On 9 November 2022, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate a motion by Baroness Fleet (Conservative) to take note of the National Plan for Music Education 2022, published on 25 June 2022.

1. National plan for music education

On 25 June 2022, the government published ‘The power of music to change lives: A national plan for music education’. Ministers said it was intended to “ensure all pupils receive a high-quality music education, strengthen the creative pipeline and help create the musicians and audiences of the future”. The plan set out three goals to achieve this aim:

  • All children and young people should receive a high-quality music education in the early years (up to five years old) and in schools.
  • All music educators should work in partnership, with children and young people’s needs and interests at their heart.
  • All children and young people with musical interests and talents should have the opportunity to progress, including professionally.

The government stated that the measures in the plan would achieve this vision by 2030. It committed to a review of progress in 2025 and also to a new National Plan for Music Education Board to monitor progress and drive improvement. The government said the plan was non-statutory guidance.

Baroness Fleet chaired the expert advisory group that helped draw up the plan. Baroness Fleet also chairs the London Music Fund and is a council member of the Royal College of Music.

1.1 Education

The plan set out a number of policies to achieve the goal that all children and young people should receive a high-quality music education. For example, the plan stated that every school should have a designated head of music in the primary and secondary education phases. In addition, each school should also have a ‘music development plan’. Pupils should receive at least one hour of “high-quality curriculum music” per week in key stages 1 to 3.

The government said that high-quality music education would consist of three interlinked areas of provision, namely:

  • curriculum music, which is compulsory in key stages 1 to 3, then optional for examination classes such as GCSEs, vocational and technical qualifications and A-levels
  • instrumental and vocal lessons, and singing or playing as part of an ensemble
  • musical events and opportunities, such as singing in assembly, staging concerts and shows, and trips to professional concerts

In March 2021, the government published a model music curriculum for years 1 to 9. The government said the curriculum offered a “rich and varied musical framework that nurtures fundamental musical techniques alongside building musical knowledge”. It set out the four key areas of musical development: singing; listening; composing; and performing. In teaching music, the model curriculum encouraged the use of a range of styles of music, including the western classical tradition, popular music from different genres and traditional music from around the world.

The government described the curriculum as non-statutory guidance “designed to assist rather than to prescribe” in designing music lessons.

As part of the plan, the government said it would invest £25mn in musical instruments and equipment, including music technology.

In September 2020 (and revised in July 2021), the government published non-statutory curriculum guidance across all subjects for the early years foundation stage. For example, for babies, it suggested that early years practitioners should “play a wide range of different types of music” and encourage them to “clap and stamp to music” as they got older. At ages 3 to 4 it proposed inviting musicians into the early years setting and introducing instruments, including electronic keyboards and music apps on tablets.

1.2 Partnerships

The plan’s second goal stressed the importance of “partnerships between education settings, music hubs, music organisations working with young people, and the music industry”.

Music education hubs are groups of organisations working in partnership to deliver high-quality music provision for all children and young people. They may consist of schools and academy trusts, local authorities, music education organisations or community, youth and voluntary organisations. The government said that hubs both provide teaching themselves and support music teaching in schools. They also offer continuing professional development (CPD) for music teachers.

Hubs were introduced by the previous national plan for music education, published in 2011. They are funded by a ring-fenced grant from the Department for Education. Alongside the plan, the government announced that it would provide £79mn per year until 2025 for the music hubs programme.

The Arts Council’s music hubs data dashboard reported that there were 120 music hubs in England in 2020/21. The 2022 plan for music education stated that, prior to the pandemic, hubs worked with around 91% of primary schools and 88% of secondary schools in England.

The 2022 plan called for “ever stronger partnerships at local levels”. For example, it said that schools’ music development plans should be designed in partnership with their music hub. The plan set out three new aims for hubs:

  • supporting schools to deliver high-quality music education
  • supporting young people to develop their musical talents and interests, including into employment
  • supporting all children and young people to engage with a range of musical opportunities, in and out of school

The plan proposed that hubs should appoint ‘lead schools’ that have particularly strong music provision to work with the hub in supporting all local schools. In addition, the plan called for each hub to appoint a ‘local voluntary music ambassador’, ideally a professional musician, to advocate and be a role model for children and to promote links with the wider music industry.

The 2022 plan also said that four hubs would be chosen as “national centres of excellence”. They would receive additional funding and each would be given a specialist role, to promote: inclusion; CPD; music technology; and pathways to industry.

In addition, the government said that all music hubs would be opened up to competition by inviting applications for the role of lead organisation in each hub. The lead organisation will receive and administer the government funding for that hub. The government said that, as a result, it expects to see “a reduced number of hub lead organisations establishing partnerships across wider geographical areas”.

