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Reflections on the Model Music Curriculum

Written by Music specialist Dr Liz Stafford.

The DfE released a new ‘Model Music Curriculum’ for England on 26th March 2021. Although this is a non-statutory document, which does not replace the current statutory National Curriculum, it has caused quite the furore since its release! The music education equivalent of Marmite – people love it or they hate it, and a month on the debate shows no sign of dying down…

Although the Model Music Curriculum is non-statutory, many schools are feeling pressure to use it simply because it has been provided by the DfE, and therefore feels like the ‘official’ approach to curriculum music. However, it’s important to note that the DfE have been really clear that this is just one resource which might support your teaching and Ofsted have also confirmed that they won’t be expecting schools to use it.

 

What schools (apart from Academies, Free Schools and Independent Schools) are statutorily required to do is deliver the National Curriculum for Music. If you’re a Kapow Primary member, then you can rest assured that our Music curriculum is completely aligned to the National Curriculum, so you can just carry on delivering this in your school. (We won’t even blame you if you stop reading this blog right now!)

For those of you curious about the Model Music Curriculum, and wondering if you should take one some or all of its recommendations in our schools, there are a few key issues to take into consideration. Although one of the aims of this document was to help non-specialist teachers to deliver the National Curriculum, by giving more detail and structure to what should be delivered, unfortunately the Model Music Curriculum actually makes things harder for non-specialists.

There is a significant focus on music notation reading and writing, which goes far beyond what you would expect in a typical primary school, and which would be extremely difficult to deliver if you aren’t a music reader yourself. The document also adopts Kodaly Method for the delivery of singing, and if you’re looking at this sentence wondering what on earth that is, then you’ve already identified the problem! Kodaly method is a whole school approach which requires specific training and resources, which most schools will not have the time and budget to provide for their non-specialist teachers just to satisfy this one area of the Model Music Curriculum.

Here at Kapow Primary, we are all about supporting non-specialist teachers. We know that what teachers need is a fully-resourced, progressive programme of study for music from EYFS to Year 6, with inbuilt CPD for the teacher, rather than a framework that teachers have to then find individual resources and training for to be able to deliver each component part.

 

Across all subjects, our scheme has been written by serving primary teachers who understand the needs of non-specialists and how to best support them. This is perhaps where the Model Music Curriculum may have had issues from the start, since the expert panel and writing team were predominantly made up of music experts from outside the classroom, and even those serving teachers involved were not from ‘typical’ primary and secondary schools. There was no opportunity for schools and teachers to consult on the materials prior to publication, and therefore the lack of usability for non-specialists was not picked up in the development process.

It’s not just in its unsuitability for non-specialists where the Model Music Curriculum runs into difficulties. The model is unfortunately not underpinned by the musical development research, curriculum design research, or best practice pedagogy that is in common use in music teaching in England. Instead it is based on a general ‘knowledge rich’ approach where students show progress by learning more ‘stuff’ each week.  The problem with taking this approach to music is that as a subject, we are all about skills! Anyone who has tried to write a Knowledge Organiser for music will know that it takes a considerable amount of cognitive gymnastics to make music ‘fit’ into a template designed for other subjects, and that facts and information are only a tiny part of what we do in music. The recognised ‘best practice’ approach to music curriculum design is the ‘spiral’ model, where pupils do gradually learn more things at greater levels of complexity, but also return to simpler skills to deepen their artistry and understanding, and also apply these across multiple styles and traditions of music to develop breadth of learning too. The Model Music Curriculum is, sadly, a linear structured curriculum, where there is little space for the development of depth and breadth of musical skill.

 

The Kapow Primary approach to music is unashamedly skills-based, on a spiral model which encourages deep and broad learning. Yes, of course over time pupils will learn facts and information about music, but the focus is on developing their practical skills so that they can create and perform music, which is a true reflection of what the National Curriculum requires. We also take an holistic approach to music, where the individual skills of performing, composing and listening are taught together, since multiple research studies over several decades suggest that this is the best way to ensure children’s musical development. In addition, rather than using composing and instrumental work as a vehicle for learning how to write music down, the Kapow approach is to use these skills to explore ‘how music works’, which again is in line with an approach adopted by schools and validated with regular research studies since the 1970s. Overall we are confident that our approach is more strongly rooted in the pedagogy of music teaching, and will therefore be of more help to children’s musical development.

Now, you might be thinking – they would say all that wouldn’t they? And you’re right, we would. But mainly because it’s true!

While the Model Music Curriculum debate is really polarised, with that real Marmite flavour running through it, here at Kapow Primary we haven’t ‘accepted’ or ‘rejected’ the document. We’ve looked in detail at the Model Music Curriculum and how it compares to what we offer, and because they are both based on the National Curriculum we have of course identified some areas of commonality – for example a crossover in some of the listening repertoire. You can find a detailed document showing a direct comparison of how Kapow Primary’s scheme aligns with the Model Music Curriculum.

 

We’ve also considered that some schools may decide to adopt the Model Music Curriculum approach, and so we are looking into ways of supporting schools who make that decision. That said, we want to reassure you that if the Model Music Curriculum is not for you, that’s ok! We’ve heard a lot over the last few weeks from teachers worried about implementing it, which is exactly the opposite of what the DfE intended by commissioning this document. If it’s not helpful or suitable for your school, you do not need to use it, and you can count on Kapow Primary to continue to support you and your pupils on your musical learning journey!

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Written by:
Elizabeth Stafford

After a brief spell as an opera singer, Liz embarked on a 20-year career in music education, teaching at early years, primary and secondary. After Liz had her daughter, she started her own business Music Education Solutions® Limited, helping teachers across the UK deliver music with confidence. Liz teaches Foundation Stage and KS1 music in a primary school, and is also Programme Leader for the largest Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators centre in the world! She is Editor of Primary Music Magazine, a writer for Music Teacher Magazine, and a reviewer for the British Journal of Music Education.

 

Elizabeth has created lesson plans and resources for a wide range of Music topics including KS2 projects on musical theatre and lessons to encourage pupils to create musical compositions to represent Holi.