Is Meighan’s curriculum model more useful than the ‘Informal, Non-formal; Formal’ one?

I have noted that the blog republished below, and first published at, has over time attracted a lot of attention. That is, the number of readers rather than comments.

In this republication I have made a few changes.

What is musical autonomy?

If a goal of education is to develop self-governing critically engaged citizens, and if this is considered fundamental to making a democracy, then there needs to be a carefully considered balance between autonomy and heteronomy. These are big ideas. First autonomy.

The idea of ‘autonomy’ emerged from the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, that time when we came to understand ourselves a bit better and imagined that with the aid of rational thought we could make progress and achieve a more perfect state of humanity. Most haven’t given up on this despite disappointments. [1]

The idea of being an autonomous human being is very attractive. We take this to mean that we exercise the capacity for self-government. Our actions are truly our own. We have agency and we can act authentically. [2] Music teachers like the idea of pupils having autonomy over their music-making. Autonomy is thought to be a good thing and a worthy goal.

But autonomy has an antonym, heteronomy, meaning ‘under the will of others’. This is interesting because until recently it was under the will of others that autonomy was thought to be achieved – the will of the parents, school, the teacher, peers, examination boards, for example.

Education’s big idea, the achievement of what has been called ‘rational autonomy’, expected a submission of the will to the authority of the past, its store of knowledge, know how and the formalities of the school.

This noble educational goal was to bring students to a point of rational autonomy through taking them beyond what they already knew or felt at home with. Education released the student from being bound to their immediate context and limited experience. Their thinking would become ‘context independent’. It was the school and the teacher who were vested with the authority to mastermind this process.

This is in strong opposition to another discourse where it is argued that heteronomy must give way to autonomy in order to make space for students to express their opinions and to participate in the making of their musical cultural environments. [3]

While there is currently much energetic and enthusiastic rebalancing of the autonomy-heteronomy scales, little attention has been paid to defining the curriculum in these terms. The focus has been on pedagogy. [4]

In Ronald Meighan’s view the place to start is to be clear about how the curriculum is defined. A conception of curriculum precedes pedagogy. [5] Three possibilities are offered.

Consultative Curriculum
Imposed programme; student given regular opportunities to input thoughts and feelings. Feedback can be reflected upon by the teacher and modifications made.

Negotiated Curriculum
Power sharing between teacher and student is increased, and where a common understanding is developed between both about the course of study that is to be undertaken

Democratic Curriculum
The learners create, deliver and review their own curriculum.

In the book ‘Masterclass in Music Education’ secondary school music teacher Eleanor Man analyzes the move from a consultative to a negotiated curriculum. [6] A remarkable degree of trust was built up between teacher and pupils opening up the possibility of an ongoing mature dialogue about how the curriculum might unfold. The teacher’s authority was enhanced. The pupils became self-governing and critically engaged and on the road to achieving musical autonomy. The Democratic curriculum beckons. And we could begin to imagine how the three curricula could work together, sometimes emphasis here, sometimes there and with the longer term goal of achieving rational autonomy.

Meighan’s model may be more useful than the ‘Informal, Non-formal; Formal’ one.

Or a better question:

How would the two intersect?

We need better theorising about all this. Without that we barely know what each other are talking about.

Next week I introduce the reader to Carolyn Cooke’s ‘what is a curriculum’?


[1] The Enlightenment project, as it is called, has come under severe criticism expressed in the move from modernity to post-modernity. Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘The Dialectic of the Enlightenment’ argues that the dominance of scientific rational thinking has served to dehumanize and instrumentalize society. Christopher Small’s seminal work ‘Music, Society, Education’ critiques the tradition of Western European music as being hidebound by scientific rationality.

[2] The idea that we are free to act authentically is of course challenged.

[3] See ‘Music Cultural Pedagogy in the ‘’Network Society’’’, Winfried Sakai at

[4] One example of the emphasis on pedagogy is Lucy Green’s influential ‘Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy’. Ashgate, 2008.

[5] See Meighan, R. (1988) Flexi-Schooling. Education for Tomorrow, Starting Yesterday. Ticknall, Education Now Publishing Cooperative.

