through concert performances, meetings with staff or through their enthusiasm and confidence spilling over to their home life, then we are in a really strong position to help them to understand the importance of our chosen subject to personal development in children.


When thinking about cultural differences in music, it is important to remember that there are always families that do promote virtuosity and interest in music (sometimes too much)…

Hope this has been kind of informative, clearly there are gonna be gaps in my knowledge and trying to fit all music education developments into 1500 words is a real task!




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