1.3 Musical progression and development

The plan’s third goal is to provide young people with the opportunity to progress their musical abilities, including professionally.

The plan noted that there was no single way to develop talent and interest. Therefore, it suggested a range of options should be available. These included formal study, training and graded exams. However, the plan also called for opportunities such as:

  • sustained access to role models and mentors
  • access to varied music experiences and genres
  • taking part in the music and dance scheme to help with fees to attend study at specialist institutions
  • joining the junior departments of conservatoires and music organisations
  • taking part in national ensembles, such as the National Youth Jazz Collective and National Youth Choir

1.4 Inclusion

In a number of areas the plan stressed the importance of inclusion in music education. For example, it stated that:

  • The government will pilot a ‘a music progression fund’ to support disadvantaged pupils with significant musical potential, enthusiasm and commitment.
  • All music hubs should develop an inclusion strategy and appoint an inclusion lead.
  • All music educators should commit to removing barriers, including for children in low-income families and children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
  • Those teaching music should take action to support increasing access, opportunity, participation, and progression of groups that are currently under-represented in music.

Likewise, the 2021 model music curriculum said that it “celebrates the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities as it does the leaps in technology that have made available new tools and adapted instruments, leading to improved access and greater choice for all pupils”.

2. Call for evidence on music education

To inform the plan, the government issued a call for evidence on music education in 2020. It published the results in August 2021.

The replies praised music hubs and the opportunities and CPD they provided. However, the responses suggested that relationships between hubs and the wider music industry could be improved. The government said that many respondents also highlighted the valuable role of music technology, for example in making lessons accessible for pupils with SEND or in supporting non-specialist teachers in delivering music lessons.

The government reported some of the challenges raised by respondents as:

  • ensuring that the level of music education provision is consistent between schools and across regions
  • clearly communicating the role of music education hubs to schools
  • the cost of musical activities, with over half saying they had been deterred from taking part due to the cost
  • not being able to take a particular music qualification because it was not an option at their school, or because they felt pressurised to choose other subjects

3. Comments

3.1 Views on the new plan

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), the professional body for musicians in the UK, welcomed the new national plan, particularly the commitment that music should be a key part of the school curriculum. The ISM also supported improved clarity over the role of music hubs. However, it called for more funding for music in schools and hubs, stating that existing levels are “almost certainly not sufficient in order to implement the plan’s broad ambitions”. The ISM also expressed concern about the new oversight board, stating that a predecessor, set up under the 2011 plan, “fell into abeyance”.

The Musicians’ Union particularly welcomed the new emphasis on early years education, and on post-16 and higher education, which were not part of the 2011 plan. However, it argued there had been significant real-terms cuts in funding for music education over the last decade. It said this led to a risk that hubs would have to do more under the plan while receiving less money, with the possibility of hub teachers’ pay being cut. It called for a commitment to review pay and conditions for music teachers.

The union also reasoned that while the government described the plan as non-statutory, aspects of it would in fact be statutory. In particular, it said that hubs would be required to deliver certain outcomes under their funding agreements. The union feared this could potentially lead to clashes between hubs and schools. It said this area “would benefit from further clarification”.

Music Mark, the UK’s subject association for music, also welcomed the plan. In particular, it highlighted the music progression fund for disadvantaged pupils, the music hub centres of excellence and the £25mn funding for musical instruments. However, it was concerned that schools and teachers might see the plan as an “additional pressure point”.

3.2 English Baccalaureate and Progress 8 qualifications

The Incorporated Society of Musicians has also criticised the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and Progress 8, which are two measures of progress for pupils after the age of 14. The ISM argued these have “skewed the curriculum disastrously against music”, for example because music is not one of the subjects that can contribute towards an EBacc grade. The ISM explored this issue in more depth in a March 2022 report, concluding that EBacc and Progress 8 have “created a damaging hierarchy among subjects”.

Members of the House of Lords considered this issue during an oral question on music education in March 2022. For example, the Earl of Clancarty (Crossbench) argued that “the narrowing of the curriculum at key stage 3 has led to a reduced uptake in music courses at key stages 4 and 5”. In response, the minister, Baroness Barran, disagreed that the EBacc needed to be reassessed. She reported that while fewer people had taken GCSE music in recent years, the uptake of vocational qualifications had more than compensated for the drop.

4. Music industry in the UK economy

The government said that in 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the music industry:

  • contributed £5.8bn to the UK economy
  • generated £2.9bn in exports
  • supported 200,000 jobs

5. Read more


Cover image by Boris Pavlikovsky at pexels.

This article was updated on 1 November 2022 to reflect the change of date for the debate.