[6] See ‘Masterclass in Music Education’, (Eds) Finney, J. and Laurence, F. 2013, Bloomsbury.


The year 9 music class and their changing behaviour

In last week’s blog (see below) I wrote about a beginning music teacher developing a new relationship with her year 9 class. The behaviour of the class changed in an interesting way. A fresh classroom dynamic had been created. And now the teacher tells more of the positive moves forward with the class.

‘Yesterday I had the class again – it was fascinating! They absolutely loved that clapping in a circle, asked if it could be a ‘knock out’ game so they were ‘out’ if they got it wrong and then those that were left managed to do it in 7! Even reluctant Trev and Tim joined in (reluctantly)!! One of the boys that you were working with last week even requested to play again, but unfortunately we didn’t have time. I decided to go on to working with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. There are 4 different parts (melody, countermelody, chords and bass line) meaning it works at different levels but means that everyone can be part of a high quality ensemble. Once they can play the loops, my challenge to them is to experiment with texture and timbre as Oldfield does to create their own ‘Remix’ version of it. Once they’ve done this in group, I’m planning to try to create a whole class version too in order to capture and build on the team spirit that was created last week.’ [1]

Here is a cue for Carolyn Cooke’s presentation at the recent Research in Music Education Conference and her chapter in Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School. [2]

Carolyn writes:

‘This chapter was conceptualised as a provocation to rhetoric around behaviour (often from policy or government sources) which is frequently discussed in two ways which can be unhelpful for music education:

Firstly, it is often talked or written about in generic educational terms rather than recognising the specific requirements of musical behaviours and secondly, such discussion often transmits messages about the type of learning that will occur in a classroom, which may or may not be relevant or appropriate in music. The example in the chapter is a set of rules that include such gems as ‘Listen when others are ‘talking’, and ‘keep hands, feet and objects to yourself’ – tricky in a subject dominated so strongly by physical movement and collaboration! By highlighting how potentially unhelpful these generic rules are, the chapter therefore aims to:

(a) promote an alternative perspective on ‘behaviour’ and ‘behaviour for learning’, where student teachers are asked to move from considering behaviour in terms of ‘management’ in a prescribed way or behaviour as relating to ‘negative behaviours’ to opening up an alternative, positive, proactive discourse about musical behaviours; and

(b) to challenge them to critique how musical behaviours may differ / challenge or even conflict directly with more generalist views of behaviour in schools.’

Beginning music teachers are deluged with generic wisdom about managing behaviour and their practice is easily fractured in the light of this, and as they navigate a way towards finding musical integrity in their classrooms. Carolyn’s chapter is an important one. Have you read it?


[1] Email correspondence.

[2] Cooke, C. (2016) ‘Behaviour for musical learning’ in (eds) Philpott, C., Spruce, G., Cooke, C. and Evans, K., Learning to teach music in the secondary school (3rd. Edition). Routledge.




A Key Stage 3 tension

The task was an interesting one. Really quite demanding musically and I decided to work on it with two boys and to take a strong lead.

This was the third lesson with this year 9 class and the beginning teacher is establishing an authoritative presence with students who are learning fast that this will be an orderly class where they will be taught well and where they will learn and make progress. [1]

The lesson centred on ‘rhythmic phasing’ through the medium of clapping (after Reich).

In my group I decided that we would work with a simple rhythmic idea and with the expectation that we would perform with some expression and fluency, and in the belief that less is more, and that the phasing concept would be fully grasped.

I worked the two boys hard. We practised the eight beat rhythm again and again until fluent and ease had been achieved. And then into the task of phasing, a one beat shift to disrupt and challenge. Once we were in two parts the state of our musical minds would be tested. Would our rhythmic powers cope with the challenge? Well, we had to work hard at it but in performance to the class we did ok. They were impressed.

The teacher appraised the performances of the class as a whole. Several groups were not fluent and so decided that it would be good to work as a whole class in order to explore the audiation of pulse and to make explicit what this meant. This revealed the need for thinking bodies and gross motor movement.

