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The power of music to change lives: A National Plan for Music Education

Friday, 1 July, 2022

“Music is a cornerstone of the broad and balanced education that every child should receive. It touches hearts and minds, it celebrates and challenges, and it connects us and moves us…Government believes that all children, regardless of background, should have access to a high-quality music education, should understand their options, and be supported to make progress. This refreshed NPME will help us to ensure that ambition is realised. Everyone has a part to play.” 

This week the long-awaited refresh of the National Plan for Music Education in England has finally been published. Whilst much of the plan feels very familiar, there are important updates that impact the brass band sector's ongoing involvement in music education. The plan builds on The Model Music Curriculum (published in March 2021) and the first National Plan for Music Education (published in November 2011). The plan has been informed by music educators across the country, and a broader consultation via a Call for Evidence which Brass Bands England responded to, and encouraged its members to do so too.

Alongside the plan is a £25 million investment announced for musical instruments and technology, which is, of course, welcome. However, what has not been confirmed as of yet is how this fund will be distributed - e.g. via Music Education Hubs, or directly to schools.

Below is a summary of the content of the National Plan, highlighting areas particularly relevant to the brass banding sector.

Music Education Hubs

Although there are planned changes, the presence of Music Education Hubs (first established following the first National Plan in 2011) are key in the #PowerOfMusic plan, making clear that every Hub should build ‘a sustainable local eco-system for music education, through partnerships, with progression, access and inclusion, central to their work’.

The continued emphasis on partnership working, collaboration and inclusion is incredibly positive, with a continuing remit for community bands to create partnerships with their local MEH’s. 

Although the new plan does not provide a defined set of Core and Extension roles for Music Education Hubs, there are three ‘goals’:

  • All children and young people receive a high-quality music education in the early years and in schools 
  • All music educators to work in partnership with children and young people’s needs and interests at their heart
  • All children and young people with musical interests and talents to have the opportunity to progress their interests and potential, including professionally

Music Hub Lead Organisations, which receive and are accountable for government’s funding will have responsibility for five strategic functions, to be delivered through partnership:

Music in schools

Some of the features of high-quality school music provision are set out as:

  • Timetabled curriculum music of at least one hour each week of the school year for key stages 1-3
  • Access to lessons across a range of instruments, and voice
  • A school ensemble/band/group
  • Opportunity to enjoy live performance at least once a year

This opens pathways for brass bands to support their local schools in delivering the music in schools, whether that be providing performances to inspire and engage young people in their area, or exploring collaborations with schools to deliver ensembles or music-focused after-school clubs.

In a further step to prioritise music in the curriculum, all schools should be able to articulate their plan for delivering high-quality music education and supporting pupils to progress, just as they would in any other curriculum subject” via a School Music Development Plan.

WCET (Whole Class Ensemble Teaching) continues to be part of the music education plan, setting out that Primary Schools ‘should offer group instrumental teaching programmes in class time – either WCET or large/small-group tuition’

As many of us are well aware, signposted, established progression routes following WCET are vital to ensuring a pipeline of players engaged in ensemble playing throughout their school life and beyond. A pilot Music Progression Fund has been announced to explore “a range of interventions to support disadvantaged pupils with significant musical potential, enthusiasm and commitment. Eligible pupils will receive small-group and/or individual support in learning an instrument and/or learning to sing to a high standard over a sustained period.”

This is a welcome step in prioritising progression to ensemble playing and providing inclusive opportunities for young people in challenging circumstances to continue their musical development.

In order to support teachers, Music Education Hubs will be asked to appoint Lead Schools for Music to create networks of best practice. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) has been prioritised in the plan, with further funding commitments to establish four national centres of excellence in inclusion, CPD, music technology and pathways to industry.”

Supporting progression and furthering musical development

The focus on ‘Building Talent Pathways’ is welcome, and showcases the need and desire to provide career opportunities for children and young people to progress to working in the arts. However, the plan for furthering musical development seems to stop there, with little acknowledgement of the benefits of progressing to playing into an amateur setting, or the value the life-long learning through music. 

Out-of-school settings

The National Plan for Music Education is not just for schools, music education in out-of-school settings (including in the bandroom) is key.

“For some children and young people, their engagement with music education may be largely outside of school – this may be the most appropriate path for them, and this should be acknowledged and supported as such. Schools and Music Hubs have a crucial role to play in understanding and supporting this broad infrastructure of music-making and connecting their pupils to these opportunities.”

This statement makes clear that education settings should have a role in sign-posting to community music-making opportunities.

The importance of National Youth Music Organisations (such as the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain) has also been reiterated.

"National Youth Music Organisations (NYMOs) support young people’s musical progression outside school. They provide a peer environment in which young people can be inspired, take on advanced musical challenges and make decisions about their future education and careers … Working with peers at a national level is highly motivational for young people, especially those considering a future in music."

Supporting the out-of-school workforce

A welcome addition to the plan is the commitment to developing the out-of-school workforce, and the recognition of their value to the musical education ecology.

“Music Hubs should support the development of out-of-school teachers. Connecting with the local Music Hub will allow these teachers to build links with other practitioners and organisations delivering music activity in an area, and to share practice, resources, and peer-to-peer support.”

Brass Bands England are delighted that this clear directive to support youth band leaders and tutors in community settings is featured in the plan and we look forward to working with our Music Education Hub partners to support the sector.

Musical communities 

“Across the country there are a plethora of music groups and amateur musicians dedicated to making music in their community. These individuals are often at the heart of a young person’s music experience, particularly in rural areas. There are already many examples of musicians from the amateur sector going into local schools to perform to younger audiences. Schools and amateur groups can think creatively about how their use of school facilities out of hours can also lead to more developed partnerships.

Partnering with local groups and musicians can be beneficial for children and young people, connecting them with musical role models from within their own communities, and making them feel proud of where they live. Watching music-making by passionate and skilled amateurs can inspire young people to consider music as a lifelong pursuit, worthwhile even if they don’t intend to become professional musicians. High-quality amateur ensembles and groups can also represent an important and accessible progression opportunity for young people with musical potential, enriching and embedding variety into their musical experience.”

The recognition and value placed on amateur music groups as part of the music education ecology is incredibly welcome and echoes Arts Council England’s Let’s Create Vision of the importance of community, grass-roots music-making.

In Summary 

So what does the Brass Bands England team think of the new National Plan? In general, it is a positive step, embedding the importance of partnership building with community music groups, MEH’s and Schools, in addition to providing a mandate (albeit non-statutory) to put Music at the heart of education. However, the lack of focus on Youth Voice in young people’s journey through musical life is disappointing, with just a couple of mentions of ‘self-directed music learning’ throughout the document. 

The elephant in the room is, without a doubt, the workforce required to deliver on this ambitious plan. The in-school capacity, the Music Education Hub staff and the wide-ranging expertise on all aspects of music education. It is easy to be sceptical and just assume that it’ll all be too much, or we can look to how brass bands can be (and already are!) a vital part of the music education system.

Personally, I am delighted at how closely so many elements of the plan align with the core aims and objectives of the Brass Foundations programme and look forward to working with the team to set out our future strategy to support bands, schools and Music Education Hubs in creating the pipeline that makes the future of brass banding possible.

Sarah Baumann

Education and Development Manager, Brass Bands England