The publication of the National Plan for Music Education (NPME) last year signalled a clear commitment from the government to support the provision of music for children and young people.
It was supported by £170 million in funding across three years to provide every child aged five to 18 with the opportunity to sing, learn a musical instrument, and perform as part of an ensemble or choir.
This plan was needed to address a disparity in the quality of music education available to students in different parts of the country and draw in a wider range of providers who could potentially enrich the offer.
The 122 music education hubs, introduced last September to help achieve the aims set out in the plan, are regarded as key to delivering this wider offering and increasing the music opportunities both inside and outside school.
Inspecting secondary music
Ofsted is keen to monitor the early impact of music education hubs and determine the effectiveness of their relationship with local schools. Subject visits have already begun and there will be a particular focus on how hubs augment and support a school’s provision and management of music. Visits will take place in secondary schools, with headteachers being given up to five days’ notice.
While many secondary schools have paid attention to the NPME and the vision outlined by the Department for Education, others have not yet taken full advantage of the support on offer. This means that schools could be missing a valuable opportunity to improve attainment and deliver more engaging music lessons.
Of course, while many secondary schools are proactive and already have fantastic music provision, unfortunately the message is not reaching everyone. Some teachers are still not fully aware of the NPME and the role of the hubs.
This is a concern, because to reach the target of significantly improving the quality of teaching and music curriculum provision by 2015, the inspectors will expect to see schools and hubs working together to lay down foundations for these improvements.
What’s on offer?
For secondary schools, hubs can help to extend musical skills and opportunities through extra-curricular activities, as well as by providing training opportunities and CPD for teachers.
While secondary school music teachers will have specialist training, they may not have the expertise to develop pupils’ skills across a range of instruments or certain musical genres. This is where the role of hubs is so crucial in liaising with schools in order to provide teaching and progression routes for those children who need provision beyond what individual schools can offer.
This support could include anything from specialist instrumental tuition, access to music technology, ensembles and orchestras, instrumental group tours and performances in venues that schools may not be able to access, performance opportunities with a cluster of schools, or links to professional musicians and recording studios.
Music technology, for example, represents an opportunity for teachers to introduce more personal creativity as well as diverse and contemporary genres of music into lessons, which can develop pupils’ cultural understanding of different music styles.
For example, working with 71 music education hubs, Charanga has developed Hip Hop Coach, an ICT-supported programme which allows key stage 3 pupils to experiment with composition, lyric-writing, mixing, music-production and performance.
Many hubs have incorporated these resources into their CPD provision and have used their group purchasing power to provide these at a much-reduced cost for schools.
It is important that awareness about music education hubs and the support on offer spreads far and wide. Working with hubs, schools can ensure they are extending a wide range of music opportunities to their pupils, and through high-quality music education, they can potentially drive up the numbers of children progressing with the subject to GCSE and beyond.
Hearing from a hub
Following a £2 million grant from Arts Council England, Norfolk County Council established a music education hub with the remit of bringing together orchestras, choirs, schools, teachers and performers to boost music learning in all Norfolk schools.
Maureen Hanke, head of the Norfolk Music Service, explained the support they offer to local secondary school music departments.
“There are a number of ways in which we work with schools but a key part of our service is providing a network whereby we can all keep in touch through email, whether it is for instrumental or vocal tuition, access to digital resources or CPD for teachers.”
The hub has worked in line with the NPME to expand the number of performance opportunities for young people in the area. It hosts weekly ensembles and band practices, and its County Youth Orchestra and Symphonic Wind Band are particularly popular among secondary school pupils. Also, key stage 4 workshops provide students with the chance to practise GCSE or A level set music, meet with other schools in the county and perform live on stage.
Ms Hanke continued: “While there is a good deal of uptake when it comes to music opportunities out of school, there is also support available to assist teaching, and schools could be benefiting more from this. Key stage 3 music, for example, is incredibly broad and understandably teachers can be overwhelmed by it.”
Unfortunately, the fact that some schools are reluctant to spend additional money on their music department by allowing them to attend such training also means that pupils could be missing out on valuable opportunities to get more involved in music and progress with the subject.
Ms Hanke continued: “Faced with pressures of preparing students for exams, teachers often feel they can’t devote time to further training or resource workshops.
“CPD is essential to ensure that teachers remain at the top of their game and feel confident in teaching dynamic music lessons that truly engage key stage 3 pupils, encouraging them to take it at GCSE.
“The hub also offers access to digital music programmes and given how young people are increasingly savvy when it comes to digital resources, schools could be making more use of technology to enrich music lessons.
“Music is such an important part of children’s lives and working with the schools, our central aim is to provide a broad and balanced programme of music-making opportunities that are open to all children from a diversity of backgrounds.”
Further informationFor more information on the National Plan for Music Education, visit www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00200352/national-plan-for-music-education.For details of the music education hubs, which are being co-ordinated by the Arts Council, and contact details for hubs across the country, visit www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/our-investment/funding-programmes/music-education-hubs/
Mark Burke is director at Charanga, a UK provider of digital teaching and learning support for music education. Charanga is the technology partner for more than 70 local authority music services and their music education hubs.