Cameron Bray


ABRSM to draft new Model Music Curriculum

4:13, 26th February 2019

Earlier today, the school standards minister Nick Gibb announced on Twitter that the ‘ABRSM has won a competitive process to draft the new non-statutory Model Music Curriculum’.

The minister’s tweet

The model curriculum was previously announced on 11 January, alongside new funding for music education hubs. At the time, the Department for Education (DfE) said that:

‘The new curriculum will be developed by a group of teachers, education leaders and musicians and will be published in summer 2019. It will provide schools with a sequenced and structured template curriculum for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3.’

This ‘group of teachers, education leaders and musicians’ is the ‘expert panel’ mentioned in Gibb’s tweet, which consists of 14 members from across music education and includes the ABRSM’s own chief executive Michael Elliott.

Music Teacher has contacted the ABRSM and the DfE for a statement and to ask the following questions:

  • Can you provide any details on the ‘competitive process’ and do you know who else was in the running?
  • Since the chief executive of ABRSM sits on the ‘expert panel’ is there not a conflict of interest?
  • There have been some replies on Nick Gibb’s post (and various quote tweets) that question why the ABRSM, as an exam board, is having a say in school-based education – would you like to comment on that?
  • What does drafting this resource mean (i.e. what will ABRSM actually be doing)?

The ABRSM gave the following statement to Music Teacher: ‘We are delighted to have won the contract to assist DfE in the drafting of the new non-statutory Model Music Curriculum. We are looking forward to serving DfE in this exciting project that will draw on the expertise of ABRSM’s wider community of musicians, examiners and teachers.’

The original tweet has not gone down well on the platform, with many music educators questioning the opaque nature of the competitive process and the purpose of allowing an exam board to draft the state’s music curriculum.

UPDATE (27/2): New information has been brought to light.

Music Teacher magazine has also seen the tender document sent to organisations. It asks them to make a bid as to the projected cost of the project, with the lowest bid earning the most points and all other bids being awarded points relative to the lowest bid (e.g. if the lowest bid was £1,000 it would earn the maximum of 20 points, while a bid of £2,000 would earn 10 points and a bid of £4,000 would earn 5 points). This ‘price evaluation’ makes up 20% of the total bidding score, with the other 80% coming from a written application, referred to as a ‘quality evaluation’.

The competitive tender process was not an open one – organisations could only apply if they were invited. Music Mark has confirmed to MT that it was one of the organisations invited to tender but that its board turned it down. The board felt that there was a question of capacity as well as a conflict of interest given the fact that Music Mark’s chief executive Bridget Whyte is part of the ‘expert panel’. 

The tender document does say that bidders can apply with conflicts of interest but that the application must be submitted alongside a ‘proposed Compliance Regime’. The document goes on to say that this regime would become part of the legally binding contract of a successful tender.

UPDATE (28/2): A DfE spokesperson responded to Music Teacher‘s questions with this statement: ‘ABRSM [was] contracted to draft the model music curriculum following a competitive procurement process, involving a number of organisations with music expertise. [It] will take direction from an independent expert advisory group whose work will be informed through consultation with practitioners and other music groups.’

This was accompanied by the following background information:

  • DfE undertook a competitive procurement process, inviting a number organisations with music expertise to bid for the tender to ensure genuine competition.
  • All bids were evaluated by a DfE panel which assessed proposals against the criteria in the Invitation to Tender. An in-house DfE commercial specialist also provided evaluation guidance to the panel and attended as an impartial moderator.
  • Where there were potential conflict of interest, bidders were required to include a satisfactory Compliance Regime in their tender. Tenders had to provide assurance including, if appropriate, separation of the bid and management teams, in order to be considered for appointment. The DfE assessed proposals received against the published conflict of interest tender criteria and was satisfied with ABRSM’s response.
  • The DfE ran the procurement in accordance with government procurement rules, which allow for selective tendering for requirements valued below £20,000. The tender process ensured equality of information between all potential providers and ABRSM [was] appointed following an impartial assessment of their bid based on merit alone.
  • ABRSM [has] been contracted to lead on drafting the model music curriculum, taking direction from the expert advisory group appointed by the Minister of State for Schools Standards and the chair of the panel, Veronica Wadley ( The panel is composed of multiple stakeholders and serves to provide top level input only. The panel’s advice is not binding on the DfE, who maintain ultimate responsibility for the panel.
  • During the drafting process, the panel will be seeking input from a wide range of sources, including representative music groups and crucially practitioners.
  • The requirement was for under £10,000 and therefore was not published on Contracts Finder; only contracts valued at more than £10,000 are mandated to be placed on Contracts Finder.

Though this sheds a little light on the process, a number of questions are yet to be answered. It remains unclear which organisations were invited to tender and what process informed this decision. The full details of the successful bid, including the final cost, is also not known. Also, while it is understandable for the DfE to ‘maintain ultimate responsibility’, it would be useful to know if the DfE actually did follow the advice of the panel on this occasion.

Anyone with further information or comments is encouraged to contact us on – anonymity assured.

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