Musical understanding

Written by Kevin Rogers

Are you:

  • currently reviewing the nature, purpose and design of your curriculum music provision (what is sometimes referred to as ‘curriculum intent’)?
  • a lead member of any national or regional organisations (including music Hubs), a school leadership team, or a lead teacher of music in schools?

If so, these reports and additional resources provide essential reading. The reports were written by Kevin Rogers, music educator, adviser and former inspector; and reviewed by Ros Asher, Creative Leadership in Performance consultancy. They include:

  1. An extended, narrative report exploring the history of National Curriculum (NC) music, and related initiatives. It focuses on the philosophy and progression in learning intended to underpin delivery of NC lessons.
  2. A summary report, outlining the essential developments and implications for classroom practice.
  3. Indexes of additional resources (PDFs) and internet links.
  4. Access to 30 related additional resources. These include all versions of the NC for music in England, guidance and advice resources from key government agencies (such as QCA, QCDA and the National Strategies), and reports and guidance papers from Ofsted.

Key messages in the reports:

  • Critical to the main narrative report is an exploration of the ‘intent’ that has historically underpinned the NC, especially the role of musical understanding. It therefore considers:
    1. how pre-existing, strongly held beliefs about musical understanding were diluted by the first NC in 1992
    2. why nearly all the subsequent versions of the NC have tried to restore a focus on musical understanding
    3. the ways by which successive government curriculum authorities and Ofsted have increasingly tried to promote musical understanding
    4. the reasons for practice in the music classroom more usually adopting a different approach, with an ‘intent’, which focuses instead on skill development and conceptual theory.
  • The main narrative concludes with a plea for a return to a focus on musical understanding, as the key driver for classroom musical learning. How this should become a reality is not yet clear, since there seems to be very few published resources to support this approach. However, we hope that by publishing these resources now, those with power to influence future developments can at least be properly informed about the history of the philosophy intended to underpin NC music.
  • These resources focus almost exclusively on curriculum music. This is the central core of music education, and must be the focus of anyone wishing to improve overall musical provision in schools. However, music education also includes instrumental or vocal learning, membership of musical ensembles, and attending musical events/participating in other extra-curricular activities. The relationship between these aspects are explored more fully in the ISM Trust’s document Providing a ‘broad and balanced’ music education in schools; but the intention of these resources is to focus on classroom music.
  • Changes over time to the specific requirements of the national curriculum for music have taken place across a period of unprecedented turbulence for education in England. We should acknowledge the sterling efforts of schools and teachers to sustain effective music education against this disruptive backdrop; and trust that these resources demonstrate the ISM’s continuing commitment to support their efforts in the future.

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