Music and creativity back in the Ofsted spotlight

Michelle James

I’m the CEO of Sing Up, who since 2007 have been working to place singing at the heart of education. Singing is an important part of what it means to be human. There’s something fundamentally powerful about singing with others that unites us and bonds communities. You can find out more about me in this interview.

Follow @michellejjames1


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Ofsted is currently consulting on its proposed new inspection framework – the draft was published on 16th January with the consultation running until 5th April. The draft framework includes some strong indications that music and creativity will be firmly back on the radar of Ofsted inspectors from September this year. If schools want to achieve Good or Outstanding ratings, they are going to have to teach the full curriculum, right through years 3 – 6 at key stage 2 and throughout years 7 – 9 at key stage 3.


This is a timely and welcome reminder that a narrowing of the curriculum in the run-up to exams – in particular SATS and GCSEs – is misguided and actually detrimental to pupils’ development. Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the ISM, agrees: ‘Never has there been a time when creative subjects in school has been more necessary. We are facing the fourth industrial revolution where creativity is vital. Music contributes £4.5bn a year to the UK’s economy whilst the creative industries are worth £101.5bn.’

I’ve been concerned for some time that the removal of music from the curriculum in year 6 to “focus on SATS” has been having a negative effect on pupils. We’ve seen examples where year 6 children are excluded from a singing activity in school, and curriculum music lessons disappear from their timetables completely. You can see the creativity, imagination and enthusiasm drain out of pupils over the course of year 6, and it is such a shame.

Ofsted’s own research highlights that the negative effect of a narrowed curriculum is disproportionately high for disadvantaged pupils, young people who have no other opportunities available to them to learn, and those who experience music and other creative avenues. Without even classroom or assembly singing available, these pupils are missing out on the opportunity to develop not only their musicality, but soft skills like communication and listening that will be vital in later life.

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Quality of education

Under the new framework, Ofsted are proposing a new ‘quality of education’ judgement which will focus inspectors’ attention under three headings:

  • Intent – what is it that schools want for all their children?
  • Implementation – how is teaching and assessment fulfilling the intent?
  • Impact – the results and wider outcomes that children achieve, and the destinations that they go on to.

Within the draft inspection grade descriptors, there is also clear guidance that for a school to be Outstanding, they need to support pupils to develop their creativity and imagination in their learning. Additionally, they note “the school consistently goes ‘the extra mile’ to promote the personal development of pupils, so that they have access to a rich set of experiences”, which it should provide “in a coherently planned way, in the curriculum and through extra-curricular activities”.
Instrumental learning and opportunities to sing should regularly be part of these rich experiences for every child, and should underpin learning in the context of the music curriculum. Singing is a great starting point for musical learning and the development of musicianship skills, while being a hugely enjoyable activity for pupils and teachers. At the same time, it creates a strong and positive sense of community within a school and binds the community together – marking significant moments by singing together, like during assemblies and special events in the calendar. Singing forms a large part of what pupils will remember about their time at school, long after they have left.

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A broad and rich education

Overall, Ofsted want schools to feel empowered enough to move away from teaching to the test, and go back to teaching well, providing pupils with a broad and rich education. As they say in their draft documentation:
‘there need be no conflict between teaching a broad, rich curriculum and achieving success in examinations and tests... From key stage 2 onwards and in secondary education, inspectors will expect to see a broad, rich curriculum. Inspectors will be particularly alert to signs of narrowing in the key stage 2 and 3 curriculum.’

It's time to embed a culture of singing in our schools again. Not because of the new Ofsted framework, but because we owe our pupils a fulfilling and complete education.

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