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Curriculum Development

This page shares some of the findings of a group of special school teachers and curriculum specialists that have been working on the knotty question of curriculum design for special education settings. The group was formed after several schools asked for support to develop their own curriculum, and we realised that there wasn't much advice and support elsewhere. 

Our biggest learning from this strand of UpRising was that the it isn't possible to offer a generic curriculum for special schools: each school and even each classroom is far too unique, and curricula need to be built around a specific group or, in some cases, individual. We also identified the need for hub curriculum and inclusion specialists to work together so that they can offer schools curriculum support that is specific to their context. 

To support both of these learnings, we created a Curriculum Guidance Document designed to be used as the basis of conversations between school/subject leaders and hub curriculum leads. 

This is supported by a Progression of Musical Learning document that shares sequenced activities and learning outcomes based on the elements or interrelated dimensions of music. 

We also share a document created specifically for a school that used a topic-based curriculum and an all-subject progression and assessment framework, demonstrating how it is possible to work within these limitations to ensure meaningful activities and outcomes.


Special thanks to Sue Nicholls, Vicki Brown and Dr. Anthony Anderson.  

Curriculum Development

The process of designing a music curriculum is a great opportunity to reflect on and strengthen music provision in a school. We found that some schools in the MEHEM area did have a music curriculum, but that many others didn’t. Some schools felt that they didn’t have the expertise internally, and requested support from their hub.

In response, Uprising commissioned a team of teachers and curriculum specialists to create a ‘curriculum guidance’ document for special schools.  The document is most effective when it forms the basis of conversation between a hub curriculum specialist, the school music coordinator and a member of the school leadership team.

Progression of Musical Learning

The elements of music are the foundations on which musical learning should be built. This document helps classroom teachers plan how to introduce the elements by giving examples of learning outcomes and activities that are structured to increase pupils’ understanding of each element over time. 

This document is suitable for most pupils in special education settings. Some pupils may remain within the first levels of learning throughout their time at school. Others will make steady progress until they have a clear understanding of what these words mean and how they can use them in their music-making.

This resource was created by Vicki Brown, Curriculum Consultant at Derby & Derbyshire Music Partnership

How Does Your Garden Grow:
Sample Activity Set

All special education classrooms are unique, and as part of UpRising we collaborated with individual teachers to develop activities and schemes of work suitable for their individual circumstances. This page presents one such collaboration, working with an autism unit within a mainstream primary school. 


Working within the school’s topic-based curriculum and Achievement for All framework we created a half-term set of activities on the topic How Does Your Garden Grow. On this page, you can download ​

How Does Your Garden Grow: Activity Set

Including learning outcomes and song resources

Case Study: Musical outcomes with an all-subject progression pathway

a breakdown of how we planned for and demonstrated progression within a non-specialist framework

Friends in the Garden: Powerpoint Presentation

Supports the activity set

Sid the Snail e-book

Supports the activity set

Information gathering for WCIT teaching

Many pupils in mainstream schools have additional physical, cognitive and/or emotional needs that can present barriers to getting the most out of whole class ensemble instrument tuition (WCIT).


Gathering as much information as possible about these needs before a programme begins is important to ensure a confident start for both teacher and pupil. Ideally this information is gathered through a conversation with a school SENCO or class teacher and supplemented by a pre-project visit to the class. However, as this isn’t always possible, our advice below offers flexible solutions to use in your setting.

Working with Teaching Assistants/Learning Support assistants

There are various ways that we can deploy other adults in the room to support pupils with additional needs, and TA/LSAs are often the best placed people to find ways to overcome barriers for pupils.

Perhaps the TA/LSA with you is a strong musician, or perhaps they have negative memories of their own school music experience that affect their perception of WCET. It is well worth finding time to have an ongoing conversation with TAs, listening to their views and being clear on the role you would like them to take during your lessons.

Questions for a 20-30 minute meeting with a SENCO or teacher

  • Do you have any pupils that you think will struggle to engage with the lessons, and if so, why? (Reasons could include physical, cognitive or behavioural barriers to engagement).

  • What strategies are already in place to support and engage these pupils?

  • Is there anything they particularly excel at and/or enjoy, either musically or generally? (could be a particular style, instrument, subject, topic)

  • Is there an existing behaviour/reward policy?

  • What adult support will you have in the class? What is their role?

  • What would progress look like for each of these pupils in a WCET/WCIT context?


Note: Rather than naming medical conditions (e.g. autism), it is more useful to focus on the specific access needs of the pupil (e.g. sensitive to high pitched noise, needs to take regular breaks).

Essential questions to ask if you have 5 minutes with the class teacher/TA

  • Do any pupils have sight or hearing loss?

  • Do any pupils have upper limb impairments that could prevent them holding or playing an instrument?

  • Do any pupils have a low level of English language comprehension?

  • If yes to any of the above, what support/resources are in place for them?

Visiting the class before the first lesson

  • Say hi to the class. Tell the pupils what to expect. Perhaps play the instrument(s) you have in mind and note pupil responses.

  • Sit in on a lesson to get a feel for the class and the teaching style theyare used to.

  • Chat with any adults that will be in the session

  • Particularly observe any pupils that may have barriers to learning – how does this present and how could you get the best out of them in your sessions?


We're excited to poresent Music Mark's New Directions in Inclusive Music series with each event having a focus on one of the areas of the Resource Balloon.


Music Mark are offering those in schools and music education organisations in the East Midlands a FREE ticket to access all four events in the series. Find out more.


Inclusion Leads and Music Development Plans: Specialist approaches for specialist settings

20th March 2024, 4.00pm - 5.30pm, Online (Zoom)

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