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Worth the wait? The National Plan for Music Education in England

Following is my summary of the NPME, written for Music Education UK magazine and website.

The full piece includes comments from practitioners and authorities on music education, including school teacher Jackie Schneider, education consultant David Price, music/culture/education campaigner Marc Jaffrey and representatives from Youth Music, Sound Sense, and many other organisations working in music with young people.

You can also download the pdf here: Music Education UK guide to the NPME.

What is it?

It’s a ‘flexible template’ for how music education for children and young people aged five to eighteen will operate in England, in and out of schools (although it doesn’t alter the national curriculum for music*). It could potentially affect everyone working with young people in music: primary school classroom teachers, secondary school music teachers, community musicians, independent music organisations and others in the voluntary sector, orchestras and other music groups, and youth/community workers.

It’s the government’s formal response to the ‘Henley Review’ into music education, published earlier this year and commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

We’ve been here before: isn’t it just another music education report that won’t make any difference?

Well for once this plan heralds some big changes for music education: a shake up of the way the various parts of the sector work and, most importantly, work together. You can run, but you can’t hide.

Big changes? Like what?

The biggest change is to the Music Standards Fund. This was the money that was ring-fenced for music education and distributed to local authorities for activities run by their Music Services (instrumental/singing teachers, county music groups/ensembles, music centres). It’s gone.

The Standards Fund, gone … really? 

It’s gone, but it’s replaced by ring-fenced money to encourage more joined-up music education. Henley’s report said that ‘the best music education comes from partnership; no one teacher, performer, school, organisation, group or body has all of the requisite skills to deliver every part of a rounded Music Education to every child’. So the money won’t go to local authorities or music services. Instead, it’ll go to partnerships of providers – ‘hubs’ – in each local authority area or across areas. They could be made up of anyone working with young people in music, from schools to community musicians to peripatetic teachers, and it’s expected that most will involve local authorities and those who are funded nationally for music education – eg orchestras.

Doesn’t sound that different from what’s already happening.

Henley found – as we knew – that music education across the country was patchy: excellent in some areas, poor in others, and lots of variables in between. This plan attempts to address that by laying down clear requirements, focused on outcomes for young people.

Hubs will be driven by what’s needed, rather than by what individual organisations want to provide. They’ll need to find out what young people want and need, and deliver it. Then they’ll need to audit this regularly with the help of Arts Council-funded ‘Bridge’ organisations. Also, Oftsed, in their inspections, will be asking what difference hubs have made to music in schools.

 Hubs will need to ‘consider how to engage and inspire [pupils] … and then stretch their boundaries so they experience a range of musical genres and activities’. They’ll also need to break down barriers for certain groups – eg those defined as SEN, LAC, NEET, and others – ‘through innovative approaches to teaching and making music’, and free/subsidised activities where needed.

 Sounds good on paper, but what will hubs actually DO?

There are four ‘core’ roles, which are compulsory and which the DfE funding is to be spent on, and three ‘extension’ roles which most hubs are expected also to deliver, with DfE and other funding:

Core roles are to provide:

  • weekly learning of instruments through whole-class ensembles for a minimum of a term (but ideally a year) for every child aged 5-18
  • opportunities to play in ensembles and perform
  • clear progression routes which are available and affordable to all young people
  • regular singing opportunities including choirs and vocal ensembles for every pupil as a result of a singing strategy (possibly drawing on support from Sing Up! or the Voices Foundation)

Extension roles are to provide:

  • CPD for school staff, particularly to help deliver curriculum music, as well as leadership
  • an instrument loan service (discounted/free for those on low incomes)
  • access to large scale/high quality music experiences for pupils via professional musicians/venues –  may include publicizing opportunities available to schools, parents/carers, pupils.

Hubs can provide services directly, or link schools to other providers (eg a local freelance musician).

So some hubs can get away with the bare minimum – still sounds a bit patchy to me.

Well the idea is that hubs won’t want to or be able to ‘get away with’ the bare minimum because partnership and accountability will be in-built. But it will take a massive shift: new ways of thinking and in some cases a shedding of territorial attitudes and competition for funding. And yes, there will inevitably still be differences across the country.

And how much money is available?

