2019: the year of curriculum intent

A happy new to my readers who now populate 124 countries of the world. Music education would seem to have a global speak.

In 2018 I have had something of an obsession with the question of knowledge and its complexities in the case of music. There are some twenty blogs on the topic. There will a good amount of repetition no doubt. However, attention to the nature of musical knowledge has never been more critical in view of the official way in which knowledge is being conceptualised as part of curriculum reform in England.

The Greeks had some twelve words for knowledge. The Germans and French have at least two and in all three cases the distinction is made between a scientific form of knowing, knowing that something is the case, and other forms of knowing. The Greek words techne (art, craft, skill) and phronesis (prudence) offer ways of knowing that have ethical significance, for example.

The dominant discourse in England speaks of bodies of knowledge and it is ‘knowing that’ into which all other murmurings of ways of knowing are collapsed.

2019 in England will be the year when our schools will be re-setting their curriculum statements. You see there are the three Is – Intent; Implementation; Impact.

These are the markers set down by Ofsted, the school’s inspection body in England.

Ofsted is the piper that calls the tune in England. [1]

Sean Harford HMI, National Director for Education at OFSTED clarifies what is to be understood by the three Is.

‘The curriculum is a framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including the knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage (Intent); for translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative, within an institutional context (Implementation); and for evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations (Impact.achievement)’ [2]

Knowledge and understanding. No mention of skills.

Just think about the wonder of what we understand as a musical skill. The crafting of a musical phrase, the placing of a sound within a sea of silence …

And what kind of knowledge will Ofsted have in mind?

And what of musical understanding?

Musical understanding is defined by cognitive psychologist John Sloboda as akin to getting a joke – music understood without the mediation of language. I am the music while the music lasts.

Perhaps behind the scenes is an ideological conflation of a narrow conception of culture with a narrow conception of knowledge.


[1] Many of my world-wide readers may find it difficult to comprehend how it is that a school’s monitoring body can be such a powerful agent of change, acting as the chief re-contextualiser of the field. (See Basil Bernstein on the Official Re-contextualising Field ((ORF)))

Ofsted operate without fear or favour creating fear and trembling.

[2] Source not known but taken from a consultant’s powerpoint slide.


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