This week, the long-awaited model music curriculum was published. Having spent most of the week browsing the fallout on social media, I’ve just finished reading the secondary schools’ section of the actual document.
I have many thoughts, but, in truth, I’m not sure any of it really matters.
Defenders of the document will point to the text’s strong inference that ‘proper’ (weekly, non-carousel) music provision is essential for schools wishing to be awarded an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted. In truth, this was evident from the ‘broad and balanced’ rhetoric that has been flying around for some time. Many schools have already responded to this, so, great?
As important as it is to hear that ‘kids should have music lessons’ (in a guidance document that no-one has to follow), if the music lessons subsequently outlined in the document are lacking, the then value of the big ‘takeaway’ is undermined. The rest of the document matters too.
Our subject’s position as a viable GCSE subject is dire; I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but on average only 5-10% of a cohort will elect to study Music at KS4. In my opinion, the overriding message of the model curriculum is ‘you know the ol’ music curriculum that yields a class of about 15 kids out of an average cohort? That is the curriculum you should be doing‘. While reading the document, my heart sank as I came to this realisation.
I guess it is a question of perspective, and, based on the dialogue online, a question of repertoire (and notation). The document contains a lot of what to teach (yes, I know, suggestions, but teachers are time poor so many will stick to the list), and less about how to teach it. My reading is that pedagogy is missing in the new model music curriculum.
Let’s deal with the what first. The ‘old’ national curriculum was a framework on how to teach Music, the idea being that you select the content based on your context. Ideas such as the ‘local curriculum’, as well as teacher expertise, and many other factors, then come into play. I understand lots of teachers ask ‘what to teach’, but I wonder whether a better solution would be to provide a framework for curriculum design (key questions, considerations, etc.), rather than a somewhat arbitrary and non-transferable list of pieces, essentially labelled as ‘do this’.
In some contexts, the works presented would probably work well. The document states that we must adapt the MMC to our own context. It says ‘do it’, but none of the key questions as to how, or the potential processes involved, are investigated properly.
A range of works from different cultures are presented. Aside from the misspellings, wrong classifications and serious misjudgements (which others have described more eloquently than I ever could), I think the list does a disservice to non-Western musical traditions. My personal reading is that they are framed as ‘complementary’ to a fundamentally Western, notation-based Music curriculum. Again, in some contexts, this may be appropriate, but in others music from outside the ‘Western Classical Canon’ is the key to engaging young people with music in schools. The richness of non-Western music, and the power of music to enrich lives, engage students in wider social issues, and bring young people into an education system that isolates so many, is lacking in this document.
The repertoire discussion has dominated much of the discourse, but ultimately this question of ‘what to teach’ cannot be answered easily. I do fear that the required thinking around content is bypassed somewhat when a ‘list of works’ is presented in a document like this.
But pedagogy! After all, any song or work featured in the MMC could be taught brilliantly, or terribly. The pedagogical underpinning of music education, something that was a huge part of my training, and in my opinion, the ‘old’ national curriculum framework, is sorely missing from this guidance. How do you deliver this content to young people, in order to develop their musical knowledge and understanding. How do we perform/study/compose/listen to this music in order to securely embed the desired outcomes in our students? I don’t believe the how of music teaching is sufficiently explored in this document. Maybe this isn’t the purpose, but I fear for a world where a critical mass of music teachers follow this document and it becomes, without tweaking, ‘music in schools’. You can’t just say; ‘here is what they should know, use these resources, let us know how you get on’.
Maybe this document isn’t for me? My practice; the constant interrogating of my curriculum, and the regular iterations of both its pedagogy and content, suggest I don’t need this framework, and can simply use it as another tool through which I reflect on what music looks like in my school. However, there are many settings that will take this document, and attempt to reproduce it in the classroom. Though not the intention of the authors, this will happen, and I don’t think that will be very good.
Many will disagree with what I’ve written here, as I’ve seen multiple readings of the multiple versions of the MMC that we’ve all downloaded this week. I hope others feel, as I do, that critique is valid (maybe not mine specifically, but the concept in general). I think we can do better, with more nuance, more contextual understanding, and a stronger pedagogical underpinning.
This is what I think. I think.