A reflection on the Model Music Curriculum

I write this fully aware that there is probably enough noise already around the new Model Music Curriculum. In addition I have already seen a number of very well written and insightful blog posts from a range of phases and contexts. I wanted to make a small contribution beyond my Twitter replies and retweets.

The emergence of this document has brought a huge amount of dialogue in the music education community. It would be foolish to not celebrate the spotlight that has been put on the subject and I feel this has been a real bonus. There have been many conversations happening over a number of platforms with lively debate about music education and the agreement of the entitlement of all young people to a broad, inclusive, robust and rich music curriculum. There are many music educators out there who are isolated in small or single teams so this dialogue has so much value.

From its controversial inception some years back, the authorship of the MMC has been and remains a little unclear. It is clear however that it has been designed to assist music teachers rather to prescribe, but will that be the legacy of this document? Can we be sure that this is not set out as some kind gold standard of music education? How does that translate to the designer of a music curriculum in a school? There is a huge range of content, especially in terms of repertoire. Some of this is so exciting to discover, some of it very ill judged (thanks to Nate Holder for his clarity in calling out some huge oversights, of which many have been corrected). There was an initial danger for the first few days of there being too much debate about the choice of artists and composers which belittled the debate a touch, but then who doesn’t love talking about their musical preferences?

The more I reflect on this document the more I feel my core reaction is that the use of the heading ‘curriculum’ is rather disingenuous. A curriculum does not and should not stand alone, it does not stand still. An exceptional curriculum should be organic and live. Ours at BCCS starts with questions: What is the intent and who is the scheme it written for? What is the prior learning? What are the planned outcomes? It is so unique to our context. The cohort within our school is certainly evolving and the curriculum is under yearly review to evolve with it. Our curriculum revolves around core concepts, threshold concepts in essence. The music making is the centre piece of this, not indicative content or topics. There is room built in for autonomy for the different music teachers in my team and their classes. But what does that look like in smaller departments with mixed resourcing and less curriculum time than others? Could this document have a role as a piece of evidence to push schools for equity in terms of curriculum time and funding? But has it missed a trick in not positioning itself more around skills, pedagogy and a roadmap to enable schools to write their own more carefully. A model example could have been a part of that?

Saying that I have appreciated reading some aspects it and considering it alongside the curriculum in my department. It has made me ask questions, it has already made me review why I do some of the things the way I do. I do however recognise I have enormous privilege here: 3 hours a fortnight music allocation for key stage 3 and three amazing teachers in the team to share ideas and nearly 20 years tried and tested classroom experience. How does this document fare in another context? How does it fare as a starting point? How inclusive is it in the face of a music classroom in 2021? Where is the research and evidence? How does it fare in the primary sector? The jury is out for me at the moment and I will consider this further.

In summary I feel that the ‘how’, the ‘when’ and the ‘why’ in curriculum design can be equal to the ‘what’. I do have concerns this the ‘what’ part seems to be too centralised here. It is definitely time to come together, support each other and build the very best curricula possible for our students. How can we now keep these conversations going? I have seen some brilliant webinars, discussions and blogs out there the last month from lots of individuals who have inspired me greatly. A pretty good starting point?