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New Report Makes Urgent Recommendations for Future of Music Education

New Musicians’ Union (MU) research reveals the perilous state of music education in England, caused by chaotic education policies that have created a postcode lottery in provision.

Published: 02 April 2019 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:29 PM
Empty classroom with chairs and music stands.
An empty classroom prepared for a music lesson.

That patchy provision is leaving children from low income backgrounds behind.

“Music needs to be part of every child’s life and that access to a broad and balanced curriculum, which includes the arts, should be experienced by all children regardless of their background,” says MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge.

What the research shows

The vast majority of instrumental teachers are self-employed with no guaranteed hours, holiday pay, sick pay or any of the other benefits people in salaried employment take for granted. These teachers are at the mercy of a complex web of poorly designed and implemented contractual arrangements created by employers.

New instrumental music teachers are more prone to exploitation in this environment, with few if any professional development opportunities.

Classroom teachers have also seen music squeezed in the classroom, with the Ebacc forcing it down the list of priories. Fewer teaching students are training as music teachers – the number has dropped from 850 to 250 a year over the last eight years.

Music managers are also struggling with short-term funding provision, regional inequalities and concerns about the future workforce as more and more teachers leave the profession.

Both teachers and music managers were highly critical of the government’s approach to music education, with concerns that promises of money will not be enough without a new approach.

A Guardian report on the research quotes a letter written by a head teacher to parents; “Music is a hobby, it is not a career. It will not be supported by the school”.

What it means for students

MU research last year revealed that over 40% of those from low-income families say music lessons are beyond their household budgets.

Families with a total household income of less than £28,000 are half as likely to have a child learning an instrument as more affluent peers with a family income of £48,000 or more.

“To deny people who cannot necessarily afford it the possibility of trying is criminal. Because what is going to be left is the only musicians – or players, or writers – we are going to hear are rich ones, ones that are able to afford it,” said composer David Arnold.


The report makes 26 recommendations to boost the workforce, support schools, and make Music Education Hubs work better for the communities they serve.

These include making music a core part of the national curriculum and ensuring that schools can only be classified as outstanding by OFSTED if they offer a broad and balance curriculum including music and arts.

The Government must also acknowledge and reverse the detrimental effects of the Ebacc.

Teachers should be paid a fair wage, with holiday pay, sick pay, paid travel and travel time, and bogus self-employment in music education must come to an end.

All Hubs should provide free access to instrumental lessons for children from low income families, and must make Early Years and SEND provision part of their offer.

Find out more in the full State of Play report.

Take action now

  • Share this message on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: Music needs to be part of every child’s life. But music education is in a perilous state and children from low-income backgrounds are being left behind as a result. Find out more at @WeAreTheMU #BehindEveryMusician
  • Write to your MP with this message: Music needs to be part of every child’s life. But music education is in a perilous state and children from low-income backgrounds are being left behind as a result. Please read the State of Play report by the Musicians’ Union, look at its recommendations, and take action to let every child learn music.
  • Try our Let Every Child Learn Music Facebook Frame to show your support.

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