The National Plan for Music – is there a Plan B? Notes from Expo lunchtime debate, 13th March 2015

random crap

As David revealed to the world, I was speaking from notes scribbled in a notebook entitled ‘Random Crap’ – here I hope to unravel my ramblings into a set of terse points…

There are a number of problems, as I see it, with some of the content of the National Plan for Music. These are:

  1. A lot of the Plan is about how schools and hubs can work together. Which, of course, is a really nice idea, and there are lots of great examples of where this is happening, with excellent consequences. However, the elephant in the room is that there is absolutely no compulsion for schools and hubs to have anything at all to do with one another. The thing that the Plan misses is that all of this is extra – no teacher I know of has anything on their job spec other than teaching their classes and getting the best possible results for their students. That’s what we’re paid for. Anything else, we do out of devotion to our vocation. Which is ironic in an educational world where everything is about accountability and evidence – a belief, seemingly, that the only things that matter are the ones that can be measured. The plan talks about ‘hubs and schools holding one another to account’ – we can work together, sure, but this will only happen out of the goodness of our hearts, and neither party has any moral right to hold the other to account.
  2. Schools – and most particularly their senior leadership teams – are running scared from Ofsted. SLTs have a fire lit under their backsides that seems to have its origins in fear, the flames being fanned by being hell-bent on second-guessing what Ofsted ‘want’. The current fetishisation of ‘evidence’ is a symptom of this. Ofsted are aware of this, and have repeatedly tried to put schools right, most recently in this advice, published last week, together with helpful blogs and repeated assurances from sensible HMIs like Robin Hammerton. But the consequence of this Ofsted-mania is that there are many SLTs up and down the land who just don’t ‘get’ music. This has a massive knock-on effect to music teachers, who are busy wasting valuable time stating their learning objectives and getting written evidence of feedback and progress, when really they ought to be making music with their classes.
  3. The Plan talks about secondaries working with primaries, and about SLEs (specialist leaders in education – the new version of ASTs, sort-0f) spreading good practice. However, the problem with both of these great ideas is time – I would absolutely love to be going into my local primaries, but until my school decide that it is a good use of my time, and build it into my timetable, it’s not going to happen. I also need to be given time on my timetable for my SLE work, as currently this comes out of my frees (or I have to leave my classes with cover). I also perceive a problem with the increasing tendency for schools to club together in academy chains and other alliances – there may be a school round the corner who very much would benefit from my advice, but if they are members of a rival chain, it’s unlikely they’ll be on the phone any time soon as they won’t want to lose face.
  4. The Plan talks about the professional isolation of some music teachers. This is a very real thing, and those in solo departments are in particular danger of this. I have met solo music teachers just desperate to have a chat about this arcane art of music teaching, as they hardly ever get to meet anyone else of our species. However, there are music teachers out there who are in voluntary isolation – those who don’t read blogs like this one, or follow what’s happening on Twitter, Facebook, or the Musical Futures website. Teachers who don’t do the extra stuff. If you’re reading this, you’re not one of them. But what can we do to develop these teachers’ practice?

My plan B would require a huge commitment from a number of different groups. Getting primary music  right is crucial here. Headteachers need to commit to music projects in the curriculum – singing projects and Band on the Run-type schemes that are sustained (i.e. not just a 10-week flash in the pan) and involve kids taking instruments home. There needs to be a critical mass of enlightened headteachers at primary level to make this the norm, not a special thing.

There needs to be some proper qualification specifically for teachers to be primary music specialists – at the very least a module of a PGCE, but even a whole special PGCE.

SLTs (primary and secondary) need to be educated about the fact that music is different from other subjects. This could be done at hub level by the new Music Champions – headteachers may well listen to their peers. Time and money needs to be allocated for primary partnerships and other good stuff – curriculum time.

Each hub needs to have an adviser/curriculum specialist to work with all schools in the area – perhaps as an accepted part of every music teacher’s annual CPD. However, this brings me to the major financial problem. Let’s say this adviser would be paid £50K. With on-costs, this will cost the hub £65K. I would love that job – until my hub tells me it’s on a one-year contract. No thanks – I’ll stay in my school. But hubs simply cannot plan more than a year ahead at the moment, owing to the uncertainty about their funding.

Hub funding has got to be nailed on for a 5 or 10-year period, so plans can be made and development can happen. This needs an interparliamentary group, to stop it from becoming an election pawn or sacrificial cow. We have a huge music industry in the UK – could they help? A big corporation like Sony could be involved, perhaps. But this needs someone at a very high level to sort out – I don’t think they’ll take much notice if I phone them  myself…



  1. Thanks; a very useful insight. I run the hub in Bournemouth and Poole and am often left feeling that the scarcity of time available to teachers is what prevents us from really developing the full potential of the hubs; it’s a critical time for SLT to balance the demands of Ofsted with a more balanced and inclusive approach to music, the wider arts and the benefits contained within.


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