We need to talk about....Wider Opportunities

by David Ashworth Freelance Education Consultant.

Ten things to think about with Wider Opportunities

Wider Opportunities has been a great initiative, but I’ve never been totally convinced that the models we have in place are necessarily the best ones. I remember thinking, at the time it was first launched, that this was a good idea in principle, but that it had not been thought through properly. As a consequence, many schools and music services have struggled manfully to make it work and not all have succeeded. Large numbers of instruments are now gathering dust in store cupboards and numbers are starting to fall as the financial burdens of sustaining Wider Opportunities increase.

So we need to face up to the problems and look for solutions. And I’m hoping those involved in hub planning will be doing just this. Here are a few things we need to think about:

Every child on the same instrument?

How do you square this one with personalised learning? It is well known that children really take to some instruments and have a deep dislike for others. If you get it wrong at this stage, there is a danger that you do more harm than good.

Year 4?

Surely this is too early for some instruments? Many year 4s are simply not big enough or strong enough to cope with the demands of carrying some instruments, let alone playing them!

Continuing after the first year?

One year’s funding? Some thought should have been given to how parents/schools/LAs/music services can realistically tackle funding beyond the first year. There are no easy answers here, but I know that some LAs/music services have found workable solutions. Time to share ideas and strategies….


Not much thought seems to have been given to what happens to these young people’s music making once they move on to secondary school. Perhaps we should be starting Wider Opportunities much later and making it a twelve-month period that spans primary and secondary school? Or at least involving secondary schools in some way.

Peripatetic  training?

Music services have worked hard at preparing their staff to develop appropriate pedagogical approaches for this radically different teaching model, but we have to be honest and acknowledge that there have been some sad stories – and there will be many schools who are understandably unwilling to continue if they have had a bad experience. We should not be asking instrumental staff to lead Wider Opportunities sessions unless they are ready, willing and able. Impossibly high targets mean that we sometimes compromise on this.

Classroom teachers?

Insufficient thought was given as to how the classroom teacher would cope with having to work in partnership in a Wider Opportunities session. The Trinity/OU CPD was brought in to try to address this – but how many primary teachers have been able to take advantage of this scheme? Not enough, I suspect.


This is a big, big problem. Having two or three qualified teaching staff in one classroom is always going to be expensive and sustaining those costs year on year is not a viable option for many. Why have we not considered more cost effective models? For instance, Cumbria Music Service’s Drumming uses a blended learning model, which combines face to face sessions with effective online support.

Sing Up?

Sing Up does seem to be making more positive impact in primary schools. Why is this and what can we learn from this?

Learn from Connect?

Guildhall’s Connect programme provides a better preparation for those going into secondary school, especially where working with the Musical Futures whole curriculum model. Can we look at restructuring some of our Wider Opportunities provision in this way?

Integrate into the wider curriculum?

It has been my experience that class teachers are far more likely to engage if the Wider Opportunities work can help support and explore other curriculum areas - more needs to be done!

Will Wider Opportunities change once the hubs are in place and running things? I hope so because, unless these questions I have raised are properly addressed, the future looks uncertain……