If you work in music education at all, and if you happen to dabble in social media, you won’t have missed the launch of the ‘Model Music Curriculum’ by the UK Government at the end of last month (even though the release was, oddly, over the Easter Holidays... perhaps that was to make sure you were paying attention at the back, folks).

If you have missed it, you can find it, in PDF form, here: Model Music Curriculum (publishing.service.gov.uk).

There has been a lot of negative chatter about the MMC over the past couple of weeks...

Firstly, the PDF keeps being altered by the folks working behind the scenes in the Department for Education (much like the BBC's QI elves...). If you do download it and plan to use it, it’s worth checking that the version you have is the most up to date, because it would seem that the versions online aren’t dated when changes are made...

Secondly, and far more importantly in our opinion, an earlier version (very sadly) featured instances of racism, with the inclusion of a song with racist overtones and references to ‘African’ music. Thankfully and rightfully, both the song and the references have since been removed. Just to give some context for the references, Africa is (obviously) a continent of 1.4 billion people, over 12 million square miles. Here in England, Northumbrian folk music is as distinctive and different from ours here in Yorkshire and, comparatively, that’s a mere stroll down the road... 'African' music isn’t a thing, and certainly should not be for the purposes of music education.

So, what is YY&M’s view since the changes?

We think it’s really important to remember that the MMC is a MODEL music curriculum, not THE Music Curriculum. For the unsure / the non-expert, it’s a useful starting point. Like others, we love the firm statement that music should be included in the timetable for at least one hour each week. We like the support for instrumental learning, but predictably, we think that learning an instrument ‘for a minimum of a term’ is nowhere near enough. We would also never argue against singing, nor learning to sing well.

There’s a comprehensive article about it from our colleagues at the ISM here: Reviewing the Model Music Curriculum in detail (ism.org). It gives some clear context on how the MMC was formed and offers some thoughts on how to improve on it.

There are also a number of things missing...

We think there is a lot of room for improvement where the MMC is currently concerned. We'd like to offer our opinion here, as well as offering solutions to the issues we raise:

  • The MMC has lots of repertoire suggestions, which are, again, a great starting point. What WE would suggest is that music educators adapt these songs to their own situations, young people, and locality. In Northumbria once again (for example), you’d expect the Northumbrian Pipes to feature, along with perhaps Kathryn Tickell and the Unthanks. This would also raise the percentage of women featured within the MMC (which we currently think is lacking...).

  • Another one of our observations is that the section on ‘listening’ offers notes on the pieces suggested, but those notes do not take into account other versions of the same song and more importantly, are not about how to listen - they mostly describe historical context which, musically, doesn’t tell you what to listen for in terms of structure, originality, change, shape or meaning. If we had a magic wand, our first action would be to change ALL of the listening guidance. As we don’t have one, what we would like to offer instead is an invitation to our FREE monthly playlists (called 'Sounds Like...'), which feature a range of musical genres inspired by a monthly theme, with descriptions that use a listening approach that’s much closer to what we would have liked to see in the MMC. You can browse through our playlists here and this month, we've made one that specifically responds and hopefully adds to the MMC.

  • Another gap for us is that the MMC doesn’t seem to pay much attention to Music Technology, which is odd, given that an A Level in Music Tech is an option at KS5, with its core components of recording, creating, listening and production skills. We would strongly argue that some music-based technology content would be beneficial, not least because a great deal of the music that young people listen to for recreational purposes (if not all) is produced with music technology, to varying degrees. It’s hard to avoid in the real world, frankly. Even a simple list of the free apps available on both iOS devices and on Android would serve as a useful starting point for any music teacher.

  • Lastly, the UK has a rich and incredibly diverse Music Industry, with success that stretches back for decades. Our country has produced some of the most iconic musicians and bands the world has to offer and could be considered world leading for this aspect of modern Western culture, with (in some cases) some inspiring and positive role models. The fact that there isn't more reference to this in the MMC (or more repertoire featured from British artists from the 1960s to the present day) astounds us.

Music Education Hubs have been given a new responsibility to support the MMC, though exactly how they should do that isn’t specified, as yet. You can get in touch with your local MEHs directly via the details on Yorkshire hubs here. Alternatively, check out our own resources and our playlists, or get in touch with us if you need support on where to begin. We've got many experienced and knowledgeable staff and practitioners who are more than happy to help.