It won’t have escaped your attention that a couple of weeks ago the DfE released the Model Music Curriculum. This is a non-statutory document for Key Stages 1-3. I have been meaning to blog about it ever since it’s launch, but lots keeps getting in the way. So here is my attempt to blog about the Model Music Curriculum. Oh, but I am going to try and avoid actually talking about it.
You are here now, so keep reading.
I have been teaching for 18 years. Thats seems a fairly long time and when I look back a lot has changed, but a lot hasn’t. Music teaching continues to be the job I love. It is full of challenge, excitement and inspiration. I love seeing young people discover instruments, music and performance for the first time. Leading rehearsals, teaching new set works and grappling with new ideas are all perks of the job. I enjoy reading student essays, listening to compositions and marking great work.
In many ways the job hasn’t changed since day one, and it is a simple one – Unlock the potential of music to your students whilst they are in school. This has been my aim since the day I started and it will continue to be my aim when I go back for the Summer Term 2021. We all approach this in different ways, using our own strengths and abilities. Some will unlock learning with an electric guitar round their neck. Others will be creatively confident with technology. Some teachers use singing more than most. Others will use Stormzy, but also a bit of Mozart. Some teachers will have more time to invest than others.
This is the real joy of music teaching, we can make it something that is an extension of who we are as a teacher. We can use our passions, interests and talents to help bring music to life in our classroom. If we talk passionately about Bach, the students will learn from it. When model good practise for composition, students will quickly adopt that process. If we say how much we love a musical it will spark curiosity in our students. When we tell them about our trip to the opera they will be interested.
So what has changed in the world of music teaching?
So Whats New?
We are often quick to say that lots has changed aren’t we. I guess since March 2020 a lot has changed, but in fact we have adapted to that really well. What has changed is that music is now a subject that is sometimes not taught in schools, or not taught enough. Budget cuts, EBacc and shifts in focus have all led to music being sidelined. Music in some areas will not be what it was, and we are seeing a decline in students learning instruments. The Covid-19 Pandemic has hit us hard and we are in a battle to secure numbers for GCSE & A-Level. Music teachers often work in isolation and teaching an Options subject can be really tough.
But despite all of this, the job is still the same – to unlock music for our students. And whilst these challenges are real, we have so much to draw upon in the current world. When I first started teaching I couldn’t turn to Twitter to get advice, or post a question on a Facebook group. Social Media wasn’t a thing and I certainly didn’t have Apple Music & YouTube to rely on in lessons. Lessons online wouldn’t have been possible and marking was most definitely in green and in a book.
So in spite of all we face today, we also have the tools and the ability to overcome it. Music teachers are a pretty resilient bunch. We have always had to battle for rehearsal time, run around to make concerts happen and fight for our budgets. We have learnt how to adapt really well and it is no surprise that during the Pandemic musicians have shone. As teachers we do have a lot to be grateful for and we must stop and remember that it is not all doom and gloom. Whilst things have changed over the 18 years I have been in school, so much is familiar and I have learnt how to adapt to stay positive.
“There he goes, Mr Positive, he doesn’t know what it is like”
True, I am” Mr Positive”. I always like to be positive, but I am not always like that I can assure you. I do know how tough it can be as I have faced difficult times in teaching. My being positive has got me through a lot of this, but also my connections and work with colleagues up and down the country. I could not survive in this job if I tried to do it all on my own with my positivity! Being positive will only get you so far, you then need others around you to help you along the way.
But it is important to try and look at the job, look at the problems and then find the solutions. Whilst the challenges we face today are tough, we also have more tools than ever to overcome these challenges. Composition can now happen in the cloud, students can share work online and listening to music has never been easier. We have amazing associations such as Music Teachers Association that we can join and benefit from. We have amazing websites, magazines and blogs that we can get inspiration from.
I am not saying it is easy, but it is possible.
Model Music Curriculum
I said I wouldn’t mention it, and I won’t dwell on the document itself. I encourage everyone to read it and think it through. But I will leave it to others to unpack the MMC. My thinking behind this blog is not centred around unpacking the document and offering evidence for its merits and short-comings.
I guess my thinking as I write this blog is what I want to see happen over the coming years. The job, I think, hasn’t changed that much, but clearly some parameters have. So if we take a great job, that is worthwhile, then surely we can utilise the MMC in some way to add strength. What I want to see is a workforce of music teachers feeling passionately energised to make music in their school setting amazing. Some will need the boost of ideas provided by the MMC – even a list of repertoire is helpful for some. Others will already have a good programme of music, but feel satisfied that they are inline with some of the MMC thinking. And like me, some will take the MMC and use it to really look at what they provide, gathering together other thoughts and ideas. It will be a tool to help steer SLT towards a brighter future for music in schools.
What we have seen over the last few weeks is a bringing together of music teachers on social media – and they are all talking about classroom music. It is exciting and encouraging to see. My hope for the future is that we can really start to shape music education in this country and start to see the benefits of all this positive energy. As we build bridges between schools, teachers and organisations we will start to see the benefits I am sure.
We needed the MMC to spark this debate and discussion – and I don’t think that is over yet. But we also needed the MMC to remind us that music is a rich and rewarding subject, one that has so many different nuances and angles to it. If, as a result of this document, we start to see music moving up the agenda in our schools then that will be a very good thing. But for now I am so grateful for the reminder that I teach a relevant and exciting subject and I can’t wait to revamp, reshape and re-energise my curriculum. The MMC has started to build some new bridges in my thinking and has connected me to new people and lines of enquiry.
I will leave the in-depth critique to other colleagues, they are better at that than me. I will instead leave you with my positivity. We have the greatest job in the world, one that is worthwhile and exciting. The challenges we face are no different to the challenges of the past – and there will be more to come in the future. As we pursue excellence in our teaching we should draw upon all the resources, documents and wisdom that are out there. Let’s unite, discuss and encourage. Let’s promote the positives and critique the negatives.
It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it. Enjoy teaching, take what you need from the MMC and add what you think works for you. But whatever you do, don’t ignore it because at its heart the MMC is providing a bridge to a new phase in music education. And whilst that bridge isn’t yet built or perfect, the view of the other side is pretty good. On the other side we will see musical understanding on the increase, children hearing new and exciting music and young people developing key musical skills. I am excited by the prospect and positive for the future.
And as Isaac Newton once said – “We build too many walls and not enough bridges”. The MMC might be the bridge we need to build to a bright and pleasant future for Music Education.
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