The Model Music Curriculum and a possible oversight

The Department for Education’s brief stated that

‘An organisation will be appointed to draft the model music curriculum which: 

supplements, but is consistent with, the programmes of study in the National Curriculum; 

ensures that pupils acquire essential subject knowledge such as musical notation, pitch, tempo and timbre and an understanding of the works of great composers;

sets out the detailed subject knowledge which pupils need to acquire in a clear sequence of steps that should be taught at each key stage; 

provides a structure for vocal and instrumental practice and performance; 

is consistent with best practice.’ [1]

I have been wondering why there is no mention of ‘critical engagement with music’. After all the English National Curriculum for Music opens with a ‘Purpose of study’ statement noting that

‘As they [pupils] progress, they should develop a critical engagement with music…’ [2]

I wonder what is meant by ‘critical engagement’? And why no mention of this curriculum element in the model music curriculum imperatives?

To be critical is to be thoughtful, discriminating, analytical, reflective, evaluative, knowing, insightful and a symbol of becoming wide-awake to the world; musical experience calls for this. It calls for a growing awareness of what music is, how music is used, how music is given meaning and how meanings are continually negotiated and re-negotiated. It calls for a recognition that music has ‘human interest’; social, cultural and political. Without criticism music ceases to be a subject of significance.

Of course, there are minimal ways of understanding ‘critical engagement’ as well as deep, rich and challenging ways. Perhaps I will explore this further next week.

And I wonder what and where ‘best practice’ of critical engagement with music will be found.



[2] DfE (Department for Education) (2013), The National Curriculum for England,London: DfE. Available online at

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