Ah, there’s the rub. There’s less (no surprises there then). It’s still ring-fenced and it still comes from the DfE. But it’s a dramatic cut: 27% over three years. The idea is that partnership working will mean a leaner, more cost effective service: with ‘back office savings’ as well as more chance of drawing in funding from ‘local authorities, cultural organisations, businesses, trusts, foundations and philanthropists’ (not forgetting that there’s already the significant amount of money that comes from parents via music tuition fees). So the figures look like this (although the plan extends to 2020):

2011/12            £82.5 million (current funding through Standards Fund)

2012/13            £77m

2013/14            £65m

2014/15            £60m

But that doesn’t mean anything if we don’t know how much our area will get.

There’s still uncertainty about exactly how much money will be available, because it’s expected (hoped) that there will be fewer hubs than local authority areas – ie through a hub working across more than one area (there may be casualties).

The amount will be based on how many pupils there are in an area, with extra money for pupils who have free school meals. For some areas this will mean a marked reduction in funding (but there will be a temporary financial buffer). As a result, ‘ the historical imbalance in funding between areas will have been completely turned around’ by 2014-15.

Not all of the quoted amounts will go to music hubs. Some of the money will be used for In Harmony Sistema England (which will be extended), the National Youth Music Organisations (which government say represent the ‘pinnacle of achievement’), the Music and Dance Scheme, and to pay the Arts Council to manage the fund.

Who can get hold of the money and where from?

For the first time, Department for Education money will be held and distributed by the Arts Council of England (ACE) who will also hold hubs to account if they fail to achieve their objectives (and apparently so will pupils, parents and schools). There will be an ‘open application process’ which will focus on outcomes for pupils, partnership working, and economies of scale.

So, it’s all about cutting funding, moving around money, and making music services more accountable. What about teachers and other music educators at the coalface?

You’ll have a much stronger voice. Rather than being passive recipients of music services activities, schools/groups of schools will have strong representation on the hubs. You’ll also get greater access to the skills, talents and resources available in an area. Ultimately the hubs are there to make sure that your pupils/participants get better results from the funding that’s available for music education. School-to-school support (particularly secondary schools and feeder primaries) is also part of this.

But it’ll be all down to how effectively and willingly the people and organisations in your area work together. Also, how well the hubs can advocate their work to your head/senior management team (they’ need to help teachers to ‘better embed music teaching within a school’s overall strategy’ and advocate ‘the importance of music education to school leaders’).

The other good news is around training and professional development for teachers. For primary school teachers just starting out – and any others wanting to develop their skills – there’ll be new Initial Teacher Training modules. Included will be help to ‘better enable them to network and get support from developing music education hubs’. For teachers as well as the wider workforce the hubs will offer professional development opportunities and access to local expertise and networks – and there’s an emphasis on helping with music technology. For the wider workforce there will also be a music educator qualification developed by the Arts Council and Creative and Cultural Skills.

And for young people?

Hopefully more inspiring, relevant, music opportunities: a continuation or development of existing opportunities in schools, based around their needs, which will be well communicated to them and their parents; better, clearer pathways and progression routes taking account of the types of music they choose to pursue, the ways they want to learn, the methods of accreditation for their achievements, and what they want out of it. There’s a table in the plan (pages 13-15) that sets out exactly what pupils should expect.

Do say …

The government really believes in the transformative power of music, and it’s great that we’ve got ring-fenced money and what could be a revolutionary way forward.

Don’t say …

It’ll all fall apart when music comes out of the curriculum*. (The National Curriculum Review reports in early 2012.) UPDATE: See Music Education UK  for encouraging news on this.




17 February                                Deadline for hub applications to Arts Council

Late April                                    Announcement of successful hubs

1 April                                          Arts Council ‘Bridge’ organisations fully operational – will work with Arts Council to align their
work in cultural education and help hubs with signposting, networks, needs audit.

April-Sept                                    Soliciting of hub proposals for any areas not covered by successful hubs

May-Aug                                      Hub funding negotiations/agreements/business plans

1 Aug                                             Hub funding begins

Summer                                     Teaching Agency will develop the new ITT module in music

September                                     Music education hubs start operating, take forward music services’ work


By 2013                                        Suite of new qualifications including ‘music educator’ developed by Arts Council and
Creative and Cultural Skills


  1. Elizabeth on 26th September 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Take a look at
    The new music hub has failed the children of South Gloucestershire & parents / music teachers are setting up orchestra as a charitable trust. Perhaps someone should have asked us waht we wanted?

  2. anitanee on 27th September 2012 at 8:20 am

    So sorry to hear that Elizabeth, but amazing that you parents have got together to make sure kids don’t miss out. Website looks great – good luck with it all.

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