NPME – New Guidance for Delivering Child-Centred Music Education in the UK

In 2011, the DfE debuted its National Plan for Music Education. 11 years on, the guidance gets refreshed. Learn how.

Schools

DfE Refreshes National Plan for Music Education

The wheels on the bus go round and round

Round and round, round and round.

The wheels on the bus go round and round

All through the town

 

Traditional nursery rhymes like this are often the first introduction infants and young children have to active musicmaking. Simple lyrics, familiar tunes and coordinating movements – make these songs fun to perform and easy to memorise. 

Now imagine the vision, training, resources and commitment required to bridge a child’s musical development from nursery rhyme to orchestral performance, electronic music composition, or award-winning musical theatre?

No small feat.

So it was no surprise that when in June 2022, the DfE released its policy paper entitled “The power of music to change lives – A National Plan for Music Education,” school leaders, music educators and industry executives alike joined to celebrate this long-awaited update to 2011’s original policy statement.

Boy learning to play the recorder at school
Close up, two KS1 primary pupils, girl and a boy (left to right), both smiling, female head blurred, in foreground.

The Industry’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

Despite the dampening effect which the pandemic has had on culture over the last two years, the UK has proudly maintained a thriving arts and creative sector for centuries – with visible landmarks still bearing witness. From the reconstructed Globe Theatre, to The Bristol Old Vic and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, these magnificent edifices give testimony to our passion for entertainment through the ages. We sang, played and danced through reigns of Elizabeth I to Charles I and George III…not to mention how we enjoy the comedies, dramas and musicals which comprise today’s vibrant West End. 

Music is at the heart of all of that.

“While the value of learning, enjoying and making music is undeniable, so is the value of music to our economy. In 2019, the music industry contributed £5.8 billion to the UK economy, and although the impact of the pandemic reduced this to £3.1 billion in 2020, the sector represents a vital part of the UK economy and its global ‘soft power’.  Pre-pandemic, it generated £2.9 billion in exports and supported 200,000 jobs.” GOV

Moreover, [m]usic education fuels the talent pipeline into this world-leading industry. This industry not only offers employment opportunities but is also directly engaged in the education of our next generation of musicians, from the outreach programmes of our national orchestras to the paid internships offered by major record labels.” GOV

No wonder the “new” National Plan for Music made such a big splash when it landed in our inboxes and across our desks this June.

What’s Being Set Out Today? 2022 NPME Refresh

The new NPME is clear that its mission has not changed since 2011 – children are still meant to achieve four key aims when it comes to music education – they are to sing, play, create and progress. What the new plan attempts to do is tighten some of the frameworks supporting those goals and reiterate the need for joined up provision to make them possible.

click here to download the national plan for music education summary for primary schools
Click HERE to download the National Plan for Music Education summary for Primary Schools

“The national plan for music education sets out the government’s vision to enable all children and young people in England to:

  • learn to sing, play an instrument and create music together
  • have the opportunity to progress their musical interests and talents, including professionally

The plan sets out how we will achieve this vision by 2030, emphasising the importance of partnerships between education settings, music hubs, music organisations working with young people and the music industry.” GOV

What Came Before - 2011 NPME

Upon its release,  then education secretary Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey, minister for the now-defunct Culture, Communications and Creative Industries commented…”Great music education is a partnership between classroom teachers, specialist teachers, professional performers and a host of other organisations, including those from the arts, charity and voluntary sectors. For this reason the creation of a National Plan is necessary to help us to bring together all of this expertise in a focused way for the benefit of children and young people across the country.” MT

It was this new approach to music education that ushered in the development of nearly 120 music education hubs across England, not to mention a significant redistribution of music education funding.

Coming off the back of biting austerity cuts following 2008’s stock market crash, “[t]he introduction of 122 music hubs – the biggest structural change brought about by the NPME – was intended to ensure that every child aged 5 to 18 in England and Wales had the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, play and perform in ensembles and sing in choirs, which generally requires assistance from specialist services.” MT

The new model was the brainchild of the Lib-Dem/Conservative coalition government leading government at the time and was conceived as a counter to existing music service provision – an ad hoc and often unevenly distributed set of access points to school staff development, instrumental loan schemes and specialist music expertise, for example, 

One of the biggest shifts was the ring-fencing of funding with the Arts Council of England (ACE) in charge of disbursements to music services – effectively creating an “audition” process for securing the coveted Hub status. And by the 2012/13 academic year, things seemed to be settling well, with teachers feeling broadly optimistic.

click here to download the national plan for music education summary for primary schools
Click HERE to download the National Plan for Music Education summary for Primary Schools

Challenges to the 2011 National Plan

The landscape for music education has certainly taken on a new shape since the introduction of the original NPME. Forces both inside and outside the academic world have combined to create a “perfect storm” of change. Here are just a few of those key pressures:

  • Music education funding starts to dry up
  • EBacc re-shapes what’s considered “academic” 
  • Pandemic wreaks havoc on lessons and progression
  • Pupil mental health reaches crisis point

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn…

 

1. Centralised budgeting, decision-making and contracts fuel regional tensions

After the NPME’s highly-lauded debut and as the hosepipe of funding seemed to slow over the following months and years, “the teaching profession repeatedly expressed concerns that the NPME was just a mask for further cuts. The plan was fine-tuned, adding elements such as additional music modules at initial teacher training for generalist primary teachers and there were some efforts to reduce the emphasis on classical music and diversify topics within the curriculum.” MT 

Despite these changes, there still seemed to be unresolved debate between Government and schools regarding the balance of centralisation and localisation and the resulting impact on the quality of day-to-day music education provision. A tug of war had developed between Whitehall and the classroom, with young people’s musical futures caught precariously in the balance.