In this ten minute period the dynamic of the classroom changed. There was a sense of communal endeavour and this placed the teacher in a fresh relationship with the class. A dialogue had been opened up.

I wondered how this work could culminate in an extended whole class performance that would be so well rehearsed that the class called for an encore?

What had become clear to me and the teacher was that there exists a tension between grasping a concept, in this case rhythmic phasing, and achieving fluent and expressive performance. And what appears to be often the case at Key Stage 3 is that grasp of the concept trumps the other. (And furthermore laddered assessment criteria have much to answer for.)

You may recall my blog about the lesson where everybody knew what a chord was but in the process barely anybody performed with meaning, feeling, fluency or expression. [2]

In other words ‘knowing that’ is out of balance with Reid’s ‘occurrent knowing’ as set out in last weeks blog. [3]

Of course, the tension can be resolved.

So take care to place the concept in the right order of things.


[1] In this school music has been reduced at Key Stage 3 to a carousel arrangement as Ebacc subjects have gained in time allocation.

[2] See

[3] See





On the nature of musical knowledge

Stuart Lock‏ @StuartLock  10h10 hours ago

Just returned home from the most amazing @CottenhamVC Dance show. Super proud of all the pupils. Such hard work from pupils and staff.

Here is a head teacher, may I say with acknowledgement to twitter, celebrating his pupils’ knowledge of dance, a remarkably rich form of knowledge.

But what kind of knowledge is this?

Clearly not propositional knowledge, the true statement of facts, but rather knowledge ‘of’ dance.

But what does ‘knowledge ‘’of’’ dance’ mean?

In last week’s blog ( I drew upon the work of Louis Arnaud Reid in establishing the primacy of experience-knowledge in the arts. Yes, knowledge by acquaintance or as Reid puts it, the ‘occurrent experience of knowing and coming to know’. [1]

The dancers were of course both thinking and feeling, knowing in their bones and through intuition gaining knowledge unmediated by conceptual thought. [2] And to use another of Reid’s concepts, ‘meaning was embodied’. [3]

For Reid, this kind of knowing defies expression in the form of propositional statements. It is simply not reducible to such statements. Statements of fact about dance or music are another thing altogether, as is ‘knowing how’, or as some prefer, ‘procedural knowledge’. And the idea of musical skill doesn’t come close either.

The occurrent experience of knowing and coming to know are the reason for engagement in music and the arts. This is why they exist. To speak of musical knowledge in terms of the propositional statement of facts alone is a gross dissembling.

Thus, it is regrettable that the current calls for the bringing back of knowledge, for knowledge rich curricular, appear to insist on the one form of knowledge, that is, the propositional statement of facts. [4] Yet, there is a knowledge much more powerful.

We can only imagine head teacher Stuart Lock and the audience experiencing the CottenhamVC Dance show as a delight. They were the dance while the dance lasted. And that is something to celebrate.


[1] Reid, L. A. (1986) Ways of Understanding and Education. Heinemann Educational Books.

In last week’s blog I asked who would read the book ‘Learning to teach music in the secondary school’? In chapter 3 Chris Philpott addresses the question, ‘what is musical knowledge’? In the chapter the question is answered in relation to ‘the what, how and where of musical learning and development.’

[2] Reid uses the term cognitive-feeling as a way of conceptualizing pre-conceptual thought. He points out the reliance of psychologists on the concept of ‘emotion’ and the disregarding of ‘feeling’. Feeling, of course, has a cognitive component.

[3] Much of the world’s music is made without recourse to the propositional statement of facts. In our national system of music education there is a dialogue between different ways of knowing and coming to know ‘about’ music and we think this conversation is valuable.

[4] In the making of the new GCSE examination a new category has been created – knowledge. There is performance, composition, appraising and knowledge (In syllabuses this is expressed as knowledge and understanding.). Disappointingly, the knowledge here is knowledge as the true propositional statement of facts (wonderful things in themselves), a set of abstract concepts. This failure to pluralize knowledge is reflected in what is valued in the exam.