Have your say: Letters to the Editor April 2022

Christopher Ricketts
Friday, April 1, 2022

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A new paradigm of music teachers

I sit down to write this letter after a week of isolation following a positive COVID-19 test. However, I am fortunate that the symptoms were mild and have allowed me time for reflection and reading on a subject that I am very passionate about: music curriculum.

I came to music teaching from an unconventional background, having spent six years as a performer on cruise ships, but have managed to rack up nine years of education experience as either a teaching assistant, cover supervisor, or unqualified/qualified teacher.

My musical responsibilities on the cruise ship consisted of performing popular songs to guests on holiday. I feel this is important to highlight because the level of music theory and education required of me as a professional musician was more elementary than what I had learnt during my school and college years studying GCSEs and A Levels. Vocational courses for music were not an option in my school, and I remember thinking at college that these types of courses would not be valued as much by universities. Ironically, I now have a degree in Popular Music Performance. I am currently working on my dissertation towards my MA, which is a case study on the effectiveness of the music curriculum within secondary education. I plan on embarking on my professional doctorate journey in October.

Music education in the UK is in a ‘perilous state’ and it seems that little is being done by those with the power to address this situation (Savage and Barnard, 2019, p3). This is also highlighted in your recent online article, highlighting that the disadvantage gap in music education is rife, real and, quite honestly, scary. Bath, Daubney, Mackrill and Spruce's (2020) comprehensive research proves the threat that music education and its teachers – us – are under.

With this in mind, I turn to the Key Stage 3 National Curriculum (2013). The lack of structure and subjectivity within the KS3 curriculum has, at times, forced us to look at the rigid construct of GCSE Music and implement them for these lower year groups (Gower, 2018). Could this be one of the many contributing factors to why there is relatively little uptake for GCSE Music nationally?

Many different emotions were felt after the release of the Model Music Curriculum in 2019. The first: relief – relief that maybe music was being considered and valued as an important part of a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’. It felt like a long time since music education had been a talking point within the government, with the last real notable acknowledgement being the Wider still, and wider document of 2012 (before I qualified as a teacher) – the jury is still out over this document's effectiveness on the development of an inclusive music education suitable for the 21st century.

The second emotion I felt was anger – anger because it felt like this document did not resonate with the students in my current school. Worse, I felt it did not even consider that music provision, inclusivity, accessibility, and funding nationally are currently inconsistent across the nation (ACE, 2020). After the release of this document, how is it that we are still so out of touch with proven effective pedagogies, such as personalised learning and informal learning? We still seem to look back to Cooksey and Welch's (1998) notion that the curriculum is irrelevant to many students who opt into our subject. We should be looking at the music curriculum and calling out these outdated ideas. So, how do we elicit this change?

Music education is changing in higher education. I was able to study Folk and Traditional Music as a degree, before switching to Popular Music Performance in my final years (10 years ago). Attitudes towards culture, identity and popular music in academia have changed and are changing. We – as teachers, facilitators of learning and mediators of curriculum – need to recognise this and move with the times.

Christopher Ricketts, Portsmouth


  • ACE 2020. Let’s Create, Strategy 2020-2030. Arts Council England.
  • Bath, N., Daubney, A., Mackrill, D. and Spruce, G., 2020. The declining place of music education in schools in England. Children & Society, 34(5), pp.443-457.
  • Clifford, H., 2022. Music had second highest disadvantage gap across GCSEs in 2020, report finds. Music Teacher.
  • Cooksey, J. M. & Welch, G. F. 1998. Adolescence, singing development and national curricula design. British Journal of Music Education, 15, 99-119
  • DFE 2013. Music programmes of study: key stage 3, National Curriculum in England.
  • Gower A., 2018. KS3 as preparation for GCSE. Music Teacher. 
  • Ofsted 2019b. Education inspection framework (EIF). In: OFSTED (ed.).
  • Ofsted, O. 2012. Music in schools: wider still, and wider.
  • Savage, J. & Barnard, D. 2019. The state of play: A review of music education in England 2019. Musicians’ Union.


THE PERIS by Harry Venning