2. Reliance on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) as a performance measure for schools. 

Open options or closed pathways? What the use of Ebacc for scoring secondary school performance meant for progression and advanced skills attainment in music, particularly across Key Stage 4.

According to the Department for Education “The EBacc is a set of subjects at GCSE that keeps young people’s options open for further study and future careers.” GOV2 The Ebacc conspicuously excluding such subjects as music, drama, art and design or media studies, notably places “an educational emphasis on ‘academic’ qualification over the arts (and sport, IT etc)” MT 

More troubling still, despite the oversight of music and other arts-related subjects, it has been made clear that “[t]he government’s ambition is to see 75% of pupils studying the EBacc subject combination at GCSE by 2022, and 90% by 2025” GOV2

 

click here to download the national plan for music education summary for primary schools
Click HERE to download the National Plan for Music Education summary for Primary Schools

3. Coronavirus forces schools into continuous “catch-up” mode at the expense of lesson continuity and smooth academic progression.

““It’s been a difficult start to the year for schools as teachers juggle remote learning, social distancing and Covid testing.” BBC As lessons shifted online, not all students were able to keep up successfully – lack of equipment, difficulty engaging with online lessons and isolation from peers and teachers all played their part. And in the midst of these trying circumstances, not every school was able to deliver music education to the standard they wanted or had previously enjoyed.

 

4. Pupil mental health takes centre stage, putting wellbeing, pastoral care and healthy opportunities for self-expression squarely in the spotlight.

“One in six children has suffered mental health issues during the pandemic, according to the Children’s Commissioner’s annual report.” YM 

And moreover, some mental health issues have been demonstrated to have roots that run far deeper than the previous 2 years’ pandemic concerns. In fact, “90% of school leaders hav[ing] reported an increase in the number of students experiencing anxiety or stress over the last five years” YM 

The cause? Adverse impacts from social media usage, breakdown in the family unit and specific childhood traumas such as abuse or neglect, are most often cited as the catalyst for these increases.

 

So clearly a lot has changed in the last 10 years. 

And thus it is with good reason, the Department for Education, the Arts Council and the network of national Music Hubs have responded with a fresh approach to their evolving educational mandate.

What lies ahead? What can we expect specifically for schools, teachers, parents and pupils?

Continue the journey with us over the coming weeks as we unpack the National Plan for Music Education. Sing Education will be looking closely at key policy areas including:

  • Music education provision in the primary school setting
  • Teacher training and continuous professional development
  • Music beyond the classroom – co-curricular provision

 

It all starts here. With Sing Education. Don’t miss out!

 

If you missed the first article in our in-depth series on The Government’s Bold Plan for Levelling Up Culture & Education, click here!

To read the second article, 20 Years’ in the Making – A Vision for Education that is Free, Fair and Equitable, click here!

 

To learn more about Sing Education, including how our music provision, online instrumental lessons and at home learning resources contribute to a well-rounded music curriculum, please visit www.singeducation.co.uk/schools

click here to download the national plan for music education summary for primary schools

For even more info, practical tips and guidance, click here to download your FREE “National Plan for Music Education Primary School Summary and Video”

 

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About Us

Founded in 2014 and serving more than 9,000 children each week, Sing Education is a first class provider of primary school music education. Focusing on high-quality, singing-led tuition, we deliver a complete solution for schools which includes teacher recruitment, training and management, bespoke curricular resources and educational consultancy services. 

Through music lessons, singing assemblies, choirs, after school clubs and instrumental tuition, Sing Education works with students from Nursery right through to Year 6. Our core philosophy is that “Every Child Has A Voice,” and, as educators active in the classroom, our directors and teachers know firsthand how much young learners benefit from exciting, rewarding music education. 

#SingEducation #MusicChangesLives #HubsAndSpokes

 

Sources:

  1. The power of music to change lives Gov.uk GOV
  2. As above
  3. As above
  4. NPME: All going according to plan? MusicTeacher MT
  5. As above
  6. As above
  7. Guidance: English Baccalaureate (EBacc) Gov.uk GOV2
  8. NPME: All going according to plan? MusicTeacher MT
  9. Guidance: English Baccalaureate (EBacc) Gov.uk GOV2
  10. BBC
  11. Wise Up: Prioritising wellbeing in schools – Young Minds YM
  12. As above
Two primary pupils sitting on the hall floor, hands up to answer question, one pupil has finger on his lip.

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