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Planning a Scheme of Work

planning a music scheme of work - a simple tool - download - teacher and musician

Yesterday, I wrote about the role of composing, listening and performing when planning a scheme of work for music teachers.  Today, I’ve created a resource you can download to help you plan your scheme of work.  The link is at the bottom of this page but I want to clarify some of the terms that I will be using in the various resources that I intend to upload over the coming weeks.


Talking about schemes of work is an area where it’s easy to get confused about various terms and I’ve found that different schools and individual teachers often have a very different idea about what is meant by a ‘scheme of work’.  To avoid any confusion, I’m offering my own definitions here:
  • Scheme of Work – the ‘long distance’ overview of everything that will be taught and (hopefully) learnt during an entire key stage
  • Unit Plan – a medium term plan that outlines the main outcomes and processes of a unit within the scheme of work
  • Lesson Plan – the specific details of what is planned for a particular lesson within a unit
  • Resources – the materials given or delivered to learners
So, to be clear, in this downloadable resource, I’m not talking about ‘schemes of work’ in the commonly used term of a collection of lessons plans, PowerPoints and resources.  I’m talking about the overview document for an entire key stage of learning.  The ‘big picture view’.  

The first things to think about

As I became more proficient at writing schemes of work, I would start by establishing three things very clearly in my mind:
  1. The values that the pupils, school and teachers would hold
  2. The structure that I wanted
  3. The design tenets behind the final SoW, unit plans, lesson plans and resources
Although this adds a bit of time to proceedings, it makes the process easier and has a positive impact on the end result.  The resource that this post is linked to should make that process as painless as possible.  


Looking at values in our schemes of work was something that Anna Gower drew my attention to.  Anna helped me to realise that we need to know what we value about music in schools before we start planning what we will actually do in our lessons.  I think it’s safe to say that my values have shifted over the years but I recently wrote a blog post that looked at the three values that I think should be the central theme of any good music department:
  • engagement
  • excellence
  • equality
It’s worth taking the time to ask yourself what your values are for your music department before you even think about the content of your scheme of work.  It’s even more powerful if you do this in collaboration with senior leaders, fellow music teachers and, of course, pupils themselves.

The first section of the downloadable resource focuses on establishing three values but feel free to add more.  


This is another thought that was prompted by someone else.  In 2013, Martin Fautley tweeted this:

Martin was talking about schemes of work that dip their toe into a succession of different musical styles, genres and traditions – six weeks on the blues, six weeks on reggae, six weeks on Indian music, etc.  Another approach that we’re all familiar with is a tour of the elements of music – six weeks on dynamics, six weeks on texture, six weeks on pitch, etc.  The National Strategy for Music, which was a really big deal for a while, encouraged teachers to combine these appraoches – six weeks looking at dynamics through the blues, six weeks on texture through reggae, six weeks on pitch through Indian music, etc.

These three structures for building a scheme of work aren’t the only ones.  Project based learning is another option and comes in a huge variety of forms.  I’d recommend having a read of Martin Said’s contribution to Teaching Music: Practical Strategies for KS3 for more information on this structure.  I haven’t given an exhaustive account of structures here (that could fill a whole series of blog posts) so I’d encourage you to talk to a few teachers and find out how they structure their schemes of work.

In the resource download, I’ve given some simple ticks and crosses to cover the approaches that you may wish to consider.  There’s an ‘other’ box for those of you who want to try something different.

Design Tenets

Once you’ve established what your values are and how you want to structure your scheme of work, you’re good to go with establishing your design tenets.   I wrote about this process back in 2012 when I explained that I’d heard of software engineers using design tenets to check that their work was going in the right direction.  It really resonated with me and I came up with nine design tenets for a SoW design I was working on at the time.  Looking back at them, I’d make one noticeable change:
  1. Assessment must be simple, consistent and transparent.
  2. Pupils should still work in groups but they should have individual outcomes.
  3. A pupil’s age is not as important as her ability and understanding.
  4. The SoW should encourage pupils to study music after Year 9.
  5. The SoW should be fun for pupils and teachers.
  6. Opportunities for external qualifications to be awarded should be highlighted wherever possible.
  7. There should be a clear relationship between the work at KS3 and what they will do at KS4.  
  8. If it can be delivered using informal learning and non-formal teaching, then it should be delivered using informal learning and non-formal teaching. 
  9. If the work isn’t musical, then it belongs in someone else’s lesson.  
There’s space enough on the resource for you to include ten design tenets.  Any more than that and it becomes difficult to meet the needs of many masters.  

Doing things differently

The ‘opportunities for external qualifications’ at KS3 became little more than a distraction for me and the other teachers in the department.  Seeing that something suited Arts Award, RSL or any other qualification would often take away from the learning that was most useful/pressing for the child at the time.  
I’d also clarify design tenets 4&7.  I had two intentions with these tenets:
  • increase KS4 class sizes
  • prevent pupils from feeling they’d picked the wrong subject in Year 10
I didn’t see KS3 as being preparation for KS4 (coming back to the 7% argument) but as something that made pupils feel it was a valid option for them.  Design tenet 4 was aimed at achieving this.  
Design tenet 7’s relationship between work at KS3 and KS4 was to ensure that pupils who chose to study music at KS4 didn’t feel duped by a sudden change in teaching and learning.  This didn’t mean the inclusion of lots of listening exams at KS3 and, as much as anything, involved bringing this tenet into the KS4 SoW (making the work for GCSE/BTEC/RSL resemble the work at KS3).  

Why design tenets?

The really nice thing about having design tenets was that I could refer back to them after each stage of planning.  Once the SoW was written, I could check them against the tenets.  Once the unit plan was written, check it against the tenets, etc.  This gave a really nice, consistent feel to what was happening in the department.  

A resource for you

To help anyone who is writing or reviewing a scheme of work (perhaps for the first time), I’ve distilled the thinking in this blog post into a single page Word document, which you can edit to your heart’s content.   You can download the document by clicking here (and there’s a preview below).  There’s no rocket science here but there is a chance to think and reflect on what you want to achieve with your schemes of work.  
planning your sow template - teacher and musician - preview