Demystifying the primary music curriculum

Demystifying the primary music curriculum


There’s a lot going on in music education right now! For primary non-specialist teachers keeping up with all the reports, acronyms and edu-jargon can seem like an overwhelming task. In this blog, we will unpick some of the latest developments in the primary music curriculum and find out what teachers really need to know about music!


The basics of the primary music curriculum

Despite many people arguing to the contrary, I personally don’t believe that music is a ‘specialist subject’. Music is for everyone, and anyone can and should do music! There are many advantages to having the class teacher teach music, including but not limited to greater familiarity with the class and their abilities and interests, more settled and established behaviour routines, and smoother transitions between lessons. Fundamentally though, the main argument I have against ‘helicoptering in’ a music ‘specialist’ is that it may give the children the subconscious impression that only ‘special people’ can do music. As I said before, music is for everyone, and the last thing we want to do is give our pupils the impression that it’s not for them.

People often conflate the idea of ‘being musical’ with ‘reading music’, but in reality, these are separate concepts: you can be musical without reading music, and vice versa! Reading music is only a small part of the National Curriculum (and only at KS2), so if you’re not a music reader, that shouldn’t hold you back in terms of teaching most of the music curriculum. Generally speaking, confidence and understanding of primary level material are much more important for teachers than a high level of personal musical skill. That is not to say, however, that non-specialist teachers wouldn’t benefit from additional training and development to raise their level of confidence and skill in teaching music!


Key documents to know about

In the last year or so there have been many new documents released regarding music in the UK. The only statutory documents you really need to worry about are the national curriculum programmes of study for the country in which you reside. Although all different, they share areas of commonality, with each of them featuring performing (voices and instruments), composing and improvising as a means of exploring the elements (interrelated dimensions) of music, and listening. There is a greater focus on technology in the Welsh and Scottish curricula, and more focus on notation and the history of music in the English document. As long as you are following the national curriculum then you can’t go far wrong with your music, and there are plenty of curriculum-aligned schemes and resources that can help you in your delivery.


Music Development Matters

Schools with early years provision will want to know about the Music Development Matters guidance written by Nicola Burke on behalf of BAECE. This supplements and extends the EYFS Development Matters guidelines and gives a clear account of what to look for in terms of musical development from birth to 5 years.


Model Music Curriculum (MMC)

In England, teachers should be aware of the Model Music Curriculum which came out in 2021. Although mired in controversy from the very start, and receiving very mixed reviews on publication, alongside a swift statement from Ofsted clarifying that it is not an expectation of theirs that schools should use it, schools should nonetheless take a look at this document and decide for themselves if they wish to use it or not.


Music Subject Research Review

Also of interest to English schools will be the Music Subject Research Review published by Ofsted in 2021. A note of caution has been sounded around this document that it is actually a position paper showing you the research that Ofsted agrees with, rather than a full review of all available research! But in some ways perhaps that’s even more useful, as at least now we know what they are looking for!


National Plan for Music Education (NPME)

Wales pipped England to the post in the publication of their National Plan for Music Education with both countries’ documents coming out a few months apart in 2022. These plans set out the bigger picture of music education across the relevant country over the next decade, with the aim of ending the ‘postcode lottery’ nature of music provision and providing inclusive and accessible opportunities for all. Schools play a central role in both of these plans, so while they are non-statutory, it will be difficult to see how the plans will come to fruition if schools ignore them!


Some final advice

Curriculum should be at the heart of your music offer. Get that right and every child will receive a high-quality music education regardless of whether they can afford to pay for instrumental lessons or their ability to get to extra-curricular activities. As a subject leader my priorities would be on investing in the resources that you need to meet the national curriculum requirements – whether that is a scheme of work, or instruments, or both – and in providing your teaching staff with the training and support they need to use these with confidence. Then as your music provision becomes more established you can cherry pick from the other documents as you see fit, to add additional enrichment opportunities for your pupils and develop your individual primary music curriculum.

Dr Elizabeth Stafford is an internationally recognised music education expert with over 2 decades experience as a music teacher, academic and trainer. She is director of the global music education consultancy company Music Education Solutions, editor of Primary Music Magazine, and author of the Primary Music Leader’s Handbook