Ofsted, which inspects organisations providing education, training and childcare services in England, has published Striking the right note: the music subject report. This new report offers a verdict on the quality of school-based music education, based on inspections of 25 primary and 25 secondary schools.
The report’s main findings include the following:
- Outcomes of classroom music lessons were variable, affecting different age groups differently (detailed in the report).
- Schools were still trying to rebuild extra-curricular music following the COVID-19 pandemic.
- It was noted that since Ofsted’s last music subject report in 2012, access to instrumental tuition had remained unequal due to families’ varying ability to pay for it.
- Schools were generally reducing subsidy for instrumental lessons or closing their instrumental learning programmes entirely.
- Only half of primaries visited offered instrumental learning programmes, and only half of these did so in partnership with a music hub.
- Extra-curricular music varied widely in terms of range and quality.
We support much of the content of the updated NPME while continuing to raise concerns
These findings are the predictable outcome of the challenging landscape that music education operates in, including cuts to school budgets, teacher shortages, inadequate music training for primary teachers, school performance measures that deprioritise arts subjects, and insufficient funding for instrumental and vocal teaching.
It is particularly concerning that schools appear to have downgraded their support for instrumental learning programmes since 2012, which coincides with the implementation of the Government’s first National Plan for Music Education (NPME). This suggests that, overall, the NPME has not succeeded in increasing access to instrumental learning.
A refreshed NPME was published in 2022, reiterating the Government’s desire for “all children and young people to learn to sing, play an instrument and create music together, and to have the opportunity to progress their musical interests and talents, including professionally.”
While the MU supports much of the content of the updated NPME, we continue to raise concerns about its non-statutory status, funding shortages, a lack of robust accountability measures, its failure to engage with the insecure contracts faced by many visiting music teachers, and other structural issues.
Heartbreaking to see extra-curricular music struggling through lack of resource
Chris Walters, MU National Organiser for Education, said:
“Access to sustained instrumental learning, regardless of ability to pay, is vital to ensure that the next generation of professional musicians come from a diverse range of backgrounds, not just from well-off backgrounds.
“The Government has shown that it understands music education through its publication of two NPMEs, but this report shows that ministers have chosen to bury their heads in the sand rather than look seriously at how to fund and deliver their ambitions in this area.
“Given the challenging environment for music education, it is testament to schools’ work that so much classroom-based delivery is as effective as it is. But it is heartbreaking to see extra-curricular music struggling, and in some cases dying, through lack of resource. The Government must address this.”