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Ofsted guidance for Music departments.

Hi everyone. Thank you to those that have responded to our various surveys and communications recently (!) - there is a lot going on behind the scenes, and your early contributions are absolutely vital to our planning. To that end, if you haven't already please do follow the link below to complete an audit on your Music Technology provision.

Last month, Chris Stevens (HMI, Music lead for Ofsted) delivered an excellent webinar on supporting Music departments plan their curriculum and beyond. The video lasts for about an hour, but I have distilled some of the key slides and quotes from the session in this blog entry. These may support your planning, but also can provide fantastic evidence to take to SLT to help them understand how they can support. From the horse's mouth, as it were!

The curriculum

“A central purpose of good music education is for pupils to make more music, think more musically and consequently become more musical.”

“Learning is defined as an alteration in long-term memory. If nothing has altered in long-term memory, then nothing has been learned.”

The three pillars of musical learning:

Pedagogy and assessment

“Burdensome assessment procedures, such as noting down this diagnostic feedback, is likely to reduce the opportunities for teachers to give feedback.”

“Summative assessment should be infrequent, so as not to distort the delivery of the curriculum. Burdensome documentation of progress should be avoided, and assessment lessons where learning is interrupted for the purpose of verifying progress may not be a good use of time.”

“If a school wants to report progress once a term evidence of a summative assessment, that might amount to a summative assessment every 5 to 10 hours of Music, compared to 40 hours of learning in Mathematics. This could lead to assessment driving the curriculum and is a chief danger of subject assessment schedules being driven by ‘one-size-fits-all’ whole school policies.”

“Short term performance does not always equal long term learning. The amount of consolidation needed for any procedural knowledge to be learned well enough to support the next stage of progression will be significant. Assessment schedules should not assume that one instance of success equals long term learning.”


“Music is so often chosen as a subject that pupils can be withdrawn from, so that pupils can catch up in other areas or receive additional support. There may be several reasons why pupils are removed from Music. One may be if leaders view music as a subject that is about experiences (‘doing music’), they may think that pupils can slip in and out of music but still be involved. But as session one of our webinar showed, musical learning is in fact highly componential, and if the curriculum is sequenced properly, increasing and deepening the technical skills and constructive building blocks of music progressively, withdrawing a pupil from music regularly means that they will not be able to keep up.”

Translating principles to the secondary phase

“Because of these three distinct learning environments [curriculum lessons, extra-curricular/instrumental lessons, and wider musical experiences], music, unlike few other subjects is dependent on flexible support from leaders and school systems to flourish. For example, the running of school ensembles and instrumental groups are dependent on music departments being able to run lessons, ensembles and concerts in groupings that are often vertical. Furthermore, one-to-one lessons often take place at times that either clash with curriculum lessons or are outside of normal contact hours. Concerts need rehearsal time which can't all take place during the normal school day. The list goes on. But these opportunities and experiences are vital to support a strong musical culture something for school leaders to consider is do they give music departments the time and support they need to function properly and to flourish.”

“This map suggests that this curriculum is likely to lead to a range of cursory experiences and is highly unlikely to lead to learning in long-term memory. Examples that support this point are:

1. It's not clear how the curriculum incrementally develops technical, constructive and expressive aspects. There appears for instance, to be one term only on singing. How is this curriculum supporting pupils to get better at singing? On a similar note, pupils appear to have one term (approximately 10 hours) on developing the technique to use multi-tracking software. This brings us to our second point.

2. Is it realistic to expect pupils to remember the content of this curriculum within the time available? It's not clear what constructive and expressive content pupils will have learned in order to prepare them, for example, to compose film music. The compositional components do not appear to have been considered and it is unlikely that pupils will have sufficient knowledge of how to play the keyboard to be able to input their ideas into the multi-tracking software.

The heart of the problem here is what music teachers will be very familiar with; the curriculum designer wants to choose a diverse range of repertoire for their classes, but potentially at the expense of learning the curriculum and achieving its primary aim - for pupils to become more musical.”

I hope you've found this useful and, as ever, let me know if I can answer questions or help in any way. Have a great weekend!


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