Analysing the DfE's ‘Teaching a broad and balanced curriculum for… Jump to main content

Analysing the DfE's ‘Teaching a broad and balanced curriculum for education recovery’ guidance

Earlier this month, the Department for Education (DfE) published ‘Teaching a broad and balanced curriculum for education recovery’ - this non-statutory guidance offers teachers suggestions to help schools decide how to prioritise elements of the curriculum for education recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The guidance covers 14 specific subjects – including music.

There is no doubt that music teaching suffered significant set backs during the pandemic. Restrictions limited the types of activities and instrumental playing which could take place, with some music teachers also restricted in their use of specialist rooms and having to adapt their schemes of learning accordingly.

The ISM published its Heart of the school is missing: Music education in the Covid-19 crisis report in December 2020, highlighting the detrimental impact that the pandemic was having on classroom music teaching, extra-curricular activities and instrumental lessons across the UK.

Our report was based on the responses of over 1300 classroom and instrumental teachers and revealed that music provision was being reduced in 68% of primary schools and 38% of secondary schools. Singing, practical music-making, extra-curricular activities and instrumental lessons were all being negatively affected. Extra-curricular activities were no longer taking place in 72% of primary schools and 66% of secondary schools.

While some schools have been able to offer a return to a more practical curriculum and a range of extra-curricular activities, many have not. So it is welcome to see the DfE actively encouraging practical music making in the broad and balanced curriculum for education recovery.

The subject-specific music guidance highlights ‘a return to practical music making through singing and playing instruments (including music technology) as a priority’ in line with the DfE’s operational guidance for schools and performing arts guidance from the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport. The music guidance also encourages schools to plan for how face-to-face ensemble activities can be reintroduced to help build pupils’ confidence and support their wellbeing as well as re-building school communities. Finally, it contains a case study from subject leads at Inspiration Trust.

The DfE have stated that the suggestions are ‘based on the good practice evident in many schools as exemplified by the case studies’ but it should be note that the case study represents the work of 14 schools all within a multi-academy trust who follow a trust-wide curriculum. It should also be noted that academies and free schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum (NC) in the same way as Local Authority Maintained schools do (although they are still expected to provide a broad a balanced curriculum).

Going forward we would welcome the opportunity for music specialists to be involved in writing guidance of this kind (it is not clear whether this was the case in this instance), and for a wider range of case studies to be drawn on, from a wider range of schools. It is as yet unclear whether the guidance will apply for the next academic year and beyond, and is due to be reviewed before June 2022.

Needless to say, if the DfE are committed to reversing the reduction in music teaching in our schools, then they must also consider factors which were driving this trend prior to the pandemic. Beyond this guidance, we need to see a comprehensive National Plan for Music Education and reform of the EBacc accountability measure to include creative arts subjects (as recommended in a recent report of the Education Select Committee).

The ISM's sister charity, the ISM Trust has resources dedicated to help support teachers with their curriculum development.