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ISM response to White Paper

The Department for Education has released the first Schools White Paper since 2016, it is called Opportunity for All. The DfE say that its focus is to make sure every child has an excellent teacher that delivers high standards of curriculum, behaviour and attendance, and puts targeted support in place for those who need it, all underpinned by a stronger and fairer school system in England.

While much of the paper’s focus is on English and maths, the contents of paragraph 64 may be of particular interest to musicians and music teachers: As part of a richer school week, all children should be entitled to take part in sport, music and cultural opportunities. These opportunities are an essential part of a broad and ambitious curriculum, and support children’s health, wellbeing and wider development, particularly as we recover from the pandemic. The government will publish updated plans to support sport and music education in 2022, and will publish a cultural education plan in 2023, working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England. This will include how best to support young people who wish to pursue careers in our creative and cultural industries.

The ISM welcomes the Government’s commitment to music as part of the school week. Music brings enormous educational and emotional benefits to students. Our recent report ‘Music: a subject in peril?’ found serious inequality in music education and that the subject is often underfunded and underappreciated in schools. Additional funding will be required to ensure music education is delivered and at a high standard.

We eagerly await the refreshed National Plan for Music Education (NPME) and hope that it will be published soon. The ISM report makes a number of recommendations, some of which can be addressed in the NPME and others which will need changes to wider Government education policy. It is crucial the DfE consults with the music teacher workforce before implementation so that music teachers can have their say and improve the Plan. Read the full report.

We also look forward to engaging with the Government on the cultural education plan, ahead of its publication in 2023. The ISM believe that music and cultural education are crucial in order to maintain and enhance the talent pipeline into the creative industries. We have sought assurances from the Department for Education that funding for the new cultural education plan will not be at the detriment of funding for Music Education Hubs or indeed impact music funding in any way.

The ISM notes that the White Paper moves away from talking about a 'broad and balanced' curriculum which is enshrined in both the 2002 Education Act and the 2010 Academies Act to a 'broad and ambitious' one, suggesting a possible narrowing of focus away from creative subjects such as music. That narrowing of focus has already been demonstrated in numerous ways and is underscored by the DfE’s continued decision to opt out of the creative thinking test being added to the Pisa international education rankings.

Reaction to the publication of the White Paper has been mixed. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi was understandably enthusiastic stating that the paper was ‘levelling up in action’.

Meanwhile Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders was more critical saying, 'Disappointingly, this White Paper lacks any big ideas for the future of the education system. The nearest it gets is its targets for improved results in English and maths by 2030, but the plan of how to achieve these targets is vague, and there does not appear to be very much in the way of funding to help schools deliver them.'

Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching commented, ‘Education should be an ambitious journey where students at every stage can truly thrive. We want to see teachers in all phases able to work together with families to support students as they progress through their school life. The best way to achieve this is by empowering teachers and strengthening teacher agency, not by narrowing focus and introducing arbitrary phase-related targets.’

The ISM note these concerns and will pay close attention to the next steps of the White Paper.

Ultimately, however, this White Paper will be judged on whether it delivers an education system fit for the 21st century. In order to achieve that we should remember the advice of Andreas Schliecher, the Director of Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to the Education Select Committee on 26 February 2020, ‘In the fourth industrial revolution, art may become more important than maths. We often talk about soft skills as being social and emotional skills, and hard skills as being science and maths, but it might be the opposite. The science and maths might become a lot softer in the future, where the relevance of knowledge evaporates very quickly, whereas the hard skills might be your curiosity, leadership, persistence and resilience.

Schools White Paper

The Schools White Paper sets out new measures, including:

  • Schools will offer a minimum school week of 32.5 hours by September 2023
  • Ofsted will inspect every school by 2025, including the backlog of ‘outstanding’ schools that haven’t been inspected for many years
  • By 2030 all children will be taught in a school in, or in the process of joining, a multi-academy trust
  • At least £100m to put the Education Endowment Foundation on a long-term footing in order to evaluate and spread best practice in education across the country
  • Building on the Oak National Academy’s work in the pandemic, a new arms-length curriculum body will be established. It will work with thousands of teachers to co-design, create and continually improve packages of optional, free, adaptable digital curriculum resources and video lessons. Over time, the curriculum body will provide a variety of resources across each subject in the curriculum.