Who controls the music curriculum?

The setting up of an expert group to devise a model music curriculum by School’s Minister Nick Gibb has caused more than a little turbulence. So much so that a letter has been written to the Department for Education protesting.

This protest has gained some media attention. [1]

A central issue in this is the question of who controls the music curriculum? And what kind of process should be adopted in the making of a music curriculum? And, now to the point, what part should a government minister play in this process?

John White writing more generally about the matter maintains that:

‘The proper vehicle for democratic control is a Curriculum Commission at arms length from ministerial interference, made up from interested sectors across society chosen for their impartiality.’ [2]

White is particularly concerned about arriving at a well reasoned set of educational aims free from political interference.

The first aim of the national curriculum devised in 2013 appears to have been written by the barely hidden hand of the then minister of state for education, Michael Gove. Since that time the hand of partisan politics has become ever more transparent and now intensified with Nick Gibb setting in place the enactment of his music curriculum through the voices of his expert panel. [3]

In their book Education and the Struggle for Democracy: The politics of educational ideas Wilfred Carr and Anthony Harnett trace the ways in which the educational system became the work of the New Right in British politics during the 1980s. [4] However, even this analysis didn’t forsee the way individual minister’s personal agendas and zealously enacted convictions would underline this ongoing struggle for democracy.

John White’s expectation that interested sectors play a part in the democratic and inclusive process of curriculum making would seem reasonable.

In its place we now see the interests of selected sectors advanced to satisfy the minister’s personal agenda and thus diminishing hope of impartiality.


[1] See for example https://www.fenews.co.uk/press-releases/24674-concerns-raised-over-dfe-s-new-model-music-curriculum

[2] https://ioelondonblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/23/ofsted-has-turned-our-attention-back-to-what-makes-a-good-curriculum-we-now-need-better-answers/

[3] In recent times other education ministers have expressed particular musical preferences and affiliations. There has been Kenneth Clarks’s love of Jazz and David Blunket’s love of the pub folk scene. Neither of these however sought to imprint their musical personalities on the music curriculum.

[4] Carr, W. and Hartnett, A. (1997) Education and the Struggle for Democracy: The politics of educational ideas. Open University Press.

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